By Paul Draper
Have you ever wondered what is the oldest, man-made object in Fairlight still in regular use?
The answer is the toll bell in St. Andrew’s Church.
In the St. Andrew’s belfry we now find nine bells. The toll bell survived the old church and when the current church was completed in 1846 it hung on its own in the new belfry. It hung on its own for over a hundred years until, in 1950, a new peel of eight bells was added.
The bell is 32” in diameter and weighs approximately 8 hundredweight. It is believed to have been manufactured by a William Burford, a bellmaker from London. Neither his name nor the year of casting are to be found on the bell, but the experts believe that he produced our bell during the years 1386 to 1392. Similar bells were also supplied to Westfield, Pevensey and Sidlesham. All of these bells are inscribed with the words SIT NOMEN DOMINI BENEDICTUM (Blessed be the name of the Lord) and these words circle the bells near the top. Our bell has a cross between the words benedictum and sit and a crown between the other words.
It is thought that our bell was not always alone. Although in the year 1686 it was found on the ground with another bell alongside it in pieces, it is believed that originally there must have been three. However, no records exist to substantiate this belief.
The eight bells were added in 1950 in memory of Mrs Avice Mabel Haalmeyer who had died in 1943. These bells were cast by Gillett and Johnson Ltd of Croydon and are not rung by pulling ropes but are operated by a clavier apparatus (a keyboard). The whole peel weighs forty one hundredweight with the largest being 38.375” in diameter and weighing 10.5 hundredweight. When you climb the tower at St. Andrew’s anyone can pause on the way to play the bells.
In 2007 all the bell support structures were in need of a thorough clean and overhaul. As part of this operation the toll bell was moved from the top of the belfry and mounted alongside the peel of eight on its own wooden beam.
So the next time you hear the bells ringing just spare a thought for the quality of the original manufacturer.
By Paul Draper (June 2015)