Transcribed by Emily Watts
[00:00:00] PETER: The Norman tower was large enough to house more bells, so it went to eight bells. And then we thought, looking to the future of the church, and so it grew to ten bells. And, we then found that actually we were needing to raise probably nearly 500,000, if not more.
Which is a huge challenge. But the generosity of people was amazing.
[00:00:27] CATHY: I’m interviewing Peter Heard from Nevern Church today as he has several stories relating to the church and it’s bells, that I think will be of interest to our listeners. There’s the history of the church and it’s bells, the amazing fundraising project, the visit by, as he was, the Prince of Wales. And how a new team of bell ringers was found and trained from scratch. Firstly, please can introduce yourself Peter?
[00:00:58] PETER: Yes, I’m Peter Heard from Nevern Church and the chairman of the Nevern Bell Ringers Association.
[00:01:07] CATHY: And can you tell me a little bit about Nevern the place, where it is, how big it is?
Can you describe it for someone who hasn’t visited it?
[00:01:14] PETER: Yes, Nevern is a lovely Hamlet. It’s a beautiful location, a great tourist attraction. It nestles in the river valley of the river Nevern, very close to Newport, where the estuary is from that river. It’s located somewhere north of Fishguard and south of Cardigan on the Pembrokeshire coast.
It’s in the National Park. Really lovely location. Has a pub and a lovely stone bridge going over the Nevern, which then leads to the church. Population is 850, a very small population.
[00:01:57] CATHY: And can you tell me a little bit about the history of Nevern Church?
[00:02:02] PETER: Yes, the church, why it’s such a tourist attraction is, firstly it dates back to 540 when it’s founder St. Brynach, who’s a contemporary of St. David at the time, he landed on Nevern and decided that, this was a place where he wanted to try and spread the word. The legend has it that there’s a mountain that overlooks. I say it’s a mountain, it’s not actually classified as a mountain anymore, but it’s called Carn Ingli.
And the Welsh translation for that into English is Mountain of Angels and St. Brynach, allegedly went up to the mountain and found a cave at the top, and that is where he allegedly communed with angels. So it seemed an appropriate place for him to found the church. The church history is that the tower of the Church was built by the Normans, the Norman tower. It’s a lovely tower and the facade of the church inside now is Victorian, but the history of various things that it has within the church is that there are two stones dating back to the fifth/sixth century, which have got Ogham script on them. That’s an ancient Irish script, for those that don’t know what Ogham is, that again is quite rare. It has a 10th century Celtic cross in its grounds. And it’s also very appealing to many because it has an avenue of yews, one of which is known as the bleeding yew.
The second yew as you go in through the church gate on the right hand side, if you find the second yew and walk round to the other side, there’s blood red sap. Now sap comes from you trees when you cut branches off, that’s not unusual. But what is unusual about this is that usually the sap dries up. In living memory no one can ever remember it not bleeding and people come from all over just to have a look at the bleeding yew. Would be nice if they’d come to have a look at the inside of the church, but that is a great attraction.
Apart from the bleeding yews, the site of the location of the church is very much on a pilgrim’s trail. During the early part of the first century, pilgrims were coming from all over the place to go to St. David’s, and no one quite knows why, but they came in their thousands and Nevern, the site at Nevern, was obviously a great attraction because that was one of the resting points and you can see carved into the face of a rock, a pilgrim’s cross. And that again is very close to the church and you can see how many must have come because the footsteps have been embedded in the slate steps by the cross.
And it’s quite extraordinary to see how those footsteps are actually really embedded, really quite deeply into the slate.
[00:05:20] CATHY: And can you tell me a little bit about the history of the bells at Nevern?
[00:05:23] PETER: The bells? Yes, we had six bells, which were, cast in 1763 by Thomas Rudhall,
and they were rung up to about 130 years ago when it was decided that it was no longer. safe to ring the bells in full circle ringing. And instead an Ellacombe was installed. And the system of the Ellacombe is that it strikes the bells rather than the bells at full circle ringing, and that is pulled from ropes down into the vestry.
[00:06:00] CATHY: Can you tell me about the fundraising project, how that came about?
[00:06:05] PETER: Yes. Obviously, the tower deteriorated quite considerably during that period, and coming up to 2010, I think it was decided then that something really serious was going on with the deterioration of the wooden frames and the bells. And gradually concern about the safety grew. And it was decided to try and put in a fundraising project with the Heritage Lottery Fund to try and restore the tower. That unfortunately was turned down, in hindsight maybe it was fortunate. I think at the time the Heritage lottery decided that they’d given an awful lot of grants to churches, which had subsequently closed.
So the idea of giving funding for the restoration of the fabric of a church, was not sexy enough, I think is probably the way to look at it. We decided then, that maybe the approach should be to rehang and retune the bells at the same time as restoring it to, make it a more attractive proposition.
And, we put in a fresh approach to the Heritage Lottery Fund. We established a work committee to take the project forward and the church itself, which had been left to legacy, the purposes of the church very generously decided to pump prime the project and put in, in excess of 50/ 60,000 pounds, to help with the fundraising.
All of which meant that when the new application went into the Heritage Lottery Fund, we actually, I think were quite surprised. But this obviously ticked all the boxes and, we ended up with a grant of around 120/125,000 or thereabouts. So that actually put the whole perspective in a different approach and, e took the idea forward and we felt that this was something which was doable.
The initial thought was that probably we would need to raise something around 200,000/ 220,000 pounds. And here with the Heritage Lottery, it looked as though it was going to work. Bearing in mind that, we had a congregation of around 24/25 people in a very rural location. It was quite a challenge.
What I think is quite miraculous that the work party that was established, that within that congregation we had a civil engineer. which was really quite crucial. We had a chartered certified accountant. We had a fellow of the British Chartered Management Institute.
And we had some very well-connected people, entrepreneurs, if you like, with really good connections from the City of London and, I think it was quite miraculous that you had that level of expertise within such a small congregation, in the far southwest corner of Wales. Very remote but without that, there is no doubt in my mind, that we would not have taken it forward.
We also appointed somebody who had experience in getting grants from bodies such as, the church and church’s trust and various things. But, there was a phenomenal amount of money which was raised.
[00:09:53] CATHY: How much was needed to be raised altogether?
[00:09:56] PETER: It snowballed really because when the aspiration, started to spread, we were offered, bells from all over the place. In fact, the local church in Goodwick, had wonderful tenor bell. And that was a John Taylor, bell, which are lovely bells.
And that had an inscription on it, really dedicated to those that gave their lives in the first World War. And that was offered to us because the church was being folded and as soon as that was offered, we then discovered through, the Keltek trust, that there are two sister bells from that, John Taylor from Goodwick, which actually were in Ontario.
And the next thing we knew is they’d been offered to us and actually, the cost of getting them from Ontario had, was all but paid for and came to us. So all of a sudden we were getting extra bells. So the project, actually began to snowball. The thought was the tower was big enough in the way that the Norman Tower, the structure, was large enough to house more bells, so it went to eight bells. And then we thought, looking to the future of the church, how can we make sure that there are other aspects to the survival of the church apart from just its history. Because congregations tending to get less and less.
Why not try and put 10 bells in there and develop it to teach bell ringing. That was the essence of things. And so it grew to ten bells. And, we then found that actually, we were needing to raise probably nearly 500,000, if not more.
Which is a huge challenge. But the generosity of people was amazing. So many, trusts, individuals. There was a wonderful trust called the Colwinston Trust, which has an interesting, background to it. Matthew Prichard is the grandson of Agatha Christie, and apparently, all the proceeds from The Mouse Trap go into this particular trust, and it is primarily as a music trust, and they had not given anything to church bells before, and were persuaded that they were musical instruments. And so they were hugely influential in providing a wonderful, additional funding for us. And in fact, one of the bells has been as inscribed as the Agatha Christie Bell and Matthew Pritchard himself has been down and rung it.
[00:12:42] CATHY: So you had an amazing team and you’ve raised a significant amount of money, very significant amount of money. Can you tell me a little bit about the bells that there are there now?
[00:12:53] PETER: Yes. I’ve mentioned that we’ve got now ten bells. We had two new bells, which we actually purchased from, a foundry in Milan. They’re the lighter bells. We’ve retuned obviously the original six. We also have these additional bells that I’ve already mentioned. And, we also, had one bell, which we have managed to acquire, which goes back to 1593. We have the 10 bells, which are all ringing bells.
Plus we have three bells. It was decided that the Ellacombe was part of the history of the church. Whereas it had six bells before, has now got three bells and they are, are obviously operating, still in a striking fashion. they’re not full ringing bells, but they are in addition to the ten bells.
So we’ve actually got thirteen bells in there. And, they are very, very nice bells to ring. they’re very light. Being a new frame, which is a steel frame. Unfortunately, the old timber frame was so decayed that it was not possible to reuse that. So that is where we’re at.
We’ve already had our first ART, the teachers training course where, a trainer has come down to the church to train people to teach ringing bells. And that happened very recently, in April. So that is the first course. We’ve got other courses which are in the pipeline, which we are planning, later in the year.
We put in a simulator at the same time as the bells, so that, they can be rung without disturbing the neighbours. So that’s really where we’re at at the present time.
[00:14:47] CATHY: And how do you find ringing those bells?
[00:14:49] PETER: Oh, they’re wonderful. Yes, absolutely. They are by far and away the easiest bells that I have managed to ring.
They’re very light. The tenor bell only ten hundredweight which is quite light for a tenor bell, and therefore very good for training people to learn.
[00:15:12] CATHY: Can you tell me about, when Prince Charles, now King Charles came to visit? How did that come about and what happened?
[00:15:20] PETER: Yeah, I’ve mentioned that out of the workgroup, that some people were very well connected in the City.
And one of our members, was actually, very well connected with, the Duke of Edinburgh that was, and, obviously had connections with the royal family. And Prince Charles, was doing a tour around Wales in April ‘ 21. And, obviously knew of the project through those connections and decided that he, would call in to Nevern and actually all of the people that were involved with the fundraising and doing the project, were presented to him. So that is how the connection came about, that it was a tour around Wales. But, through the connections, he was well aware of the amazing project that had managed to be fulfilled. so he actually came and he rang the Ellacombe, which was considered the safest way.
[00:16:25] CATHY: What happened when Songs of Praise was recorded at Nevern?
[00:16:29] PETER: Disappointing as far as I’m concerned. They first contacted me, with a view to getting the bells rung and listening to the bells.
And it was a morning, midweek. There were a lot of bell ringers from our team. I can perhaps expand a little bit about, how they came about, but, a lot of them were away. Some were at work, so trying to get a team of ten ringers of which some needed to be fairly proficient if it was going to be recorded on television.
So actually getting the team of ten bell ringers was quite a challenge. And some actually had well over an hour’s journey to come to us to form part of that team. Although the program was very good from Nevern’s point of view, because it highlighted on the tourism attractions and everything about it because it was all part and parcel of an overall program on pilgrims, pilgrimages to St. David’s. So it was a natural point. But, with regard to the ringing of the bells, I was really disappointed because they didn’t have any of the clips of any of the ringing, which was a great shame.
The only thing that they really did show, was the fact that the presenter of the program was very keen to ring a bell, James Lusted and he is only three foot seven tall. And, as such it was considered to be a possible hazard, of someone so short not having rung a bell, that we decided that he could actually ring the Ellacombe, which he did. But that was the only clip that they showed of the bells, which I thought was a great shame.
[00:18:20] CATHY: You were talking about the team of bell ringers that you have at Nevern. How was that formed? Seeing as how you didn’t have any ringable bells there before?
[00:18:28] PETER: Yes once we decided the way forward, it was also, decided that we really needed to reach out to the local community to make sure they were behind the project.
So a meeting in fact was held in the local pub, The Trewern Arms, which was very well attended, a public meeting, where upon the diocesan Bell Advisor, actually presented the benefits of bell ringing and what it was hoped that we would achieve. And at that meeting, it was greeted with great enthusiasm by everyone and we had 22 people sign up, which I thought was extraordinary.
We actually ended up several years later, because in between times, we had Covid, which hit everybody. That meeting was I think 2019, if my memory serves me correctly. But then of course we know what happened, Covid came. So actually ringing or training of ringing, didn’t really start until 2020.
And, we still have today signed up out of those original twenty odd members, about thirteen or fourteen. Which is very good going, and a lot of interest. Very difficult training complete novices. We have a wonderful Tower captain Pete Toms, who’s had decades of experience of ringing. We have a Vice captain who, his ringing experience was from the Devon School of Ringing, which is a slightly more precise form of ringing.
But between them, they have now managed to get us to a point where, and I think we’re talking about probably twelve/eighteen months maximum of training, where I think everybody in that initial team now feels competent at handling all the bells and some of them are very good at call changes and ringing rounds.
I think we’re getting to the point now where we’re beginning to experiment with things like Plain Hunt and some of the method ringing. And that’s probably where we’re at in terms of the novices. But we’ve been very lucky because, in between times, a lot of people come down here on holiday.
It’s a great tourist area. It’s a national park. it’s just beautiful. And with the coast and the coastal footpath, a lot of people come down on holiday who are experienced ringers and Nevern is becoming very well known and people are looking us up and we like to think that we welcome everyone with a great deal of hospitality and it is great because they come and intermingle with us and that really improves our ringing.
If you’ve got three or four good, competent ringers within your group whilst you are ringing, it is so much easier. Yeah. So that’s where we’re at.
[00:21:37] CATHY: Was there anything else that you wanted to mention, Peter?
[00:21:40] PETER: There’ve been some quite notable events, obviously with, the now King having visited us and so on.
But, when we have, as I mentioned that Nevern is becoming very well known and, we have a lot of requests for ringing peals and we try and restrict this to two or three a year so that the locals being a very quiet, peaceful area, don’t get swamped with too many peals, which go on with 10 bells, usually a good three hours, to complete the peal. But, this year on Easter Monday, we had a group from Twickenham and they rung a completely new peal that hadn’t been rung before. And upon completion, they dedicated it to Pembrokeshire Delight Royal.
And that again is great for, highlighting Pembrokeshire, the National Park and Nevern. So it’s all helping to put us on the map and hopefully going to improve the longevity of the church, which is probably the initial main reason for doing it.
[00:22:52] CATHY: Apart from the towers that you regularly ring at, what’s your favourite ring of bells and why?
[00:22:58] PETER: It’s very difficult. I go to Haverfordwest quite a lot. It’s great there. The bells are very different to Nevern. They’re much heavier and therefore require, a lot more effort, a lot more energy. What’s interesting about them, is the fact that in most towers I believe, from my limited knowledge, they go clockwise from the treble through to the tenor.
Haverfordwest, is more of a challenge and I think that’s interesting. It gets the brain going because they go anti-clockwise. Opposite direction. But what is excellent about it is that the trainer there is also the Guild Ringing Master. And, he’s very good and makes things a lot of fun. I think that’s important with ringing.
[00:23:54] CATHY: And then my last question is, has anything remarkable happened to you that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t taken up bell ringing?
[00:24:01] PETER: Yes. My wife is the person that would be best to answer that question. In her mind, there is absolutely no doubt that it has, helped rejuvenate me.
As one gets older, I think the brain finds things more of a challenge, and also physically you find things more of a challenge. Having come to it very late in life, I’m just about on my 79th birthday. I’m finding that there is no doubt it’s a great workout. It’s helped enormously in terms of, my physical agility.
But probably more importantly, my wife will say that I’ve become a much, much more rejuvenated person and a challenge on the brain. So yeah, I think that there is no doubt about it. It’s wonderful, I just can’t get enough of ringing. I try to ring four or five times a week if I can, and I go to different places.
My wife also, joins me on that and, so we do it together. So that’s rather nice that we’ve actually found, if you like, a hobby, which we both wish we had discovered decades ago. it’s a great sadness that it’s taken so long to find it.
[00:25:22] CATHY: Thank you to my guest, Peter Heard for telling us about the stories of Nevern church.
if you’ve enjoyed this episode, then please share it. This podcast was put together by a team. Special thanks go to Anne Tansley Thomas, Emily Roderick, John Gwynne, Emily Watts, and the Society of the Cambridge Youths for the recording of their ringing.
[Bells ringing rounds]