Bells could be silent on New Year's Eve

PLANS FOR churches to "ring in" the millennium may be silenced amid fears that many of Britain's belfries and bells are too fragile to be used.

More than pounds 3m in lottery grants has been allocated to churches to upgrade their bells and frames - some of which are more than 500 years old - in time for ringing at midnight on New Year's Eve. But the project is now in jeopardy after English Heritage, the Government's advisory body on historic buildings, said the risk of damage to the medieval bells was too great.

English Heritage has no direct control over lottery grants, but it can veto improvements if the buildings are listed or if it believes the bells are priceless antiques. If the bells are too valuable to be repaired without risk of damage, it argues they should remain silent and that ancient but rotten frames be retained.

The stance has infuriated bell-ringers and vicars who believe the bells should be used as intended. Many churches which had planned to refurbish creaking frames and restore and retune discordant bells have now called off the attempts.

The bells of St Mary in Gissing, Norfolk, will be silent this New Year's Eve after English Heritage turned down parishioners' plans to restore five bells in the 11th-century round tower. The bells had not been rung since 1832 when a botched frame was built. The 280 villagers raised pounds 20,000 towards the pounds 60,000 needed to fix the frame and buy a second-hand sixth bell.

"We can chime the bells but can't roll them round," said the Rev Des Whale. "We wanted to put in a new frame so the bells could be pealed properly but we couldn't get English Heritage to agree with our structural engineer. It was a question of differing professional opinions; since English Heritage held the purse strings theirs was correct."

A similar deadlock has struck the bell-ringers of St Peter and St Paul in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, where plans to replace the bells and their unsafe frame have been scuppered by English Heritage. "The question is whether we conserve the old wood, which is redundant, or preserve the living tradition of skills," said the Rev Hugh Symes-Thompson.

The Central Council of Church Bell-Ringers, whose project manager, John Cunnington, is responsible for implementing the whole scheme, has some sympathy for the churches. "There's a lot of conflict with heritage and conservation," he said. "We see the bell as a musical instrument rather than part of the fabric of the building, and if it's sitting there as a museum piece it's not any good to anybody."

English Heritage says it supports plans to "ring in" the millennium but is bound by rules on listed buildings. "We do want to keep historic bells in beneficial use," said a spokeswoman. "But a lot of these churches are listed buildings and changes to their structure need consent."

The Council for the Care of Churches acknowledges a stand-off exists between the conservation groups and bell-ringers. "There is a bit of tension," said Dr Thomas Cocke, chief executive of the council. "The trouble is that we are often dealing with 15th-century bits of metal, and if you want to use them you have to be a bit violent in hitting them."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence