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The Story of the Lundy Bells

St Helena's Church

With the Atlantic Ocean to the West, and the Bristol Channel to the East, Lundy lies eleven miles from the nearest mainland off North Devon. The Island is three miles long and half a mile wide, and covers 1,100 acres.

Through the centuries, Lundy has been the haunt of Vikings, Pirates, Royalists, and refugees from justice. It is mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga, and the name, Lundy, derives from the Norse 'Lund-Ey', meaning 'Puffin Island'.

In 1920 the island was purchased by Mr. Martin Coles Harman, who in 1929 introduced Lundy currency and postage stamps. Mr Coles Harman also founded the Lundy Field Society, and was responsible for establishing the Lundy breed of ponies, and introducing Soay sheep and deer to the island.

Lundy has been owned by the National Trust since 1969, and is currently leased to, and administered by, the Landmark trust.

Even though having been inhabited for so long, church history on Lundy is still fairly unclear. Inscribed stones dating from the 5th to 7th centuries have been found within the remains of a small building in the cemetery by the old lighthouse.

This area was also the burial site of an important Christian individual, perhaps St. Nectan, the remains of whom were transferred to a pre-Norman church at Stoke Hartland, where a decorated stone lid of his shrine coffin was found below the floor. The Holy Stone of Clonrichert

A small chapel on the island was dedicated to St. Elena and was likely founded in the 12th or 13th century, and was regarded as a distinct parish betwen 1325 and 1355. Six rectors were presented to the living, which was obviously poor, but by the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in 1535 was valued at 10 shillings annually. This chapel, it seems, fell into disrepair by the 17th century.

From 1640, a period of stable continuous habitation created a need for a place to worship. Here the dedication of St. Anne is used for the Lundy church with a mention of a ruined chapel to St. Helen in 1787. This supports the theory that there were two chapels on the site.

In 1834, William Hudson Heaven purchased Lundy, letting the island farm, and allowing the setting up of a granite company, who built an iron hall in the high street. His son, Rev. Hudson Grossett Heaven, was licensed as curate in charge of the island in 1864, and he used the parish iron room for two services every Sunday. This iron room was dismantled by the insolvent granite company in 1868, which left nowhere suitable for services.

A relative of the Heaven family (Sarah Langworthy, nee Heaven), inherited her husband's vast fortune and financed the building of a corrugated iron church. This was dedicated in 1885 by the Bishop of Exeter who described it as a "corrugated irony", as it was not a permanent building and could not be consecrated. It was dedicated to St. Helen. A Puffin

In 1895 Mrs Langworthy left Hudson Grossett Heaven a large legacy to which he devoted the erection of a premanent stone church. The building contract was awarded to Britton and Pickett of Ilfracombe.

Upon laying the foundations, the chosen site was found to be a bed of clay at least 16 feet in depth. This could be the reason for the church not conforming to the traditional East-West orientation. Many of the granite blocks for the building came from ruined cottages on the island, and the church was completed in 1896 at a cost of four thousand one hundred and four pounds, five shillings and sevenpence, and architect's fees of two hundred and eighty six pounds and eight pence. St Helena's being built

On the 17th of June 1897 (some sources state 7th June; however, the deed of consecration clearly says the 17th. This error is probably due to a misprint in the Ilfracombe Chronicle of the day.) Bishop Bickersteth of Exeter consecrated the church, the tower (74ft. to the top of the turret) was completed with a ring of eight bells at a cost of 425 pounds, 18 shillings and sixpence.

The ring of eight bells was cast in 1897 by Charles Carr & Co of Smethwick and hung in a composite frame. They were rung to a peal of Stedman Triples in 1905 by the Rev. F.E.Robinson and his band, who found the fittings in a poor state of repair when they arrived. Being unable to leave the island because of bad weather, they set to work to improve the bells and scored the peal the following day. A plaque in the porch commemorates this feat. The bells were rung occasionally from then until the late twenties, mainly by Georgeham ringers. Band of visiting ringers

By the Second World War they became unsafe, although in 1954 they were clocked for a wedding, which gave rise to heated letters in the Ringing World as to their safety. Shortly after this they were lowered to the porch, and stored there.

Attempts were made at this time to have the bells scrapped, however the land on which the church is built and the adjoining acre belonged to the Church Commissioners, but the surrounding area belonged to the owner of Lundy and he felt that the bells were part of the island heritage and consequently refused to allow them to be removed from the island. They remained in the porch until 1977 when the Tenor was hoisted up the tower and hung dead for chiming. The remaining seven bells, with the third now cracked in the crown, continued to be stored in the church porch. Bob Caton

During the late 1970's, Bob Caton lived in North Devon and was a frequent visitor to Lundy. At this time, Bob had just started to ring at Northam so the sight of the Lundy bells, standing forlornly in the porch, generated more than a casual interest.

In 1982 Bob moved to Bristol but his links with the island continued through his work as a brewery technician. During one of his professional visits he discussed the future of the bells with John Puddy, then the Island's agent, and arranged a survey by John Taylor of Loughborough.

In October 1991, acting on the comments in the report, a working party spent four days clearing a 30 year accumulation of guano and general rubbish from the tower. A further visit followed in May 1993 when the remains of the original frame were removed and another top to bottom clear out completed.

During 1992 two chance meetings took place that were to dramatically accelerate the rehanging plans. On the first occasion Bob was introduced to Eric Church, the senior trustee of the Doris Field Trust, by John Puddy. After having been acquainted with the details of the project, Eric displayed great enthusiasm and interest and said that financial help could be a possibility.

The second meeting involved Andrew Wilby who, while on a casual visit, met with John Puddy and inevitably the conversation turned to the church bells. As a result of this meeting Andrew was invited to submit a detailed plan for rehanging and estimated cost for consideration by the Doris Field Trustees. Eric Church and his fellow trustees were impressed with Andrew's presentation, and were unanimous in agreeing to fund the entire project.

Three working parties were then arranged. The first was in september 1993 when the Tenor was lowered to the porch and then all eight bells were moved outside the church and made ready for transport to the mainland. They left the island on 17 December 1993.

During the next 6 months, the bells were refurbished and fitted with new headstocks. The cracked third was welded by Soundweld of Cambridge and the complete ring was retuned by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. The refurbishing work was carried out by Eayre & Smith who also supplied new fittings and designed the new frame. The frame was built by Nigel Brewer of Farm Industrial Buildings.

The second working party was in May 1994 when the new frame was installed in the tower. Such was the interest at this stage that people who were on holiday were giving their time quite freely to help with the project, one gentleman spending many hours driving the JCB transporting the steelwork from A to B. Reg Lo-Vel

The bells complete with wheels and fittings were returned to the island in July 1994, and the third working party arrived to carry out the installation under the supervision of Bob Servante of Eayre & Smith. Once again the work captured the imagination of visitors to Lundy, and there were lots of willing hands to do the multitude of jobs. Special mention here to Reg Lo-Vel and 'Q' from the island staff, who always seemed to be there when they were needed and for the super sound-control doors that they installed.

The first test ringing was on Thursday July 7th, and was featured in the BBC West Country news on TV. The dedication service was held on Saturday October 8th and was attended by many local dignitaries, including The Lady High Sheriff of Devon, the Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall Constabulary, and Mr Jeremy Thorpe. The church was filled with over 150 people and the service was taken by the Priest in Charge, Rev. W. Blakey, Rector of Parkham and Rural Dean of Hartland, with the address and dedication performed by the Bishop of Crediton.

The weather for this occasion was perfect, and more than 60 ringers sampled the bells. It was perhaps fitting that the first band of visitors to ring were Georgeham, who were probably the last band to ring the Lundy bells in their original fittings.

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