The Tower and Bells

The tower was built in 1821-2 with a bequest from William Cole, a wealthy scholar, clergyman and antiquary, who died in 1782.  It had taken nearly forty years to agree the design and location, but it was eventually built at the west end of the nave, set back inside the church due to the lack of space between the church and the road.  The design, which originally included a substantial spire, was by Charles Humfrey and was judged by Pevsner to be ‘somewhat silly’.  It is however unusual and has early ‘Gothick’ Revival charm.  The spire was deemed unsafe and taken down in the 1920s.

The church had at least one bell before 1600 but that has disappeared.  Up to 2021 there were two bells both of which pre-date the tower, a large bell cast in 1691 and a small bell.  The 1691 bell was cast by Charles Newman, has a diameter of 35 inches and probably weighs about 8cwt. It was hung in a clochard or free-standing bell house in the churchyard which William Cole in his will called a ‘disgraceful wooden steeple in an old tree’.  The small bell, also referred to as the ‘Saints bell’ or ‘tingatang’ may have been hung on the wall of the church, most likely outside judging by the weathering.  In 1769 a small bell weighing 51 pounds was given to Joseph Eayre of St Neots in part exchange for a new and slightly larger bell weighing 76 pounds. Just 11 years later the present small bell was cast by Thomas Osborn, a successor to Joseph Eayre, who moved the business to Downham Market. The record of the payment for this bell, which presumably replaced Joseph Eayre’s bell due to it being damaged or unsatisfactory, has not been found, but Osborn was paid 10s 6d in 1781 for hanging it.

In 1822 the two bells were moved into the new tower.  Both bells were fitted with wheels and could be swung, but the hanging was not suitable for full circle ringing.  Also in the upper stage of the tower is the remains of the timber structure which supported the spire.  The bottom half of this structure was removed in 2021 to make space for the new bells.  The top half is now supported by a steel ring beam.  The large bell is higher in the tower and hung dead for use as a service bell.  The small bell will be hung in the ringing chamber as a demonstration bell.