Thanks to the generosity of the Robert Lucas Trust, our bell is being professionally restored as part of our Tower Restoration project.
The bell performs two key functions at St Michaels; the first is to give our clock a voice, chiming on the quarter, half and full hours (though this stops automatically between 10pm and 8am so as not to annoy our neighbours). The second is to allow us to announce the start of worship by pulling on a bell-rope in the entrance lobby.
Both of these functions involved a hammer being struck against the outside rim of the bell which has gradually worn the metal away, to a point that the bell was at risk of fracturing.
So, the bell is being restored, replacing the metal lost through the hammer-strikes over many years, and repairing the large chunk that you can clearly see is missing from the rim.
The work is being undertaken by John Taylor & Co at their Loughborough bell foundry - there is an inscription on the bell "R.Taylor St Neots Fecit 1808" (Fecit is Latin for 'made in'). Taylors bell foundry re-located from St Neots to Loughborough in 1839.
An excerpt from their website reads "[The Company] continues a line of bell founding which has been unbroken since the middle of the 14th Century [around the time that St Michael's Church was built we believe], when Johannes de Stafford was active only 10 miles from the site of the present foundry.
From 1784 the business was operated by members of the Taylor family, and in 1839 it moved to its present position in Loughborough, and is now proud to operate the largest bell foundry in the world."
Another Inscription on the opposite side of the bell has the name of 'William Green Churchwarden'. We do not have any records of this period, so don't currently know if William Green was one of our Churchwardens or not, so this gives us another little research project to do!
There is a cast iron hasp inside the top of the bell, from which the currently unused clapper hangs - as the bell is made from an alloy that is basically bronze, the joint between these two metals is a potential failure point, so the hasp may be removed as part of the restoration.
The bell was hung from two rolled steel joists which spanned the entire width of the bell/clock chamber, making it difficult to access the clock mechanism (positioned on the far side of the RSJs) for maintenance and adjustment. The plan now is to suspend the restored bell from a wooden bell frame which will allow easier and safer access to the clock mechanism, and may involve the original clapper coming back into use.
The first job was to remove the (currently unused) clapper from inside the bell.
Next the bell and its headstock were lifted up from the supporting beams with a chain block (winch).
Once clear of the supporting beams, a second winch was used to pull the bell over the hatch in the floor of the bell chamber.
From there, the bell was winched all the way down to the ground - here's a short video of part of that happening...
The bell was lowered onto a trolley so that it could be moved outside
It was then wheeled around to the car park for loading into the van...
It took 3 guys to lift it into the van. You can clearly see a sizeable chip in the rim of the bell.
After the rendering was removed from the upper part of our tower, it became clear why the render had become so unstable - iron nails had been used to anchor the render to the masonry. Over time, the nails had corroded. When iron corrodes (rusts), it expands, and this has resulted in the render breaking up and separating from the masonry behind it.
Stainless steel mesh, attached with stainless steel screws (or stainless steel 'spirals' bonded in where the screws will not hold) will be used to anchor the new render when it is applied.
But, before that, a much bigger job has to be completed - replacing the damaged stonework. This is probably the most expensive single element of our tower restoration, and will almost certainly be the most striking visual improvement.
The new stonework is now being installed, and to avoid the rapid deterioration suffered by the original stone (Clunch - a relatively cheap, but fragile stone) we are replacing it with Clipsham Stone. Similar in appearance to Clunch (when new at least!), Clipsham is of a higher quality and should last as stone is supposed to.
Below we are delighted to show you some photos of the new stonework which is being skillfuly installed - not easy to see from the ground with the scaffolding shrouded with debris netting.
Utterly gorgeous stonework. Speaks for itself doesn't it?
We continue to remember and to be eternally grateful for all of the funding bodies that have made this possible. Work of this quality comes at enormous cost, but should last for many generations.
We can't wait (though, like you, we'll have to!) to see how amazing the tower looks when fully restored...
Source: Patricia Goulding (Churchwarden)
Date: 9th November 2018
As part of the major restoration that our church tower is currently undergoing, the clock has been removed and taken away to be fully restored.
This will involve not just the bits we will all see (a re-painted and guilded face and hands), but, probably more importantly a full overhaul and restoration of the clock mechanism.
The first job was to remove the face and hands...
Once down onto the scaffolding, the next job was lower it to the ground...
A simple rope and pulley was all that was needed...
The clock face (and hands) safely down to the ground...
Leant against the skip, the clock's face and hands look much bigger than they do in their normal position...
The hands of time in all their faded glory...
Next, the clock mechanism had to be dismantled...
All of the components had to be removed from the 'bird cage' frame...
A complex array of parts were removed, all in need of serious amounts of TLC...
Finally, the 'bird cage' was empty and ready to be lowered...
Unlike the other parts, the bird cage was lowered down through a hatch in the ceiling of the tower...
Safely down to the ground...
Clock parts loaded on a trailer and off to Saffron Walden for restoration...
A lot of work will be needed to restore our clock to full working order...
Source: Patricia Goulding (Churchwarden)
Date: 29th October 2018
After many years of hard work and fund raising, our historic tower restoration is finally under way.
As is usually the case, the project starts with scaffolding to give access, and that is now in place.
PLEASE NOTE: OUR FRONT DOOR IS STILL OPEN - BUSINESS AS USUAL!
Building work is scheduled to commence by the end of September, and will include removal and restoration of the clock and it's bell, together with extensive re-modelling of the main entrance.
None of this would have been possible without the generous support of:
- Heritage Lottery Fund
- Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire Historic Churches Trust
- Francis Coales Charitable Foundation
- Gale Family Charity Trust
- The Steel Charitable Trust
- And, of course, the residents and businesses of Shefford
A BIG "thank you" is also due to everyone who has been involved in planning, applying for grants and simply daring to dream that such an ambitious project could be achieved.
Date: Monday 3rd September 2018
Saturday 8th September saw Frank Bond and Stephen Lines setting out on an ambitious sponsored Teddy Bear Push in aid of the annual Beds & Herts Historic Churches Trust 'Bike & Hike' fundraising event.
The Trust has been a generous supporter of both the re-roofing and the tower restoration here at St Michael's, so we are delighted to continue our support for them, both by direct fund raising ,and by being open to offer a warm welcome to support the many other fund raisers who enjoy this annual event.
The boys visited a total of 16 churches on their 16 mile trek:
- Upper Gravenhurst
- Lower Gravenhurst
- Lower Stondon
Sponsors have been generous as always - early indications are that we will exceed our previous record of £300!
Date: 8th September 2018
St Michael and All Angel Church Awarded National Lottery Support to repair building and involve community in heritage activities
St Michaels Church Shefford has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant of £219,400 to repair the church tower, to make it safe and structurally sound, and deliver activities for local people and visitors to learn about and celebrate Shefford’s heritage.
Thanks to National Lottery players, the 14th century building will benefit from improved energy-efficient lighting and a more welcoming and accessible entrance area, with the existing heavy wooden doors to be replaced with wider glass doors.
As well as offering worship throughout the week, the church acts as a community hub. Standing at the heart of the town, it is well-placed to involve the community in heritage activities and share the story of the building through a new guide book and walking tours.
Local school students will be involved in recording oral histories of people’s memories of Shefford, and creatively interpreting the history of the church through decorated ceramic tiles.
The church and its tower are cherished by the community as the oldest preserved building in the town and St Michael’s is deeply grateful for the generous support of local schools, businesses and other organisations which are supporting the project through volunteering and financial contributions; the total cost is £306,250.
More information about the project and its supporters is displayed in church.
Commenting on the award, Pat Goulding, Church Warden, said: “We’re delighted to have received this support; the restoration would have been impossible without this grant. We look forward to seeing the tower restored, and to recording and sharing Shefford’s heritage with local people and visitors”.
Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England said, “This wonderful project is a great illustration of how lottery players' money is helping to bring together heritage and communities. The project will help protect a very special building and now even more people will get to share the beautiful space and its stories.”
Source: Patricia Goulding; Churchwarden
Date: 16th July 2018
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