Charles Whitbread launches major appeal for St Paul's tower, clock and bells
Thursday 28th October 2021 saw the launch of a major appeal at St Paul's, Bedford to restore the tower fabric, overhaul the obsolete clock drive and chiming mechanisms, refurbish the historic ringing room, and rehang its 12 bells.
The clock and bells installation are in urgent need of restoration to prevent them from falling silent.
The current bells are among the finest sounding in the country, and have been pivotal to the development of change ringing in Bedfordshire dating back to the 1600s. Ringers have travelled from far and wide to ring at St Paul's. The ringing chamber is adorned with boards recording historic peals rung for national, civic, and church events.
The clock, originally installed in 1811, is the largest church clock in North Beds and is one of the earliest surviving public clocks of its type.
Charles Whitbread, Appeal Chairman, whose family at Southill Park have a long association with St Paul's, addressed a reception at St Paul's and said:
"This is a unique opportunity to overhaul the tower, clock, ringing chamber, and the bells so that their familiar sounds can ring across Bedford for a further 100 years or more. I hope that our appeal today will be supported by the people of Bedfordshire as generously as their forebears supported the last major appeal of this kind in 1896, and we can leave a similarly impressive legacy for the town".
£500,000 is the estimated cost for the project. A very generous grant of £200,000 has kick started the appeal but Mr Whitbread urged guests to be generous and to spread the word so that many more people will support this exciting project.
Chris Pickford, Past Master of St Paul's Company of Ringers and an acknowledged expert on clocks and bells, gave an illuminating presentation on the history of those at St Paul's, showing the cracked frames supporting the bells and the dangerous conditions of access, highlighting the need for this restoration.
The evening concluded with a recital of Change Ringing on Handbells with their pleasing sequences of rhythmical sounds.
The project leader, Stephen Stanford who has led major bell hanging and restoration projects both locally and further afield, said:
"Our aim is to undertake the highest quality and most complete restoration possible, consistent with St Paul's status as a Major Parish Church."
Guests at the evening's launch included Cllr Jane Walker, Speaker of Bedford Borough Council, Deputy Lieutenants and former High Sheriffs, representatives of various funding Trusts, numerous bell ringers from across the county and beyond as well as members of St Paul's. Cllr Jane said:
"The people of Bedford are fortunate to have these exceptionally fine bells and clock marking time on this historic church, at the very heart of the town centre. I urge them to support this project so that generations of ringers can learn to enjoy the value of bell ringing".
The evening was hosted jointly by St Paul's PCC (Church Council), The Dorothy Porter Trust and The Friends of St Paul's who also provided the refreshments.
Canon Kevin Goss, Vicar, welcomes guests. Introduces co hosts and sponsors: Julian Polhill (right), Chair of The Friends of St Paul's, Rob Sansome (left), Trustee of Dorothy H Porter Trust
Charles Whitbread of Southill Park, Appeal Chair, launches the appeal
The complex Bell Chamber explained by Chris Pickford