This year villagers celebrated when, for the first time in 40 years, the twin bells of St Matthew’s Otterbourne rang out to welcome Christmas Day.
In 1969 one of the bells in St Matthew’s Otterbourne had to be removed and was never replaced. The remaining bell then deteriorated. Matters suddenly became even worse when it was discovered that the masonry of bell turret was becoming unsafe and the church might have to close. A fund was set up to rebuild the turret and restore the bells. With the help of the residents of Otterbourne the funds started to roll in. Special fund raising events were held and local people and village institutions contributed money and gave their support to the project.
By 2011 half the estimated sum for the restoration had been raised but there was still a long way to go. It was at this stage that the project team contacted Viridor Credits Environmental Company which works under the auspices of the Landfill Communities Fund. A project brief was presented to Viridor Credits who then offered a substantial grant to provide the remaining funds. There was much celebration within Otterbourne and work to rebuild the turret, cast a new bell and restore the remaining old bell proceeded throughout 2012.
The project team were lucky enough to be invited to Taylor’s Bell Foundry in Loughborough to see the new bell being cast.
The team was invited up to a gallery over-looking the furnace area and could see one furnace glowing brightly. Several bells were being cast in Taylors foundry that day. The molten metal was poured from the furnace into a vast metal bucket. Otterbourne’s was the first to be filled with the molten, 1200 degree centigrade, bell metal. Bell metal is a mixture of tin and copper and provides just the right qualities to give a good resonant tone to the bell. The molten mix was transported across to the bell moulds where it was poured. The heat and flare of sparks was spectacular and the top of the Otterbourne mould was still glowing with a dull red heat an hour later. It then took a further day to cool before it could be removed from the mould.
The new bell is an exact replica of the broken one which was removed in 1969. Taylors, who had cast the original bell in 1838, paid the church the princely sum of 7 shillings and 6 pence (about 38p) to take it away. Unfortunately, the new 2012 replacement bell cost several thousand pounds more.
The new bell bears the inscription “To the Glory of God.” The other bell, which was restored at the same time, has the Latin inscription “Venite Exultemus Domino” which means “Come and Worship God”. These are splendid inscriptions for bells that have so often over the years rung out to call Otterbourne to prayer.
By August all was ready to fit the bells back into the rebuilt turret. The team from the foundry quickly got to work unloading the 2 heavy bells. The larger, older bell weighed over 1 cwt (50kg). By lunch time a crowd had gathered to watch. As the first bell was winched up the tower it rang out cheerfully as the chains from the block and tackle knocked against it. Before long the new bell had been placed in its mounting and was rung for the first time to ensure that it was correctly in place. Soon after, this procedure was repeated with the older bell.
By Mid-September the project was complete and local children were given the opportunity to try ringing the bells themselves during the church’s Open Day. A service of dedication was lead by the Rector, the Revd William Prescott during morning service on 22 September and included the ringing the bells accompanied by loud applause.
Church Warden, Dick Oldham, said that it was a tremendous effort by the local community which had saved the village church. He thanked everyone who had helped, especially Viridor Credits who had provided such a generous grant. Now the repairs are complete St Matthew’s is thriving and everyone is looking forward to the church remaining at the heart of the village for years to come.
To mark the final milestone of the project the bells of St Matthew’s Otterbourne rang out loud and clear on Christmas Day in celebration of the birth of Jesus.