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1892 A Peal of Bells for Bolsterstone

In Memory of the Rev. J. Bell M.A.

1892 A Peal of Bells for Bolsterstone

On Sunday, 24th September 2023, the peal of eight bells in Bolsterstone church tower were re-dedicated by the Bishop of Sheffield Peter Wilcox following their refurbishment earlier in the year after 130 years’ service.

The bells had been purchased in 1892 in memory of a former vicar, the Reverend John Bell M.A., who had been very popular. He had been the vicar of Bolsterstone from 1848 until 1862 before moving to the parish of Fordham in Cambridgeshire. He died at the vicarage there on the 9th January 1892 at the age of 70. Even though he had left Bolsterstone thirty years previously, the Rev. Bell was still fondly remembered, and was said to have been “a man full of faith and good works.” When news of his death was received, there was a wish to do something to remember him by, and the following month, on the 8th February, the current vicar, the Rev. William Reginald Wilson, chaired a meeting in the village school to discuss how to remember the Rev. Bell. It was decided to raise money to purchase a peal of bells, and it was thought that the cost of the bells would be about £500. Subscriptions were promised amounting to £115, and a committee appointed to collect the funds. Previously there was only one bell in the tower, which had been cast in 1738 and had seen service in three churches. That bell was not lost, but was re-hung with the new ones.

In the end, more than the required amount was raised, with almost £600 being donated by the parishioners, whatever their religious beliefs. Amounts subscribed varied from 2d. up to £25. Eight bells were then ordered from the foundry of Taylor and Company of Loughborough – the same company which have just refurbished them.

The bells were ready just three months after the idea had been decided upon, and at 3pm on Saturday 28th May they arrived by train at Deepcar Station where they were met by the Committee, and a procession was formed to accompany them to Bolsterstone. Nine drays had been lent for the occasion, each one pulled by two powerful horses, all decked out for the occasion. The drays had been lent by Messrs. C. Booth, Friend Schofield, B. Webster, J. Charlesworth, J. Newton, J. Armitage & Sons, C. Macro Wilson, J. G. Lowood and Company, and the Stocksbridge Co-operative Society. The extra dray was used to carry the fittings etc.

Stocksbridge Brass Band headed the procession to Bolsterstone, and they were followed by (in order): the Church Boys’ Brigade; the Vicar of Bolsterstone, curates and churchwardens; the Committee; the nine drays carrying the bells and their fittings; the Stocksbridge Fire Brigade; bringing up the rear were some of the “leading inhabitants of the district.” Mr. C. Macro Wilson followed in his carriage, and a young lady in a pony and trap, Mrs. Askew and Mr. J. Bramall also in their traps. J. Hattersley, churchwarden, was on horseback. The band played selections on the route as the procession went from Deepcar to Bolsterstone via Stocksbridge, using the least steep route of Hoyle House Lane and Low Lane (Victoria Road).

The village of Bolsterstone was reported to be “en fete,” all decked out with flags and bunting. On reaching Bolsterstone the procession formed into a circle, with the clergy and churchwardens in the centre, and the hymn, “All people that on earth do dwell” was sung, accompanied by the band. The Vicar, addressing the huge crowd that had gathered, said: “My friends, today is one in our parish history which will not easily be forgotten. This peal of bells will shortly be hung in the tower of our church. The deep interest taken [in] obtaining these bells, the liberal response made to the appeal for subscriptions, and your presence here today show the feeling which exists amongst us all. The deepest sympathy has been shown towards this movement by our various religious bodies. I trust these bells may be successfully hung, and that they may be a voice inviting all to worship in this church; that our children and children’s children may here offer prayer to God, and a blessing rest upon all. I trust the bells may be a means of good to this and all succeeding generations.” A prayer was said, asking God to accept the bells, and the Doxology sung.

The reports do not say how the bells were loaded and unloaded from the drays, with the exception of one report stating that “the work of unloading the bells was then successfully accomplished by many willing helpers.” The tenor bell weighed 12cwt so I doubt it was a case of manhandling them off the drays! One of the photographs at the bottom of this page shows the crowd at Bolsterstone with what looks like some kind of lifting apparatus. Friend Schofield, who had lent one of the drays, was congratulated on the readiness with which he raised the loads from the drays at the Church gate. Friend lived in Deepcar in 1891 and was a timber leader [a carter].

Tea was provided in the schoolroom afterwards.

On each of the eight bells there is an inscription in Latin verse. I have seen various translations, which differ slightly. Here is one of them:

“I, Bell, call you with bronze, who used to call you by voice; brazen is the voice that resounds, the human voice is silent. O’er hill and dale, I, John’s Bell resound. Hasten hither I pray; learn to live, learn to die. Therefore, I call him who rejoices in prosperity, or him who mourns in adversity, to this earthly House of the Lord, that he may learn to bear all things in faith. I call, and ever will call, till God himself call you to an everlasting abode.”

Another translation is:
“Hither I call you all, with sounding brass, Who called with human voice of yore; I call but as a bell – from me, alas! The human voice is heard no more. But as a Bell, in John Bell’s name I sound, With “learn to live” or “learn to die;” Thus to whoe’er in grief or joy is found, I iterate my ringing cry. That each may learn what best befits his case; While I, from off this Waldershelf, Call and will call you to this sacred place, Till God shall call you to Himself.”

The tenor bell has an additional inscription, also in Latin, which is translated as:
“To the glory of God, and in memory of John Bell, M.A., formerly pastor of this parish. These eight bells have been placed by his friends, foremost amongst whom are Reginald Henry Rimington Wilson, Lord of the Manor of Bolsterstone, and Patron; William Reginald Wilson, M.A., Vicar; Joseph Hattersley and Charles Macro Wilson, Churchwardens, 1892.” Again, various translations differ slightly in their wording.

Writing in the Sheffield Independent in October 1892, the author of the column “Spectator in Hallamshire” noted that, “the Latin elegiacs which have just been cut upon the new bells in Bolsterstone church make one think that scholarship is not yet dead amongst the clergy of the Church of England.”

The bells were duly hung in the tower, and a dedication ceremony organised for Saturday 1st October. The day was beautifully fine, and the villages had once again decorated their houses with flags and bunting, and Union Jacks were flown from the church tower and Mr. Macro Wilson’s house, Waldershaigh. The service was led by the Archbishop of York. Choirs and clergy from the local churches attended as did the Stocksbridge Brass Band. The church was packed, and several of the choirs stayed outside during the service where an “overflow” service was conducted. It was estimated that over 2,000 people turned up. The Sheffield Independent reported that this was “an extraordinary gathering for such an isolated centre,” and that “most of the lonely farm houses and cottages amongst the hills for miles around must have been left uninhabited, while large numbers were attracted from the industrious communities at Deepcar and Stocksbridge.”

The Archbishop donned his robes in the vestry, whilst the rest of the clergy and the choir used the school. A short procession proceeded to the church headed by the Stocksbridge Prize Band and followed by the members of the Bell Committee, the choirs and clergy. The Archbishop joined the procession as it approached the church. After the choral service the clergy moved down the church to the bell tower. Holding the bell ropes, the Archbishop declared the bells to be solemnly set apart and separate from all profane and unhallowed uses, and dedicated them “to the glory of God and the benefit of His holy Church.” Delivering the ropes to the vicar he then said: “Receive these bells as a sacred trust, committed unto thee as the appointed minister of Christ in this church and parish, and take heed that they be ever and only used in His service and for His glory.”

Three new items for the church were dedicated on this day as well; the tower screen, a clock and a font. The ceremony being completed, the bells were chimed for a few minutes. An appropriate hymn was sung, the first lines of which were: “Lifted high within the steeple / Now our bells are set on high / To begin their holy mission / Midway ‘twixt the earth and sky.” As was usual at large events such as this, tea was afterwards provided in the schoolroom.

The Clock
Mr. R. H. Rimington Wilson of Broomhead Hall donated a new clock for the tower. This had two dials, each of 54 inches diameter. It was fitted with Westminster chimes. The clock was made by Mr. Rippon, of the Wicker, who set it going at the dedication service “by electricity.”

The Font
A new font made of Mansfield Stone was also dedicated by the Archbishop. This was the gift of the vicar and Mrs. Wilson, in memory of their daughter Christine Augusta, who had died on the 6th July 1876 aged 4 years and 9 months. The font was designed by Mr. Webster of Sheffield, an architect, and the working of it was entrusted to David Brearley, who became Captain of the bell ringers. The old Font was moved outside opposite the porch and set up as a sun dial. It had originally been in Ecclesfield church, and later in Bradfield church, and had been brought to Bolsterstone in 1871.

The Tower Screen
The bells are rung from the ground floor of the tower, and a new oak screen was made to screen the ringers from view. The screen was paid for out of the excess funds that had been raised for the bells. It was designed by the same man who designed the font, Mr. Webster, and was made by Messrs. T. and J. Hawley of Penistone. The carving on the top moulding was done by Miss Sharpe of Townend House and some hangings at the east end of the building were the work of her mother, Mrs. Sharpe.

Six bell ringers from Sheffield parish church and two from Bradfield were present at the dedication. Rather poetically, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph said that these ringers “know how to make sweet melody at that Zion of the Hills which keeps watch and ward over the Water Committee and most of its works.” … A corps of ringers was formed under the captainship of David Brearley, who had been a ringer at Bradfield church. By the time of the dedication, it was reported that the new hands were attaining “a fair amount of skill,” and that they were able to practice “without annoyance” to the locals because a silent ringing apparatus had been fitted to the bells (called Seage, after its inventor Epaphras Seage).

In the evening, the ringers rang a musical peal of Kent Treble Bob Major, consisting of 5056 changes, in three hours and five minutes. The Sheffield ringers were Charles Henry Hattersley, William Burgar, Thomas Hattersley, George Holmes, Sam Thomas and John Holman. The Bradfield ringers were David Brearley (now the captain of the Bolsterstone ringers) and Arthur Brearley (possibly his brother).

David Brearley was a local builder and he and his wife Elizabeth lived at “Lyndene” in Deepcar. Three of their sons were also bell ringers - Archie, John Redfearn and David Ivor. David Ivor was killed during the War and in February 1919 he was remembered at a memorial service for bell ringers who had died in the War, held at Sheffield Cathedral. Many ringers attended the Cathedral to pay tribute to ten of their fallen comrades. David Brearley senior was the man responsible for the War Memorial cross in the church yard erected after WW1, although sadly he died before he could see it erected. His funeral was attended by many ringers from Sheffield, Chesterfield, Bradfield and other places, and they rang a muffled peal before and after the service. They also rang hand-bells at the graveside. Archie Brearley died on the 27th March 1929 aged just 45. He had been a member of the Bolsterstone Church team of bellringers for about 30 years and had taken part in many contests and change ringing throughout the country. He had rung a total of 98 peals, but it is a shame that he did not reach his ambition of a century.

And finally … there’s always one!
A letter published in the Sheffield Independent on the 19th October 1892 from someone signing themselves “Headache” complained bitterly about the noise in Sheffield from all the church bells. “Some people go into ecstasies over church bells,” they began, “but I venture to say that there are thousands in Sheffield who consider them an abominable annoyance. Why on earth should they be rung and such a din made, on weekdays especially, when one has finished work and requires rest.” The writer wished that such “relics of Paganism” should be “swept away or melted down.” (He thought that the use of bells was originally to drive off evil spirits). Having read the newspaper report about the Bolsterstone bells and the system of silently ringing them during practice, he thought the idea was a good one and should be widely used.

In fact, in one of the Bolsterstone Parish Magazines from 1898 it was said that, should any person be seriously ill, a request could be made to the vicar that the bells be silenced.

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