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 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.