Clear as a bell: our silent churches start to find their voices

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The Independent Online
The first casting of "Millennium Bells" took place at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in east London yesterday - part of a pounds 3m project to restore full voice to church towers, some of which have been silent for decades.

Molten bronze flowed in a golden stream from the furnace to produce six bells, watched in awe by ringers from the three churches where they will be installed. Each of the bells is about 2ft in diameter and will be knocked out of its mould at the 18th century foundry today.

The pounds 3m allocated by the Millennium Commission to the volunteers of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers will be distributed to 100 churches where bells need restoring or replacing. The lottery money has been matched by similar amounts raised by bands of ringers and local communities.

The bells cast yesterday were for St Thomas a Becket at Shirenewton, near Chepstow on the Welsh border; St John the Evangelist, Preston, Lancashire; and SS Peter and Paul at Wingrave, Buckinghamshire.

St Thomas a Becket has six bells which have been unringable for more than 35 years. Four of the set, dating from the 18th century, will be augmented with the new castings.

St John the Evangelist has 10 bells, two of which are cracked. The set will be replaced by eight redundant bells from Holy Trinity, Bolton, and the two new ones. For SS Peter and Paul, the project will complete a century- old plan to install a ring of eight bells.

The sound of church bells has a symbolism for urban and rural communities far beyond a summons to prayer or the tolling of the hours. Over the centuries they have been rung to commemorate events of local, national and global significance from weddings to ringing in the New Year and marking victories in war such as the Armistice and VE day.