Ah – there you are…
Welcome to the Ringers’ Arms…
Do come in…
A cold, wet halloween, when heaven-knows-what may be abroad, is no night to be out… alone…
Warm yourself by the fire – if you can – and listen to our tales of ghostly bells, lost bells, …drowned bells…
The village of Danbury, near to Chelmsford, in Essex, is surrounded by woodland and heath which is owned by the National Trust and designated as an area of special scientific interest.
Today, the 8 bells at Danbury are modern, having been cast in 1967 by Mears and Stainbank at Whitechapel, but the history of the old bells is associated with a far more – sinister – legend.
Reader: (Jonathan Williamson)
The 16th century chronicler, Raphael Holinshed recorded a dramatic tale about the Church bells at St John the Baptist, Danbury. On Corpus Christi day, at Evensong in 1402, during a huge thunderstorm, the Devil entered into the Church
“in likeness of a grey friar, behaving himself very outrageously, playing his parts like a devil indeed, so that the parishioners were put in a marvelous great fright.
At the same instant, there chanced such a tempest of wind, thunder, and lightning, that the highest part of the roof of that church was blown down, and the chancel was all to shaken, rent, and torn in pieces”.
Apparently the devil left the damaged Church, but local legend reports that he returned later and stole one of the Church’s six bells. The parishioners chased him, forcing him to drop the bell at a spot which was from then on to be called ‘Bell Hill’ to the north of the village. The weight of the bell falling is said to have created a pond,, which people continued to visit in the hope of spotting the Devil.
Didlington is a small village in the Breckland district of Norfolk. With a population of just 48 at the last census, the village was home to Didlington Hall – a country house – which at one point housed the Egyptological collections of William Tussen Amherst, the 1st Baron of Hackney.
Amherst was a patron of the young Howard Carter who later discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. It is said that visiting the hall as child and seeing the collection is what sparked Carter’s lifelong fascination with Egyptology. The hall itself was demolished in the 1950s, but the nearby Didlington Church remains….
Reader: (Alison Davies)
On a dark and stormy night in 1965, Police Constable Williams was on patrol in the Breckland region of Norfolk. It was bitterly cold, and just before 11pm, PC Williams stopped for a cigarette and heard the sound of a bell ringing ominous in the distance. Concerned, and feeling uneasy, he realised that the sound was coming from St Michael’s Church at Didlington Hall. Who was in the Church, ringing at such a late hour? With that thought, he set off towards the Church, whilst all the time the single bell continued its melancholy toll. As PC Williams arrived at the Church door, the bell stopped ringing abruptly – without fading or slowing. Searching for the Church key under the doormat, the constable opened the door and lit his lantern, revealing an empty silent Church where everything was still except for a bell rope swinging back and forth and a strong feeling that he was not alone. PC Williams closed and locked the door, quickly retreating and cycling back home. Several days later, Williams learned that the moment when he had heard the bell tolling was the exact time that the master of Didlington Hall had died.
To the south-east side of Horley, Surrey, lies an area of about 680 acres, known for many years as the Manor of Haroldslea. It contains an unusual set of two concentric moats. Now a National Monument, excavations in 1936, a small hole was dug that revealed iron and pottery fragments, probably from a manor court from the 13th century.
In the 18th century, the moated area was named Thunderfield Castle,but it is thought to have more likely been an old timber framed manor house.
Reader: (Richard Booth):
Located east of Horley in Surrey is the 12th century, double moated site of Thunderfield Castle – said to be the resting place for Harold’s army as he marched towards the battle of Hastings in 1066. Locals have reported that at sunset on the 11th of November, ghostly bells can be heard tolling, gradually getting louder and louder until midnight, when the ghosts of Harold’s army marches through the area.
Many legends of haunted bells under ground or under water are well known in various parts of England.
In Realeigh, Nottinghamshire, there is a valley which is reported to have been caused by an earthquake many centuries ago, which swallowed the whole village including the Church. It became customary for local people to assemble in this valley every Christmas Day, to put their ears to the ground and listen out for the ringing bells from the buried Church.
There are also an abundance of stories of bells tolling out from lost, drowned Churches…
Reader: (Helen McGregor)
In medieval times, Dunwich was a prosperous town to rival London. It was so important that it returned two members of parliament, and was known as a market port by sailors and merchants from all over the world. Over time, due to coastal erosion and devastating storms, it was swallowed by the sea. Despite being lost to the sea for over 500 years, 8 Churches lie in the watery tomb of this once busy port. Legend has it that sailors and fishermen have always heard the chiming of bells from these drowned Churches, which they believe foretell the arrival of devastating storms. In 1930, Lieutenant Commander Brooks, Captain of HMS Boyne reported hearing bells, as did his First Lieutenant. Local people still report hearing the bells mournfully ringing out from the ocean.
Modern day divers who have explored the ruins underwater have reported feeling an eerie sensation of being watched, and they swear that they are not alone beneath the waves.
Reader: (Oliver Bouckley)
The great mere at Ellesmere is home to many legends, many of which relate to great wickedness which was punished by a flood, thus creating the lake. The story goes that the old Church at nearby Colemere was pulled down by Oliver Cromwell, and the bells were thrown into the mere. At attempt was made later to retrieve them – the bells were tied to chains, and twenty oxen had succeeded in dragging them to the surface. As they neared the bank, a man who had been helping expressed doubt that they would be able to get the bells out. At the moment the chains snapped and the bells plunged back into the water, never to be seen again. Locals report that the bells can still be heard ringing whenever the moon is full, from beneath the water, and that they are ringing out to mock Oliver Cromwell who had consigned them to their watery grave.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry the Eighth took place over a very short space of time – between 1536 and 1541.
During this time, much property from monasteries, priorys, friaries and convents was stolen, or ‘re-appropriated’ to fund Henry’s military campaigns, following the Act of Supremacy passed by Parliament in 1534, making Henry the Supreme Head of the Church of England.
Although the bells at some monastery sites were removed nearly 500 years ago, they are still reported to be heard ringing….
Reader: (Les Boyce)
The impressive ruins of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire date back to 1132, when it was a spiritual centre and Cistercian monastery. Destroyed by Henry the VIII, the immense site lays claim to being one of the most haunted sites in Northern England. Although there have been no bells at the ruined Rievaulx Abbey for over 400 years, there are many stories of the bells being heard ringing at night, and guests staying at holiday accommodation nearby have frequently complained of being woken up by their ghostly sound.
Not just a creature in the Harry Potter stories, a Pixie is a mythical creature of British folklore, usually with some Celtic origin. Pixies are said to inhabit ancient underground sites such as barrows and ringforts, and have a mischievous and childlike character. Although pixies are said to be fond of dancing and revelling, they apparently dislike the sound of Church Bells…
Reader: (Simon Davies)
Problems with Pixies – “Not good enough for heaven, not bad enough for hell…”
At Ottery St Mary in Devon, the legend is that the village was once mainly occupied by Pixies. When humans moved in and built the Church, the Pixies were forced into exile because they could not stand the sound of the bells being rung. In fact, every time the bells were rung, a Pixie was said to die.
But, on midsummer’s day in 1454, the Pixies retaliated by invading the town, capturing all the bell ringers and imprisoning them in a cave next to the river. To this day, the cave is known as Pixies’ Parlour.
Luckily, the bell ringers escaped from the cave, but the town still commemorates the capturing of the ringers each year with a festival known as Pixie Day, where their revenge upon ringers is re-enacted.
Reader: (Sheila Schofield)
Ottery St Mary is not the only set of bells which has seen a problem with Pixies. Tradition has it that the King of the Pixies resided at Knighton Farm in Withypool, Somerset, until he could stand the ringing of the Knighton Church bells no more. Legend has it that the farmer at Knighton was originally on very friendly terms with the pixies and they would help out by threshing corn for him, but when the Church bells continued, they moved out and took up residence at a nearby round Barrow. .
A ‘Death knell’ is the ringing of a Church bell to announce a recent death. Historically, it was the second of three bells rung on the occasion of a death – the first called a ‘Passing bell’ was rung to warn of an impending death, and the last was the Corpse bell or Lych bell which remains today in the tradition of a funeral toll. But sometimes, older traditions seem to carry on by themselves….
Reader: (Lesley Belcher)
Legend has it that whenever a death is imminent within the Parish of Llantwit Major, the passing bell is said to ring out over the town, without the help of human hands. If the bell is heard ringing, someone is about to depart from this world, and it is often said that if you peer through the windows of the empty Church, you will see the manifested spirits of those who are about to die during the year, sitting in the pews.
Sailors are notoriously superstitious, but of all the recorded nautical superstitions, bells were thought of as very unlucky. Ringing bells at sea was said to foretell the death of someone aboard, and many mariners would avoid anything that even sounded like a bell, such as clinking glasses or making a ringing sound,
The unlucky sailor in this next story is reported to ring bells, and from beyond the grave…
Reader: (Chris de Cordova)
At St Gluvias Church in Cornwall, visitors have been alarmed to witness the apparition of former sailor and bell ringer‘ Captain Martin’ who drowned at sea in 1880. The apparition has been seen prowling through the graveyard in search of his own headstone,or standing in the mens’ toilets at a nearby pub.
The restless spirit of this former ringer has also been known to ring the Church bells in the early hours of the morning.
Cumbria has its fair share of paranormal phenomena – the half-man half sheep on Broughton moor said to attack passing travellers, the headless woman who is said to move through Branthwaite moaning and crying, or the ghostly rattling of chains at Caldbeck Rectory,
But in Camerton, there is a persistent story of a ghost who causes the Church bells to ring.
Reader: (Simon Head)
St Peter’s Church in Camerton, Cumbria is reputed to be the home to the ghost of ‘Black Tom’, an old Lord of Camerton. Black Tom is frequently seen by people leaving the pub, manifesting around the Church and graveyard as a splendid figure, complete with 16th century armour. A Mr H T Graham once dared to knock on the door of the empty Church very late one night, and as he did so, the bells began to ring.
And if one one ghostly presence is insufficient, the ruined old Church of St John in Boughton, is reported to be the most haunted site in Northamptonshire…
Reader: (Ruth Suggett)
Boughton is a small, traditional village, north of Northampton. Less than a mile to the east are the ruins of old Boughton, including the ruins of St John’s Church, said to be the most haunted site in Northamptonshire. In one legend, the ghost of a beautiful, red haired woman entices male passers by with a kiss, but men should be warned that this kiss seals their fate, and they will die exactly one month later. In the same ruined Church, the ghost of infamous Highwayman, ‘Captain Slash’ is said to moan and cry out, after he was left half dead for several days from a botched hanging. . A figure of a woman in white, the spirits of children, hooded figures and a headless man. The bells of this desolate and decaying Church are long gone – although one of them is possibly now at nearby Moulton, but local people have reported hearing three bells ringing mournfully from the ruins.
And so we reach the tail-end of our stories.
Over the years, many have wondered what it is about bells that attracts the people who ring them. Edgar Allan Poe, in the last verse of this poem from 1849 has his own theory…
Hear the tolling of the bells — Iron bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people—ah, the people—
They that dwell up in the steeple,
And who tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone—
They are neither man nor woman—
They are neither brute nor human—
They are Ghouls:
And their king it is who tolls;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
A pæan from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the pæan of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the pæan of the bells—
Of the bells:
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells—
Of the bells, bells, bells—
To the sobbing of the bells;
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells—
Of the bells, bells, bells—
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells—
Bells, bells, bells, bells…
This halloween edition of Fun with Bells was researched and produced by Rose Nightingale.
The readers were:
Chris de Cordova
… and Ruth Suggett
The violinist was Vaughan Jones
The narrator was Steve Johnson
This episode was a Ninja Aardvark Production for Fun with Bells.
The Show Notes were written by Anne Tansley-Thomas
The Editorial Consultant was John Gwyne
…and the Executive Producer was Cathy Booth.