Norton in Hales

Contributed by Jim Vallings


At St Chad's, Norton in Hales,Shropshire, a tune barrel was installed together with the clock by Thwaites and Reed of Croydon in 1868. In October 2020 it was fully restored to working order. The principal repairs have been to the hammers and bearings and re-routing of the cable arrangements as well as installation of an electro mechanical pull off which disengages the outer carillon hammers to enable the unencumbered rotation of the bell wheels for full circle ringing.

Getting the right advice for restoration has been a very lengthy process: experts in this field are few and far between. Of the 4 quotes we received, all made different recommendations, so trying to establish what was vital, what desirable and what was luxury was difficult. Fortunately I got an independent review from someone in the mechanical/fairground organ restoration business who put me in touch with a retired clockmaker/bellhanger..the ideal combination. As a result of his report we were able to get the final spec. agreed.

Grants were forthcoming from Shropshire Historic Churches Trust, The Barron Bell Trust, Church Care (who recognised the rarity of this installation and it's local significance), and with local donations and gift aid the required £25,000 was raised in less than 12 months. VAT was fully recovered. Optional night silencing was added in case this is required in the future.

The Diocesan Clock and Bell advisors were consulted and finally a faculty for the work was granted right in the middle of the 2020 lockdown. The upgrading of the lighting in the clock room, bellpit and access stairs completed the project.

This installation had been until recently in full working order: however wear and tear and regular problems with bell-wheels fouling by the carillon hammers had meant that full-circle ringing by our regular band was not able to safely continue until the carillon problems had been fixed: our PCC decided that as it wished to continue full circle ringing, the carillon should be taken out of service pro tem.

Carillons (and tune drums) are unusual in British rural churches, and this one is one of only 8 ever manufactured to this pattern and one of only 4 still working   St. Chads at Norton-in-Hales is said to be the smallest tower in Shropshire to house 8 bells, let alone a carillon. The oldest bell in the tower is from around 1610 and the carillon and remainder of the bells were installed in 1868.

It was discovered recently from Thwaites and Reed's archives that the whole installation of clock and carillon cost £353, in today's money approximately £35,000.

This video was shot in the tower clock room, just under the belfry, prior to any repairs. The room is tiny, about 10 feet square, and only 4' 6" high, and houses both the clock mechanism and carillon. The actuating wires to the carillon hammers can just be seen, along with the bell ropes running in the wooden guides from the ringing chamber below. The tune drum is made of brass and the tune pegs fit into horizontal slots around it's circumference.

The Victorian engineering of the carillon can be seen clonking away as the bells chime and the modern electric motors that drive the carillon whir away in the background. Originally the the carillon was powered by weights. The carillon plays one of three tunes, at three, six, nine and twelve o’ clock, morning and evening, every day, following the Westminster Chime for the quarters and hours. The tunes are “Home Sweet Home”, “There’s Nae Luck About The House” and “We Love The Place O’ God”. Feel free to hazard a guess at the tune in this performance.

Our community can now enjoy again this rare and irreplaceable feature after it's official re-dedication by Bishop Michael (Lichfield) just as lockdown finished in August 2021.