The Bells of Bognor
When Fr. Andrew handed me a a very fine photograph of the 1952 chime of 8 bells installed in St. John the Baptist Church (see below), this triggered a most interesting investigation into the bells of the Anglican churches of Bognor. The investigation had to take into consideration that three churches were involved in the changes introduced to meet the growing population of Bognor starting with the private speculation St. John's Chapel of Ease consecrated in 1822 which made way in 1886 for the much larger St. John the Baptist church in London Road to the present uncompleted church of St. Wilfrid's dedicated in 1910, originally a daughter church of St. John's and which came to be the parish church on 25th of May 1971 when St. John's church was closed down.
The irony is that despite all the expansive changes, the subsequent demolition of both St. John's churches and the decision not to complete St. Wilfrid's has left us with only a very modest and makeshift bell tower at St. Wilfrid's church compared to the architect's grand plans for the bell tower/spire (ii below) and raises the question as to what happened to all the bells that went before.
Through our Notes and Queries page we are most grateful for the information provided by Jackie and John Ainger and Geoffrey Rix which have helped to answer many of the questions. Geoffrey Rix provided us with the main source of reference - the lateGeorge Elphick's 'Sussex Bells and Belfries' which contains full details on the 8 chime bells at St. John the Baptist church following a visit in 1957. Geoffrey also advised us that the 1952 8 bell chime was removed and disposed of by the world famous Whitechapel Bell Foundry (makers of the Big Ben Chime) and they in turn have clarified that the chime was removed in 1973 and eventually installed in St. Paul's Church, Breadfruit Street, Lagos, Nigeria in the Diocese of Lagos (Anglican Communion).
1833 Gothic Tower added to St. John's Chapel in the Steyne & 'Mary Ann' Bell Installed
In 1833 a Gothic tower was added to St. John's chapel in the Steyne and contained a clock and 4cwt bell named "Mary Ann" which had been donated by the Rev Charles and Miss Baumgarten of Aldwick at a cost of £200.
In the late George Elphick's book 'Sussex Bells & Belfries' reference seems to be made to this bell, presumably from an earlier visit (he started his surveys in the 1930s) and states in the section relating to the 8 chime bells:
However, Geoffrey Rix has notified us that Aldwick PCC purchased the bell with the plan to add it to their then 4 bells. It was then forgotten and re-discovered in the back of a shed in the churchyard around 1995. The Sussex Churches Bell Restoration Fund then looked after it until a project to augment Stoughton bells into a ring of six bells meant it could once again have a home ringing out over Sussex. The picture below is of the bell being removed from storage prior to collection by the bellhangers undertaking the work at Stoughton. The bell now weighs 3cwt 2qtr 13lbs; a little metal was removed from the 4cwt 26" bell for the tuning to fit in with the Stoughton bells.
1884 Bells of St. John the Baptist, London Road
From George Elphick's inspection of the bells in 1957 (which had been refurbished into a new 8 chime in 1952 - see below) it can be deduced that the original set of bells when the church was dedicated in 1886 had (or intended to be eventually) a 6 ring set* made by Thomas C. Lewis. Two 1884 bells were recast and incorporated into the new 8 chime in 1952 and Elphic records their original inscriptions:
1. T.C.L / + TO THE GLORY OF ALMIGHTY GOD/ AND IN GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE / OF THE PAROCHIAL MISSION OF A.D 1884
6. T.C.L / + IN GLORIAM DEI / ET IN MEMORIA: IOHANNIS WREFORD A.B. PRESBYTERI / PARENTES EIUSDEM MOE RENTES + A.S 1884 +
He also notes:
*It would seem unlikely that the original bell set was 6 bells - Geoffrey Rix has advised that Thomas Lewis cast relatively few bells between 1878 and 1888 and Geo.Elphick went through the records. Lewis was primarily an organ builder and his records and business was taken over by Henry Willis & Sons.
1952 New Chime of 8 Bells of St. John the Baptist, London Road
Fortunately we have found a very detailed picture of the chime of bells (click the picture for a larger picture)
From George Elphick's
inspection of the bells in 1957 we can see the inscriptions on the bells (left
to right starting at the top row) :
Elphick also is critical of the recasting of 2 of the earlier TCL bells incorporated into the 8 bell chime:
'It is a great pity that the two earlier bells by Thomas C. Lewis were recast, thus destroying much data on his theory of tonal qualities.'
It can be seen from the inscription on bell 7 that the new 8 bell chime was dedicated in memory of Florence Betty Davies who died aged just 12 years old in 1915. Through the Notes and Queries section of this website we have been very fortunate to have had a response from Jackie and John Ainger who have supplied a picture of the original memorial tablet that was erected in St. John's church when the bells were dedicated in 1952 and they have provided a great deal of background information about this remarkable family.
Florence Betty Davies was the only child of Arthur and Elizabeth Mary Davies. When motorised transport was introduced, Arthur Davies pioneered the early services in Bognor when he opened his first premises in 1903 at Beach House on the Esplanade as a motor and cycle hire business. He moved to larger premises in West Street in 1907. He also operated a fleet of five charabancs and is recorded as providing the first bus service in the area. Local historian Sylvia Endacott wrote one of her weekly Reminiscences articles in the Bognor Regis Observer ( 28th February 2008) on this start to public transport and the pioneering work of Arthur Davies and has very kindly provided the early photograph below taken with Elizabeth and Florence and two very contented pets!
When his daughter Florence died on 31st March 1915, Arthur was so distraught and in such poor health that he decided to sell his thriving business to the Southdown Bus Company which was formed on 2nd June 1915. Arthur died shortly afterwards on 13th February 1918 and his wife died on 21st January 1951 - i.e. just over a year before the bells were dedicated in 1952.
Arthur and his family are buried in Bognor cemetery (directions: from Town Cross Ave take the entrance that you can drive through and immediately on your left is a large monument of an angel with blue wings).
Present Bell, St. Wilfrid's Church (Date not yet known)
Remarkably, we have yet to identify any information on the current bell! It can be seen from the much cleaner looking dressing of the stone on the north/west corner of the north transept that the little wooden bell tower is a much later addition to the 1910 building and quite possibly added after Elphick's visit to Bognor in 1957 (the bell is not listed in Elphick's book). This area of the construction (where if the church had been finished would have been a party wall to the bell tower) is shown as a temporary undressed section rising above the roof eave level in the picture above taken during the construction).
Whereabouts of the Surviving Bells?
We now know (courtesy of Geoffrey Rix) that the original 'Mary Ann' bell from St. John's Chapel in the Steyne survived the demolition of the church and now forms part of the ring of 6 bells at Stoughton.
There were stories handed down by parishioners that the 1952 chime of 8 bells ended up in Africa and Geoffrey Rix's notes show that the bells were removed in 1973 by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry London and sold overseas. The Whitechapel bell Foundry have now confirmed that they removed the bells in 1973, the bells were sold to a Nigerian client and that the bells were installed at St. Paul's Church, Breadfruit Street, Lagos, Nigeria which is in the Diocese of Lagos (Anglican Communion).
Recorded thanks to:
Peter Green with the valuable assistance of John Hawkins