Saxon church prepares to greet its third millennium

A JOYOUS peel of bells at St Peter's in Barton-upon- Humber will greet the new millennium for the second time in the church's long history.

St Peter's, a landmark in the riparian market town in Lincolnshire, has one of the few bell towers that still exists intact from the previous millennium. Built around AD970, the tower at St Peter's was made from limestone, unlike those of most Saxon churches, which were built of wood and have long since decayed or been replaced.

Yesterday the bells were rung for the first time since the 1970s, after renovations in the tower. The church was declared redundant by the Church of England more than 20 years ago and later handed over to the care of English Heritage. The bells had fallen into disrepair. But in anticipation of the millennium English Heritage organised repair of the tower and bells.

Renovators built a new floor in the belfry over the summer and in recent months the bell- ringing equipment was serviced and new 80ft-long bell ropes installed. A team of bell ringers from the adjacent parish of St Mary's, well practised in the precise art of campanology, will ring the bells at midnight on New Year's Eve and again 12 hours later.

"We believe this is one of the few bell towers in the country that has survived to ring in a new millennium twice," said John Hinchcliffe, English Heritage's assistant regional director. "Its a tribute to the original builders of the church and to conservationists who rescued the tower in the 1980s, that it has survived to bridge the centuries on Millennium Eve."

The magnificent bell tower and baptistery remain from the first phase of the building with the stone being recycled from an earlier Roman structure.

Mr Hinchcliffe said the bells that would have been used at the start of the second millennium would have been simpler than the current peel. "The earliest of the eight brass bells dates to 1598, made by Henry Oldfield of Nottingham, with another four supplied in 1741 by a Lincoln foundry."

t A tightrope walker plans to see in the millennium by walking 260ft between the spires of two British churches, without a safety net. Ramon Kelvink Jnr, 27, from Bordeaux, will attempt the stunt on a steel rope suspended 150ft above the ground, between the spires of the old St Michael's Cathedral and the Holy Trinity church in Coventry city centre.

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