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Hilton's head for heights
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Hilton Roberts has had his face carved onto the tower of All Saints Church

By Alys Lewis

Halfway up Gresford's All Saints' Church tower an image of a dedicated bell ringer is taking shape.

Hilton Roberts has been a bell ringer at the church near Wrexham for 50 years and a tower captain for 19 of those.

Extensive renovations to the church tower meant the replacing of corroded carving with a new block of stone.

Instead of leaving the new stone blank, the masons on the project offered to carve something on it for posterity - and Hilton was chosen as the model.

All Saints, Gresford
I wouldn't ring the bells if I didn't think it made a difference. People can ignore the church but when they hear those bells they must say to themselves what is that.
All Saints' bell ringer Hilton Roberts

His involvement with the church has been life-long.

"I was baptised at this church and I've been coming here all my life. Me and my brothers all sang in the choir and then when our voices broke we became bell ringers," he said.

Hilton has spent many hours in the tower on which his image is being carved as the bell ringers practise on a Tuesday and then ring for the service on Sunday.

"We ring for weddings, mostly in the summer time. Two or three times a week we come and ring the bells. I'm also a tower captain, that's someone appointed by the vicar to oversee the ringing in the tower. I keep an eye on the condition of the bells."

The bells are named as one of the Seven Wonders of Wales and for Hilton, ringing them is a way of expressing his strong Christian beliefs.

"I wouldn't ring the bells if I didn't think it made a difference. People can ignore the church but when they hear those bells they must say to themselves what is that?

"And it's a reminder that there is a church here, there is someone who cares, and that's what we do as Christians. We care about the world."

Gresford church
The church tower is covered in scaffolding as work on it progresses

For Nick Roberson, the stone carver working on the project, it's been a unique experience.

"This is an unusual job," he explains.

"I get commissioned to do heads on churches quite a lot but this is the first time I've been commissioned to do a portrait of a living person on a church.

"The lovely thing about it is the fact that the subject is a local person, he has a lot of involvement with the church and he's well known in the community."

Nick normally prepares carvings for churches in his workshop then they are added to the building.

In Gresford, however, he's been working on site.

"It's a lovely thing to do because you get to actually be with the building and understand the building and its style and the way it is," he said.

I feel slightly amused by the thought that it's my face carved on the side of the church tower!
All Saints' bell ringer Hilton Roberts

"It's a big honour and a big responsibility. When it comes to carving I have to make sure that the work stands up to scrutiny not only now, but will stand up to the scrutiny of future generations."

Hilton is taking the fact that his image will remain carved on the church building for years to come in his stride.

"I feel slightly amused by the thought that it's my face carved on the side of the church tower!

"It's not what the church is about but it is a long tradition in these types of structures.

"It's thought that quite often the mason would do caricatures of other masons or notable characters in the country or they could decide to caricature the local vicar. So it is a long tradition.

"In that way it is quite a privilege for that to have happened to me."




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