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Page last updated at 14:08 GMT, Wednesday, 8 September 2010 15:08 UK
'Ghost village' bells ring after 70 years

By Sarah Jones
BBC Wiltshire

St Giles, Imber
The church bells of St Giles were heard for the first time in over 70 years over the August bank holiday weekend

A redundant church in the middle of a firing range in the heart of Salisbury Plain has been ringing its bells for the first time in over 70 years.

St Giles, isolated in the middle of hundreds of acres of tank-scarred Wiltshire countryside, is the parish church for the 'ghost village' of Imber.

It's also the only recognisable building left standing in the little village that got conscripted.

It was back in 1943, just over a month before Christmas, that the village was requisitioned by the War Officer for US soldiers to practise fighting ahead of the D-Day Landings.

Imber taken in the 1920s

With their village conscripted, villagers were given just 47 days notice to pack up and leave. By the middle of December the village had not only been deserted but had literally vanished off the map.

Since then the pub, manor house and cottages have become little more then shells. The only recognisable building left is the 700 year-old church of St Giles.

Now owned by the Churches Conservation Trust, the ancient church has not only benefitted from a £50,000 make-over in recent years but, as of the end of August, a ring of six bells.

"The bells were removed in the 1950s when the church was set to be demolished," says Neil Skelton the custodian of Imber Church.

"But they wouldn't have been able to ring them then because of the wartime ban. So the last time they would have been heard would probably have been in 1939 - over 70 years ago."

But over the August bank holiday weekend, six new bells known collectively as a 'peal', were not only hung in the church's embattled western tower, but rung for the first time in decades.

200 Bell ringers

With four of the church's original bells sold for scrap and the fifth "incorporated into the ring of bells" at Edington, it seemed that St Giles would be one of the "least likely lost rings to be replaced".

"It's in the middle of a firing range and redundant," says Neil, "so I thought it would never happen.

"But I sent in a submission to the Churches Conservation Trust and two days later they called back saying that they thought it would be a good idea."

The task then fell to the Keltek Trust to track down the ancient church's lost ring.

Recycling bells from churches, from as far afield as Yorkshire and Oxfordshire, Imber's new £3,500 peal not only boasts a 300lb tenor bell but an extra ringer as well:

Bell-ringing mural dated 1692
"Bell Music" from 1692 on the north wall of the church

"We were going to put in five bells," admits Neil, "but things got a bit out of hand and people got enthusiastic.

"The Keltek Trust had a ring of five small bells and the sixth bell was found in an antique shop in Kent. So five became six."

With the new peal installed, Neil is hoping that when the guns fall silent - the bells will be ready to ring out for the church's annual St Gilestide service on Saturday 18, August.

At the very latest, the bells of St Giles are expected to have their clappers raised and ready to ring in the new year.

"We're expecting bell-ringers from all over the country," says Neil. "It's a new tower with restricted access, so we're expecting at least 200 bell ringers.

"There'll be queues, all along the road up to the church."

The church of St Giles at Imber, will be open to the public on Saturday 18 September between 10am and 5pm, and on Sunday 19 September between 11am and 5pm. For more information click here.

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12 Apr 09 |  Wiltshire
Cash deal benefits remote church
28 Mar 05 |  Bristol
'Ghost village' remembered 60 years on
19 Apr 03 |  Wiltshire
Church bells ring after 60 years
14 Aug 04 |  Wiltshire



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