CofE Norwich Diocese The Briningham Benefice

This is a report commissioned to determine the condition of the bell of St Mary's, Stody and to make recommendations for its repair and renovation.

The Stody Bell Report

This bell is an important survivor of the pre-Reformation Bury St Edmunds Foundry dated between c 1450 and 1528. It shares foundry marks with bells dated accurately to the 3rd quarter of the 15th century. It is inscribed: "Sancta Maria Ora pro nobis".

Stody Bell 1 Stody Bell 2 Stody Bell 3 Stody Bell 4 Stody Bell 5 Stody Bell 6

It is a "maiden" bell i.e. it is as it left the mould and has never been tuned. It has been chimed for most of its long life and concentrated soundbow wear is evident in one quarter only, which is where it is currently striking (East). This wear has reached the point when it would be advisable to turn the bell to present an unworn area of soundbow to be the new strike-point. This is usually done as part of a complete rehang.

When this course of action is undertaken, it is usual practice to remove the cast in crown staple. This is the iron "stirrup" that was cast into the bell metal when it was made and from which the clapper assembly hangs. It has long been recognised that when the iron staple rusts within the crown of the bell, the resultant expansion can be sufficient to crack the metal of the crown of the bell itself, causing major and costly damage. It is thus removed routinely when a bell is removed to a bellhanger's workshop. As well as preventing the bell cracking, it also allows for an independent clapper to be fitted in a centrally drilled hole. This means it can then swing in any direction that it is set and the optimum fresh striking point can be chosen.

This is necessarily a council of perfection and at a probable cost of £4000 for such a rehang this may not be an easily justifiable amount to spend on a bell that to all intents and purposes works. However there are still issues with the bell which I feel can be addressed relatively simply to keep everything in good working order for the foreseeable future.

The bell is hanging from modern (probably early 20thC), but traditional style fittings to a substantial wooden headstock:

Stody Bell 7

It swings on plain bearings mounted on two RSJs that span the tower E/W. It is fitted with a strong and elegant chiming lever. A start has already been made to repaint the iron fittings, however I was able to tighten all the nuts several turns in every case, with the gudgeon plate bolts being the loosest. I apologise for spoiling the paint finish of the nuts but in this instance their stability and ability to be adjusted was more important than the paint!

The timber of the headstock is suffering from a severe heartshake (see photo above and below) and currently is probably mainly kept in place by the securing iron work. Before continuing to ring it, a simple reinforcing/strapping repair should be carried out before it deteriorates further. In the event of a professional rehang as cited above, this entire assembly of headstock and bearings would be replaced with new metal components in the form of a cannon retaining headstock and hung on roller-bearings. This really is a case of repair and monitor or replace. My feeling is that a proper repair should suffice for the foreseeable future

Stody Bell 8 Stody Bell 9

I investigated one of the plain bearing cases and would recommend that the bell is lifted sufficiently to allow them to be completely cleaned out, charged with fresh grease and the covers refitted to ensure a dust free seal. This task can be easily done by a pair of competent steeplekeepers in an hour or so, and is something that could be done at any time because of the ease of access afforded by the new floor. The bell will swing much more freely than at present when this is done.

Stody Bell 10

The long flighted clapper, which is of a style coeval with the bell is still attached to the cast in crown staple by an antiquated pre-19thC system. There is a lot of wear, with the result that the clapper can be rotated completely around the inside of the bell. Not exactly ideal! The iron strap that goes through the staple and provides the rigidity for fixing the clapper (via the wedged bolt and the timber collar) has quite a lot of metal left but has a good half inch of vertical play.

The clapper is unlikely to fall out, but as it continues to wear, it will become ever more sloppy in its operation. If there is no likelihood of a professional rehang, this should be disassembled and either repaired to take out the slack, (probably by means of a leather lining) or reassembled with a suitable secondhand u-link and leather baldrick arrangement. This needs to be done from underneath whilst the scaffold is still in place.

Stody Bell 11

As mentioned above, quarter turning the bell is usually the recommended course of action. If the staple can not be drilled out then the alternative scheme would be perhaps to turn the whole bell through 180 degrees. This would allow it to be struck on the opposite side of the bell where the sound bow is considerably less worn (West). This same result can be achieved by re-fixing the chiming lever to the opposite side of the headstock. It would however have to be moved over to the N bearing side as opposed to centrally fixed as it is at present, in order to clear the ladder to the roof. Also new holes would need to be drilled in the floors for the rope to drop to the base of the tower.

Liberal amounts of grease have been applied in the past to the crown staple to lubricate the clapper's swing. This all helps to arrest the progress of rusting iron if removal of the staple is not an affordable option. This can continue to be the case until there is evidence to the contrary. The bell showed no signs internally or externally of any cracks, although externally the crown of the bell is (inevitably) a little porous and something that is quite normal.

Peter Trent: Principal Bells Advisor, Diocese of Norwich - 3rd May 2011




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