What do you get when you cross The Churches Conservation Trust with bell ringers? Show host Cathy Booth finds out, in the first of two special episodes. In this month’s show, Cathy meets Neil Skelton, David Bagley and Neil Dodge to discover what exciting projects can develop when ringers get involved in supporting historic places of worship.
From remote rural churches where ringers breathe new life into neglected spaces, through redundant churches that become popular unofficial ringing centres, to urban towers reclaiming their proud ringing heritage – the CCT and bells appear to be a winning combination.
As well as hearing about some inspirational projects, there are also some great tips for towers to visit and fascinating bits of history. And it wouldn’t really be a Fun with Bells podcast if there wasn’t a rollicking good tale about a high-profile dispute between some determined ringers and a disagreeable vicar.
About Neil Skelton
Born 1948 in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. Moved to Salisbury, Wiltshire in 1950. First bell-handling lesson at Salisbury St Martin in 1958 but short-lived due to bells being declared unringable. Resumed lessons at Salisbury St Thomas in January 1961. Elected member of the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers January 1962 and awarded certificate of proficiency in April 1962 – achieved by ringing the treble unaided to 120 changes of Grandsire Doubles. Elected to the Ancient Society of College Youths in September 1972.
First quarter peal (Grandsire Doubles) at Durrington, Wiltshire, December 1962. First peal (Grandsire Doubles) at Broadchalke, Wiltshire, August 1967. To date has rung 181 peals, from Doubles to Surprise Royal, Stedman Cinques and Plain Bob Maximus, and 1079 quarter peals, from Singles to Surprise Royal and Plain Bob Fourteen. Rung in 5471 different towers, including Australia, America, Canada, South Africa and Italy.
Within the Salisbury Branch of the SDGR has held office of chairman, secretary and treasurer and ringing master At Guild level master, librarian and Central Council representative. In May 2022 awarded 60 year’s SDGR membership certificate
Enjoys ringing tours and outings; also, quarter peals. Reluctant peal ringer.
Joined staff of the Redundant Churches Fund in 1980, since renamed Churches Conservation Trust (CCT). Initially as a field office covering mainly the south and south-west of England but with excursions to Yorkshire, Lancashire, East Anglia and the West Midlands. Latterly the area of activity was restricted to the south and south-west, managing in the region of sixty churches.
On retirement from the CCT in 2008 took on the challenge of promoting to a wider public the isolated church of St Giles, Imber, Wiltshire within the military training area of Salisbury Plain. It was not long before the views of those who said it would never be a success in terms of visitor numbers and income were disproved. As an example, the church was open on Saturday 20th August for the annual Imber Bus Day during which up to thirty vintage buses, with some still in service, made their way across Salisbury Plain with full payloads of passengers, resulting in over 2,000 visitors to the church and an income of over £5,000 from the sale of refreshments and merchandise. During the four days between Christmas and the New Year visitor numbers average in the region of 3,000.
In 2010 played a significant part in the provision of a new ring of six bells at Imber, replacing the former ring of five bells removed in 1950. To date seventeen peals and forty-nine quarter peals have been rung on the bells.
In 2016 awarded the British Empire Medal for services to Imber church.
About David Bagley
David Bagley started ringing in 1977 at Malvern Link where he was taught by his father Geoff. At that time, the “Link” band was really strong and he was able to make good progress in a tower where ringing fairly advanced methods were the norm.
He has been developing ringing simulators since the early 1980s and now produce systems which allow a ring of bells to be connected to a PC for teaching purposes.
He lives with his wife Ruth and daughter Rachel in Tewkesbury. He organises the annual Tewkesbury Shield ringing competition at Tewkesbury Abbey. He also has a mini ring of 10 bells in his shed.
He became involved with the redundant church at Strensham in 1997, and recently led a project to rehang and restore the bells, and to augment them to eight.
About Neal Dodge
Neal Dodge is the Public Relations Officer for the Suffolk Guild, having started to learn to ring in 2010. He also serves on the Central Council Public Relations Workgroup and is part of the team that maintains the Dove’s Guide database.
Top 5 Takeaways
- Find out more about The Churches Conservation Trust, including how to get involved and support your local historic church at www.visitchurches.org.uk
- Fancy a trip to St Giles in the ‘lost village’ of Imber? Find out more about the church and its bells at imberchurch.org.uk
- Check out what the CCT has to say about St Peter’s Sudbury at https://www.visitchurches.org.uk/visit/church-listing/st-peter-sudbury.html , take a look at upcoming events at www.stpetersudbury.co.uk and follow progress with their restoration project on Twitter twitter.com/@StPeterSudbury
- Want to grab the bells of St John the Baptist, Strensham? Take a look at their website http://www.bagleybells.co.uk/strensham/strenshm.htm and then email email@example.com
- Can’t make it to Strensham in person? No problems, get over to YouTube to watch this great presentation about the church and the bells https://youtu.be/p6dWyB9-Gag or watch a video of the eight bells ringing some Stedman Triples https://youtu.be/a3uEkxf6hq