The Five Bells of Little Cornard Church have, according to a recent report, been silent for perhaps two hundred years.*
They hang in the tower in ‘advanced state of dereliction’. However, they form an ‘interesting historical collection’ and it is our duty not only to repair them but to put them in a good ring-able condition by the provision of a new bell frame and ringing fittings. We can also augment the ring by commissioning a sixth bell.
The Tenor bell is the oldest and dates from about 1399; as such it could have rung out to celebrate the English victory at Agincourt in 1415 (and who is to say it didn’t?). The No. 4 (and second oldest) bell was cast in 1597 by Richard Bowler of Colchester, Nos 2 and 3 were cast by Henry Pleasant of Sudbury in 1707 (his foundry was close to Ballingdon bridge) and the Treble was the work of John Thornton of Sudbury and his associated, the itinerant bell founder, John Waylett. Some of the bells in the ringing chamber are cracked or chipped but they can be repaired. As for the bell fittings, headstocks, wheels and pulleys, together with the frame, these are badly decayed and no longer fit for purpose.
We know very little about the history of the bells or why they ceased to be rung, but we can guess that when times were bad and there was no money to effect repairs, they simply fell into disuse and then decay. From the fifteenth century to eighteenth century, we have fragmentary records of the efforts made to keep the tower and bells in good repair, thereafter the records are silent and so were the bells. In 1446, a Little Cornard man left in his will ten shillings (a considerable sum) ‘to the repairing of the tower’ and in 1497 Peter Perymon of Bures left an unspecified legacy ‘towards the bells’ of Little Cornard.
The churchwardens’ accounts of 1576, the earliest we have, show that John Bigg authorised a payment of eleven pence for a ‘baldric’ for ‘one of our bells’. In 1581, the accounts record the expenditure of four shillings and six pence ‘for mending of the bell’ and, a year later, ‘nails for the bell’ cost one penny whilst a ‘bell wheel’ cost five shillings. The accounts of 1603 show that the bells had been ‘trimmed’ in preparation for the coronation of King James I; trimming probably entailed putting them in order for ringing.
In 1608, ‘John Wilkins ‘laid out towards mending the bell wheels’ one shilling and eight pence. A year later eight shillings were spent on ‘making a new wheel for the bell’. In 1634, seven shillings and six pence were ‘laid out for ringing the bells’. There is then a long gap in the churchwardens’ accounts and we next hear of the bells in 1731 when five shillings was paid to the bell ringers for their efforts on Guy Fawkes Night. In the same year, ‘mending the bell clapper’ cost three shillings and six pence. In 1735, two bell clappers and three new bell ropes cost the churchwardens a total of 12 shillings.
So, since about 1800, our bells have been silent but we now have a marvellous opportunity to bring them to life again and for them to ring out over the fields of our village. We urge you to contribute to the fund set up in the name of the late Revd Tony Moore, whose heartfelt wish was that the bells be restored, rung and maintained for future generations in Little Cornard.
*However, at least one parishioner can recall a single bell being tolled from time to time.