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Page last updated at 10:34 GMT, Wednesday, 30 June 2010 11:34 UK
New residents want Cambridge church bells turned off
Bell from St Andrew's church, Chesterton
A close-up of one of the bells at St Andrew's church, Chesterton

If you move next to a medieval church you might expect there to be bells, and the bells to toll.

Well, the residents of a new development in Cambridge say the bells of St Andrew's, Chesterton, are keeping them from their sleep.

The bells chime every 15 minutes and have done since they were installed in the 19th century.

Now people in the new development are asking for the bells to be turned off at night.

Of course, this is a story which is playing itself out across Britain as more 'incomers' resent the loud sounds of church bells.

Disturbed nights

But, if the bells are ringing every 15 minutes all night long, perhaps these residents have a point?

Certainly the vicar of St Andrew's, the Reverend Nick Moir, is sympathetic: "We've had a number of communications from one or two people who found they couldn't sleep during the night when the bells are chiming. We've had periods of restoration on the tower and spire where the bells have been switched off.

"It's been shown over a couple of years that some people find it difficult to sleep when the chimes are going."

He convened a meeting to discuss the situation but not everyone agrees with calls to switch off the bells at night.

"There are a load of other people in the community who really appreciate having the bells at night," he explained. "That's the balance that we're in at the moment, because I've had an equal number of correspondents saying: 'We find it a real comfort, the bells chiming through the night', so it's a bit of a quandary really."

New housing

St Andrew's church, Chesterton, Cambridge
St Andrew's bells have been tolling every 15 minutes since the 1800s

A large residential development grew in Chesterton, near to St Andrew's, during the housing boom of the previous decade. There used to be very few homes near the church.

Michael Bond is secretary of the Old Chesterton Residents' Association. He says the complaints about the bells first arose when the initial stage of the housing development was completed.

"Someone moved into a house in St Andrew's Park," he explained. "And then complained about the bells and we were thinking: 'Well that's a bit silly. Why do you buy a house next to a church and then complain because it's got bells and it's got a clock and it chimes?'. So there wasn't a great deal of sympathy."

Cambridge chimes

The quarter and half-past bells ring out with part of the tune known as the Westminster Chimes.

"The chiming is probably a 19th century thing," the vicar explained. "In fact Cambridge invented the Westminster Chimes. They're really the Cambridge Chimes from Great St Mary's and probably Chesterton copied the same music, which now we're familiar with from Big Ben."

In recent times there have been cases across Britain where residents have been able to stop church bells from ringing out. Could this happen here? Maybe not.

"There is case law about stuff like this and it's not helpful to those who found themselves affected," Robert Osborne, team leader for environmental protection at Cambridge City Council, said. "There's a very similar case in Bedfordshire where the church bells had been silent for two or three years because it was being refurbished and during that time a new development of houses was put up. Of course when the bells were operating again people began to complain about it.

"The council served an abatement notice, because it decided it was a nuisance, but the court decided, after an appeal was lodged, that actually it wasn't and people had to accept that if you move into an area where something like that happens you have to bear that in mind."

He advises people to think about noise when they are planning to buy a house, just as they think about schools or where the nearest shops are. It is worth visiting a property at several different times of day to assess what the noise levels are.

Fewer chimes

View of St Andrew's church, Chesterton across the grave yard
View of St Andrew's church, Chesterton, across the graveyard

But a resident, who has lived in Chesterton for 30 years, believes it is not as easy as Mr Osborne suggests. She attended the meeting about the bells and says those people living nearest the church are in social housing.

They had no choice but to accept the accommodation offered. It was either that or stay on the waiting list.

So is there a solution? Well Nick Moir hopes so: "We may get towards a compromise. We are going to continue the discussions."

One possibility could be to turn off the chimes every quarter of an hour during the night and instead only have the bells chiming on the hour.

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