Visitors have fun at church’s ‘open tower’ heritage event

Bell-ringers demonstrate the hobby
Bell-ringers demonstrate the hobby

St John the Baptist Church’s Open Tower and Bell-Ringing heritage day was a resounding success.

The Westbourne tower opened Sunday as part of the national Heritage Open Days, and around 60 people come up the tower which was open after a Sunday service from 10:30-12 to see the ringing and the bells.

Jason Crouch, a member of the bell-ringing team, said: “We had several of visitors ‘have-a-go’, including many children. We had four adults and two children sign up to come again on a practice night - one group, a family, joined us last night on our Monday practice. A great result with promise of more!

“I had created a web page on the Heritage Open Day website, and I got the details printed in the Westbourne parish magazine and pew sheet. I had posters on the village noticeboards and in the neighbouring villages board, community centres, shops and libraries. I had also approached the parish/church offices of the local churches of all denominations with invitations to join us after their services too. We had signs up outside the church to notify passersby that the church was open.

“I borrowed the excellent model from Chichester Cathedral - thank you, Hamish McNaughton - so that we could talk through the mechanics of bell-ringing to those who weren’t up the tower. And to reduce the time they needed to be up the tower for quicker turnover.

“Geoff Anthony, the steeplekeeper, and Peter Wilkinson, the tower captain, helped me set the back of the church up for the coffees and for the displays and the bell model . We also set up a laptop with a webcam in the belfry using powerline network adapters to relay pictures of the bells to a laptop in the back of the church coupled to a widescreen TV. This all tested fine on the Saturday. The intention being that people would be able to see the bells all swinging.

“Our band of ringers rang for the Sunday service and lowered and silenced three bells to enable people to ‘have-a-go’, yet still be able to demonstrate five bells ringing. They stayed for the service and were on hand to both demonstrate, guide the ‘have-a-go’ and show them up to the belfry.

“All the time I was demonstrating the bell-handling and extolling the virtues of our hobby to the groups waiting down below.

We had some great feedback from the visitors who signed our visitors sheet and best of all we had a number who are interested enough to come again.

“The only fly in the ointment was my laptop which threw a wobbly on the Sunday morning in the belfry and which I couldn’t get restarted to relay the pictures of the bells. Next time I will have proper IP cameras or a spare laptop.

“Despite being very tired by the Sunday afternoon, post cleanup, it was all in all a very worthwhile exercise - one we will be repeating next year at the same time.

“Anyone who missed the open day, wherever you are if you or your children would like to ‘have-a-go’ at bell-ringing, please contact the Sussex Association District Secretary at sec-west@scacr.org who will put you in touch with the nearest appropriate tower.”