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Not so very long ago, the traveller passing through North Perrott would have known a Sunday morning by the sound of church bells ringing out  the 11 o’clock or 6 o’clock services. The routines of village life marked as much by the ear as by the eye. The ringing of bells was a familiar and important part of life sounded for both the routine and the special events, whether to celebrate or to mourn.
        

Once the bells would ring the dawn of Christmas at 6.00am.  They would see out the old year with the sombre toll, and follow it with a glorious peel as the new year was welcomed in. The bells were there to celebrate the joys of the congregation in weddings and christenings, but equally they were there to mourn the sadnesses, pacing out, with the single toll of the tenor bell, the progress of the funeral procession as the coffin was carried up to the church.

The bells have a history of their own. It touches the people who commissioned the bells, the villagers who have rung them, and the individuals whose lives have been celebrated whether it be for  their  wedding vows,  the birth of their children or  the passing of people they have loved.  

The Church  itself,  St Martin’s, is tucked away to the West of the small Somerset village of North Perrott. The river Parrett, not so far from its origins near Crewkerne, runs through the adjacent fields on its way through some of the most beautiful Somerset countryside as it finds its way to the sea near Bridgwater.  The church, with its walled graveyard, is set in grazing parkland where the autumn visitor will still catch the scent of the apple orchards, a reminder,  that they were once the source of the cider rations paid as part of the agricultural workers’ wages.

The walk to St Martin’s is along an avenue of ancient beech trees. The church is a Grade I listed building, most probably built by Henry Earl of Bridgwater towards the end of  the 16th century. A church has been on the site for far longer,  as the Norman building incorporates much older structures.  The tower itself, where the bells hang, is of 12th century origin, around the time when newly crowned William the Conqueror granted the ten hides of Perret to Robert St Claire.

 

The Bells

The church and its bells are part of our village heritage. There are six bells in the tower, the oldest of them, a huge tenor bell weighing  over 9 3/4 cwt. It was made by George Davis of Bridgwater in 1786. Then, there are four younger bells made in 1803 by Thomas Bilbie. Engraved on them, are the names of their sponsors: William Hoskyns Esqr, and James Slade the Church Warden. Five of the six bells are listed. The sixth most recent bell was made by Llewellins and James of Bristol in 1904.  After World War I,  a clock was added, to honour the men of North Perrott killed in the trenches. Its Westminster chimes ring every quarter,  a hammer sounding on the bells.

The bells have rung throughout the village’s life.  Over the years Monday night was kept for practice night. Not quite the dry enterprise you might imagine, since the Manor Arms is but a stone’s throw away from the church, and essential to the rehydration of the ringers.  There are scurrilous tales dating back to the 1920s and ‘30s that once a jar of cider was kept under the stairs that lead up to the ringing chamber. The cider was there to sustain the ringers, but a bucket of disinfectant was kept handy to throw down the stairs to ensure that no telltale smells escaped to worry, or distract the parishioners from their prayers, at the next service.

  

The Restoration of the Bells

It is more than 100 years since Llewellins & James hung the sixth bell, and put in place the wooden bell frame that currently houses them. So it was not really a surprise to hear that time and travails of the bell ringers have taken their toll and there was in 2007 an urgent need for some maintenance work:  But that work is now complete. North Perrot has raised £21,000 and successfully completed the work of renovating and retuning the bells of St Martin's it was the first time for 100 years that any work had been done on these historic instruments and you can hear the difference.