Page last updated at 01:12 GMT, Thursday, 10 September 2009 02:12 UK

Oldest ring of bells played again

By Mark Worthington
East of England reporter, BBC News


The world's oldest circle of church bells ring out again

For the first time in almost 25 years, Ipswich is waking up to a unique medieval sound.

The Suffolk town's St Lawrence Church houses the oldest circle of church bells in the world.

The five bells have been silent since the 1980s, but now they are ringing out over the rooftops once again.

The restoration of the church, its tower and the five bells, which date back to the 15th century, has cost more than £100,000.

The oldest were cast in the 1440s. For hundreds of years they rang out from the church's distinctive tower in the heart of Ipswich town centre.

But when the parish at St Lawrence dwindled away the building fell into disuse, then disrepair.

The tower was declared too unstable for the bells to be rung, and they have been quiet since 1985.

Emotional moment

The bells being craned into place
The church's tower has been reinforced to house the bells

The bells have now been repositioned farther down the tower and mounted on a new steel frame.

The project organiser, Dr John Blatchly from the Ipswich Historic Churches Trust, said hearing the bells again was an emotional moment.

"It brought a lump to my throat," he said. "It always seemed such a waste that such a wonderful piece of history was lying silent. It's been a lot of hard work, but today is a great day."

The bells are known locally as Wolsey's Bells. Henry VIII's most influential adviser, Cardinal Wolsey, grew up in the area and would have heard them as a boy.

It's a bit like a cricketer being invited onto the pitch at Lord's, and being allowed to hit a few runs with W G Grace's cricket bat
George Pipe

It is even thought his uncle might have paid for one to be made.

Neil Thomas, of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, helped to install the bells in the newly reinforced tower.

He said they sounded exactly the same now as they would have done in Wolsey's childhood.

"They are completely intact," he said. "They have never cracked and nothing's been done to them during the restoration except for some cleaning inside. The clappers are the originals, so they sound exactly the same as hundreds of years ago."

George Pipe has been bell ringing for more than 60 years. He said ringing the St Lawrence Bells was an amazing experience.

"It's a bit like a cricketer being invited onto the pitch at Lord's, and being allowed to hit a few runs with W G Grace's cricket bat. It's a great privilege."

Those behind the restoration hope the chance to ring the oldest circle of bells in the world will attract bell ringers from around the globe.

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