Review number 44 – January 2008

The Bells of Saint Mary’s

Ring out the old, ring in the new, and a Happy New Year to all our readers. The title of this article is not the cue for a Bing Crosby song. Alternatively we could have called it “The Six Bells”, but it might cause confusion. The 16th century hostelry at Walsham crossroads took this name around 1870.

At St Mary’s the basic structure of the tower is the most ancient part of the church, the nave and chancel having been largely rebuilt in the 15th century. The church is mentioned in the 1086 Domesday survey, but the will of Sir William Elmham, 1403, (Norwich Record Office: 288 Harsyk) is the oldest document relating to a specific feature. It states, in French, that Sir William was leaving 20 marks (£13.6s.8d., a great deal of money) to repair the aisle and the “clocher”, ie. the bell-tower. In other words, the tower was already old in 1403 and needed repair.

St mary’s like many towers in Suffolk, can hold six bells. Stowlangtoft still has a 15th century bell with a prayer in Gothic lettering to “Katerina” (St Catherine), a surprising survival. The Walsham bells must have had their saintly dedications too, almost certainly including St Catherine , whose gild was very influential in the village, or, we should say, town. The earliest known Walsham bell still exists, and is in fact post-Reformation. Saints were then frowned upon, particularly in this puritanical town where carved angels and other holy figures were destroyed during the 16th century. The bell weighs about 8cwt in old reckoning and is decorated with two small mouldings of crowns with crossed arrows, the heraldic symbol of Bury St Edmunds. There are also the words, in robust capitals.


(“Stephen Tonni of Bury St Edmunds made me;1576”) Tonni was a very important bell-founder, and Moyse’s Hall Musem exhibits an example of his work. Until vey recently Walsham’s bell could be inspected there as well, but now, because of museum down-sizing, it has been relegated to a hidden store, strictly unavailable to the public. The bell is cracked, and this is stated to be the reason for removal. The obvious fissure had rendered the bell unusable back in 1988, and that was why it was given to the museum, “Please mister, can we have our bell back?” does not work. The Bury Museums Service has a legally binding Deed of Gift indicating that the position is irrevocable.

The 1576 bell must have been a replacement of a faulty medieval bell. Between 1699 and 1704 five more bells were installed at the expense of ” John Hunt Esqvier”. This gentleman, sometimes called “Captain Hunt” in the parish records, is buried in the chancel. His black tombstone is near the vestry door, next to that of his father, also John Hunt, who died in 1861. John Hunt junior lived from 1661 to 1726, so was in his late 30’s and early 40’s when he gave the bells. He spent much of his time at his property in Cambridge, but he was a good Walsham landlord, according to his tombstone “a Defender of the Fatherless & a true administerer of Justice”. Parish records show that he paid for workers’ drinks at “the Blewbore”. His daughter Elizabeth, the youngest of six children, was born in 1703, the year before the last bell was installed. She inherited the estate on her father’s death, controlling affairs firmly as “Mistress Hunt”. The last of the direct line, she died, unmarried, in 1758, and left money for her father’s expensive monument, signed by the Bury sculptor Thomas Singleton. It can be seen on the chancel south wall, above Elizabeth’s former pew. Her grave, with the spinster’s symbol of a carved ribbon, is near that of her father.

The five bells installed by Captain Hunt were cast by Charles and Thomas Newman, presumably in Norwich. The three lighter bells by Charles Newman: Treble (234 kg.), 2nd(241 kg.), 3rd (288 kg.) are still in use. The 2nd and 3rd, made before the 1700 Treble, have fine raised lettering recording


The “made me” formula follows on from the traditional “me fecit” seen on the Tonni bell. The two heavier bells (5th 466 kg.), (Tenor 583 kg.) were originally cast by Thomas Newman in 1704, but they evidently needed replacing. Many townwardens’ bills show that bell-ropes were often renewed during the 18th century, so there was obviously much ringing, including a peal to celebrate the victory at Trafalgar in 1805. These two larger bells were recast by John Warner & Sons Ltd of London in 1900, the 1704 inscriptions being copied even to the “made mee” formula. They include many asterisks, sparingly used to emphasise NEWMAN in the 1699 and 1700 inscriptions, but now used to separate all the words. Additional interesting information can be seen in the lower area of the bell called the “soundbow”.



Bell-hanging is a complex, dangerous task, and it is fitting that this activity by a local firm should be recorded. In referring to 1900 as the year of peace, the inscription was unduly optimistic. Although the relief of Mafeking came in May, the second Boer War was to drag on, with many losses until 1902

Another inscription, on the oak tie beam at the top of the tower, says


The remaking of the roof was financed, like so many Walsham undertakings at this period, by John Martineau. In doing so, the old cupola which once held a small bell and striking mechanism for the clock was at last removed. A Georgian structure, it needed constant maintenance (“To painting the Cuperlow, twice: 10 shillings” states a 1785 plumber’s bill). !n 1877 when the present clock was installed a striking mechanism was geared to the bell-chamber. The village no longer heard “the miserable sounding bell on top of the tower” (a 19th century description), and the hour is now struck on the Tenor. The mechanism can be detached when the bell is needed for change ringing. The redundant cupola remained for many years, appearing in late Victorian photographs above the 1877 clock.

Stephen Tonni’s, as already stated, is cracked, and when in 1988 all the bells were retuned and rehung with new fittings, it was decided to have a new 4th. Of the two remaining bellfounders in England, John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough was chosen for the new bell of 412 kg. The inscription mentions the then Rector John Wood and the two churchwardens, Bernard Pollard and Michael Kidd. Appropriately for a new bell it quotes the opening of Psalm 98.


There is a very useful leaflet on bell-ringing, and our bells in particular, by Ann Daniels. There are copies available at the church door.

Brian Turner 2007

Works consulted

  1. Walsham Townwardens’ Accounts SRO (Bury) FL 646/5/8
  2. Review 43
  3. Audrey McLaughlin has asked me to point out that, although The Priory was substantially remodelled in 1904, it is of course basically medieval. B.T.

The Bell Ringer

Daniel Hawes, son of Samuel and Faith, was born in Walsham le Willows in 1793. In 1816 he made his mark alongside that of Mary Baker in the marriage register at the village church. They went to live in a small cottage at Four Ashes on the road to Badwell Ash that was partitioned down the middle to allow another family to also live on the premises.

Daniel had a variety of labouring jobs such as farm work, moving coal, digging clay pits for building material, and filling in the potholes in the unmade village roads. Often there was no work and the family would request parish relief, sometimes money and other times in the form of goods such as wood for firing or mutton. There was much illness in the family. In 1823 they received relief for the whole year and in the following year Daniel was so ill that the parish paid for help to be ‘in attendance’ and ‘sitting up’ with him, recording that ‘Daniel Hawes was in fits.’

In 1834 new ‘Poor Laws’ meant that in order to receive relief one would have to go to the Workhouse and so help support Daniel took on one of the new allotments in the parish, which were usually half an acre in size.

In 1837 Mary died at the age of 42, leaving Daniel to bring up their nine children. Some of them left home but one daughter had an illegitimate child and another daughter eventually had five illegitimate births who were all to live in the family home. A son of Daniel was twice imprisoned for failing to pay a bastardy order. Another daughter, in poor mental health, drowned herself ‘in a pond near her home at Four Ashes.’

For some reason amongst this mayhem of poverty and illness Daniel Hawes learnt to ring the church bells. To undertake within a company of bellringers a peal of six bells, with all of the possible permutations is both exhausting physically and mentally. It was no mean feat for an illiterate man with poor health. His wellbeing must have improved as he had a long lifeand even after the age of 90 he climbed the narrow steps up the church tower to the ringing chamber.

His obituary states: “Daniel Hawes, the oldest inhabitant in the parish of Walsham le Willows, passed away in a peaceful manner. He was in his 96th year and had brought up a large family being a widower for 53 years. The deceased was a champion bell ringer and when 93 years old he took his usual place with the company and rang a peal in his usual good style. About 3 years ago he gave up ringing but for two years after he tolled the bell at funerals.’

A plaque in the belfry of St Mary’s states: Daniel Hawes chimed in this tower from 1826 to 1885 and tolled the bell till 1888. Died January 10th 1890 aged 96 years. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shall be saved. Acts XVI 31.’

James Turner 2007
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