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 late George 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).

 

(i) (ii) (iii) (iv)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The present  bell tower at St. Wilfrid's church - all that was erected after the decision was made not to complete the bell tower/ spire and 3 remaining bays of the church as designed by architect George Fellows Prynne A water colour sketch of architect George Fellows Prynne's grand design for the bell tower of St. Wilfrid's church which was never built. The spire  of St. John The Baptist church in London Road designed by Sir. Arthur William Blomfield which was added in  1895. The church was demolished in 1972. The  Gothic tower of St. John's chapel in the Steyne which was added in 1833. The church was demolished in 1891/2 but the tower remained as a landmark until 1960

 

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:

'An earlier bell was inscribed: T. MEARS OF LONDON FECIT 1832. It hung in the tower of the old church in Market Street. When the tower was demolished in 1961, the bell had gone, no doubt the metal being used by T.C. Lewis.'

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:

'Meant to be the treble and tenor to a ring of six. They were hung in a Z frame for half pull ringing'

 

*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)

 

 

 

BELL INSCRIPTIONS

 

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) :
 

1.     PRAISE GOD IN THE HIGHEST / 1952 / GILLETT & JOHNSTON

2.     0 LET THE EARTH BLESS THE LORD / GIL­LETT & JOHNSTON CROYDON

3.     TO THE GLORY OF GOD IN GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE / OF THE PROCHIAL MISSION OF A.D 1884 T.C.L / RECAST 1952 BY GILLETT & JOHNSTON

4.     PRAISE HIM & MAGNIFY HIM FOR EVER/ GILLETT & JOHNSTON CROYDON

5.     LET EVERYTHING THAT HATH BREATH PRAISE THE LORD/ GILLETT & JOHNSTON.

6.     GOOD PEOPLE ALL, COME WHEN I CALL/ GILLETT & JOHNSTON CROYDON.

7.     0 LET ISRAEL BLESS THE LORD / THIS CHIME OF EIGHT BELLS COMPLETED / IN MEMORY OF / FLORENCE BETTY DAVIES / WHO DIED WHEN 12 YEARS OLD/ GILLETT & JOHNSTON CROYDON

8.     AND IN THE DEPTHS BE PRAISE/ AD GLORIAM DEI : ET IN MEMORIAM JOHANNES WREFORD A.B PRESBYTER/ PARENTES EUISDEM ME RENTES / A.D 1884 / T.C.L / RECAST 1952   BY GILLETT & JOHNSTON / V.K. LIMPETT M.A-VICAR / A.D Mc RAE / A.D ROBINSON / CHURCHWARDENS.

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.'

 

BELL MEMORIAL

 

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)

 

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Present Structure Church under construction

 

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:

  1. Geoffrey Rix, Petworth for information on George Elphick's book Sussex Bells & Belfries 1970 relating to the Bognor churches bells and his ongoing notes and picture of the original chapel bell now at Stoughton.

  2. Jackie and John Ainger (Elizabeth Mary Davies [nee Hayler] mother of Florence Betty also fostered her great niece Pat Hayler who is Jackie's mother; it is through Pat Hayler that Jackie now has the original plaque commemorating the 1952 dedication).

  3. Sylvia Endacott for information derived from her Reminiscences article on public transport (28th February 2008) and provision of the Arthur Davies family photograph. (Bognor Regis Local History Information website)

  4. The Whitechapel Bell Foundry for confirming the final destination of the 1952 8 Bell Chime taken from St. John the Baptist Church in 1973.

 

Peter Green with the valuable assistance of John Hawkins

April, 2008

 

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