St Thomas Church was consecrated in September 1847; its tower is 92ft high. In 1848, a clock and a peal of bells were purchased at a cost of £194. The bells were a heavier ring of 5 until they were recast and rehung as a ring of 6, the lightest ring in the Diocese, by John Taylor& Co of Loughborough in 1980.
The original ring of 5 bells was supplied by C & G Mears of London in December 1848. When installed the bells were apparently hung on one level in a wooden frame supplied by the founders. The frame was repaired and strengthened in 1898 by Mears & Stainbank, who fitted angle plates and tie bolts and renewed most of the fittings, except the wheels. The same firm returned in 1930, when the frame was rearranged, some fittings renewed, and the bells rehung.
In January 1931 the Coventry Herald reported: “Christmas Day was ushered in as usual by a festal peal on the bells in the tower of Keresley Parish Church. Although the steeple is unsafe it has not prevented the bells being rung “for Christmas,” as the custom has been for many years.” In 1929 some stonework had fallen from the tower but there was a repair done; when cracks appeared later in the 30s, more extensive repairs to the tower were needed and carried out in 1939, silencing the bells for a few months.
The ringing room was, at one stage rather unusual. As recorded by Ernest Morris in The Ringing World of May 11th 1945: “At Keresley, near Coventry, St. Thomas’ Church has a ring of five, all by C. and G. Mears, 1848, with tenor 6¼ cwt. There the ringing chamber was very peculiar. It is behind an organ case, and the ringers stood on a series of ‘steps which once was a gallery. The fourth ringer’s head was on a level with the treble ringer’s knees. Of recent years, however, this has been levelled up.”
In the Coventry Herald of 10th and 11th December 1937 it was reported that: “A spirit of enthusiasm is being shown by the present bellringers at the Parish Church. They have provided new ropes for the bells and have offered to level the floor of the ringing chamber, which is now of three different heights. They are also anxious for a sixth bell to be added to the present peal of five and have promised subscriptions if a fund for this purpose is opened.” By early 1940 the Sixth Bell Fund had reached £40.
In correspondence in 1939 from Mears and Stainbank in response to advice regarding a 6th bell it refers to the 1930 work, including this: “The top of the bell-frame was also anchored to the walls to give added rigidity. When however the bells were rung the movement in the spire was alarming, and the top of the bell frame had to be made perfectly free again of the walls. Some of your ringers may remember this”. The letter went on to suggest that, with the current frame, introducing a 6th bell would likely not be approved by the Diocesan Advisory Committee.
The Coventry Standard of 12 October 1940 mentions a harvest festival where handbell ringers played as church bells were not allowed —in 1940, ringing church bells was banned pending sounding the alarm for a German invasion. This was lifted in 1943.
In 1952 the bells were inspected and an estimate made for their restoration and augmentation, with a quote for rehanging the current bells in a frame for 8 bells, an additional 6th bell and then two further trebles to complete a ring of 8. Some significant additional work within the tower would have been needed to accommodate a ring of 8, including a new staircase to the ringing room. No work was commissioned.
With the local newspapers becoming less parochial, reports of parish activities decreased. However, in 1973 the Coventry Evening Telegraph reported on the Music and Flower Festival at the end of May, and that 9 organists played over the 3 days and around 50 members of the Warwickshire Guild came to Keresley to ring on 31st May!
As the 70s progressed, new quotes were obtained for major renewal work on the bells, with at least 6 different options presented by 2 foundries. The PCC finally chose the second option from John Taylor & Co for the existing 5 bells to be recast to form a ring of 6 bells with tenor bell 2’ 2½” in diameter weighing approximately 4cwt. The total weight of the peal would be approximately 15cwt; a surplus of 7cwt of bell metal to be credited against the cost of the work. The bell fittings would be specially designed by Taylors for this light peal and they would be hung in a special girder framework. This at a cost of around £7,945 including VAT.
When the bells were recast they were each named for members of the church—bellringers, Len Green was a lay reader for many years, the others likely subscribers to the bell fund or other supporters of the parish. The Ensors were a local family and it is likely that Walter J Ensor, who died in 1969 aged 83 and is buried in the churchyard, is who the new treble bell was named for. Five is named for Ruth Whittington who sadly died in a road accident outside the church in the months before the bells were completed.
The new bells were installed in 1980/81 and on 12th September 1981 the finals of the Coventry Diocesan Guild ringing competition was held at Keresley, with teams from Bulkington, Stoke, Kenllworth, Allesley, Warwick St Nicholas, Warwick ‘Specials’ and Harbury taking part; around 2 hours of ringing altogether. Sadly, we have no record here of the winner!
The bells have continued to ring regularly since then for services, weddings and other special events, thanks to a team led by Graham Chadband. Some ringers have moved on, others have joined. After the enforced break of the 2020-21 COVID restrictions and remedial work carried out in 2022, neighbours and friends have been delighted to hear the bells return.
Comparison of the sizes and weights of the two sets of bells
C & G Mears, London 1848
John Taylor & Co of Loughborough 1980
|1W.J. ENSOR||2S. BOWCUTT||3C. D. MOCATTA||4DAVID OSBORNE||5RUTH WHITTINGTON||6R. WELLSA. BANNISTERL. GREEN|
|1-2-00||1-3-08||2-0-12||2-1-22||2-3-08||3 3 10|
The first row is the pitch of the bell
The 2nd row is the diameter
The 3rd row is the weight in cwt/qr/lb;
Bell weights are traditionally given in hundredweight (cwt) /quarter (qr) /pounds (lb).
1 hundredweight=8 stone=112lb; 1 quarter=2 stone=28lb
The 4th row is a conversion to pounds;
The 5th row is a conversion to kilograms
The bell visible in the top of the picture was borrowed from the Foundry for use during celebrations when the bells in the tower were re-hung.
G Chadband, S Hamilton, R Pearson, C Hewitt, C Faulkner
G Cashmore, S Danks, M Bailey, T Bowcutt, S Panting, Unknown
Sections of text and cover photos: Mike Chester, www.warksbells.co.uk. Used with permission ~
John Taylor & Co. Used with permission ~ Parish archives ~ British Newspaper Archives www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk. Used with permission for non-commercial purposes