St Leonard’s Bells

A Brief History of the Bells, Bell Ringers and Bell Ringing at St Leonard’s, Swithland
with grateful thanks to Mr Richard Bimson

The Bells at Swithland
Nothing is known of the bells at Swithland prior to the current ring of bells which was installed in 1760. Edward VI ordered an inventory of church goods, including bells, in 1552, which is usually a useful source for identifying early bells. Unfortunately, however, the surviving records of the commissioners for Leicestershire are not complete and do not shed any light on what bells there might have been before 1760. The primary source of the installation of the bells are the bells themselves as their inscriptions record that the peal was the gift of Sir John Danvers, with the third bell being replaced, presumably it had become cracked or some other fault was found with it, in 1793, also the gift of Sir John.

Details of the Bells

The inscriptions of the bells are recorded in Thomas North’s The Church Bells of Leicestershire as follows:
1st, 2nd 4th and 5th bells all have the inscription: THE GIFT OF SIR JOHN DANVERS BART. 1760.
The inscription of the bells are interspersed with a leaf decoration and interestingly the tenor inscription is part incised rather than being in relief and part incised.

Tenor bell, with incised inscription

The bells remained mainly untouched for 150 years. However, a report by the Taylor Bellfoundry in 1913 shows that the bells needed attention. The fittings are described as “…in a very bad state and must all be new”. Whilst the wooden frame was not decaying a “great deal” of movement was noted and a new frame described as “advisable”. There had obviously been some work on the bells in the intervening years as the report notes that the front two bells had had their canons (large loops, by which the bell is attached to its wooden headstock) removed. A peal in 1919 had to be abandoned as the bells were so difficult; when the band successded the following year the conductor wrote “one of the toughest tasks I ever did!”

The 1913 report also indicates plans to increase the ring of bells to eight. This never happened, despite the foundation work for additional frame and two new holes being added when the new frame was added in 1920. Further work was carried out in 1969 at a cost of £469-3-0. Apart from routine maintenance no further work has been carried out on the bells since.

The Ringers of Swithland
Just as little is known of the early history of the bells, so also little is known of the early history of the people who rang the bells. It must be assumed that the ringers were mainly village estate workers, but no reports of ringing have yet been discovered for either the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. Three peals were rung in the 1920s, but the ringers mainly came from Leicester or Syston. The first recorded mention of village ringing appears in Gweneth Gimson’s memories of the village, starting in the 1920s. She recalls that the bells were always rung in the evening, quite often by members of the Lloyd family. She herself learnt to ring in 1927 and was taught by the Tower Captain Ted Lloyd. The other ringers were Roy Lloyd, Frank Spence their brother-in-law and George Lloyd. She needed to stand on a box as she was so short. Ringing in the 1930s continued and May Musgrave was ringing with the Lloyds, Charlie Pratt, Joe Bunney and a soldier from the Rectory. They rang for her Aunt Dollie coming back from honeymoon. In 1947 the bell ringers rang for Gweneth Gimson’s wedding at 12 o’clock followed by a funeral at 3 o’clock, for which they were bearers. It was reported that some of the bearers were unsteady on their feet, presumably due to their indulgence at the wedding reception.

A new band was formed in 1959 by Percy Wells; Fred Bindley from Thurcaston helped to train them. The inspiration for starting this new band was Joe Dransfield, “Uncle Joe” who had badgered the PCC to get new ropes and to form a band. The new band was clearly very enthusiastic. Between 1960 and 1969 19 peals were rung, all including members of the band, or latterly former members of the band, with four peals being rung alone in November and December 1961! Several members of the tower also held office within the Syston District. This new band was clearly the impetus behind the work on the bells in 1962.

Fortunes quickly changed and by 1970 Percy Wells took on the task of training a new band, who were all members of the Swithland Church Men’s Club. However, by 1974 the Tower Captain John Beachall reported that “I am pessimistic about the future as ringing seems so unpopular with adults and children.” The band revived itself again in the 1980s, and has continued ever since.

The Twenty-first Century Restoration
The bells were gradually becoming more difficult to ring and by 2015 an inspection advised that work would need to be undertaken on them within 5–10 years. This was the start of a major project to rehang the bells, with new headstocks and fittings, strengthening of the frame and tuning of the bells. The work was undertaken by Whites of Appleton in early 2019.

Old wooden headstock of the fifth bell. Note the canons which were to be retained.

A final peal was rung on the bells in January that year, Plain Bob Minor, the same method as the first peal and rung in the same time. The removal of the bells also gave the opportunity of weighing them and finding out their actual weight. It turns out that the tenor only weighs 11-0-7.

The bells were rung again for the first time at the Sunday service on 15th June 2019. A new rope guide was fitted in 2022 to help make the bells easier to ring. The fully restored ring will ensure that the bells can continue to ring out to call people to worship for the next one hundred years.