Home   Sittingbourne   News   Article

Sittingbourne churches celebrate 200th anniversary of Ellacombe remote controlled bell-ringing system


More news, no ads

LEARN MORE

Three churches in Sittingbourne took part in a special worldwide event to mark the 200th anniversary of an invention which allows just one person to ring all the bells in a tower.

Bristol curate the Rev Henry Thomas Ellacombe's chiming system is installed at St Peter and St Paul at Borden, the Sacred Heart in Sittingbourne and St Michael and All Angels at Hartlip.

Father Robert Lane, vicar of Borden church, leads the way on the Ellacombe chimes machinery which allows all the bells to be rung by only one person. Picture: Vivien Smith
Father Robert Lane, vicar of Borden church, leads the way on the Ellacombe chimes machinery which allows all the bells to be rung by only one person. Picture: Vivien Smith
Borden organist Andrew Cesana tries his hand at the Ellacombe chimes machinery which allows all the bells to be rung by only one person. Picture: Vivien Smith
Borden organist Andrew Cesana tries his hand at the Ellacombe chimes machinery which allows all the bells to be rung by only one person. Picture: Vivien Smith
The special Ellacombe hammer, which rings the bell, is attached to the rope which goes down to the ringing frame below at Borden church. Picture: Vivien Smith
The special Ellacombe hammer, which rings the bell, is attached to the rope which goes down to the ringing frame below at Borden church. Picture: Vivien Smith

The vicar of Borden Fr Robert Lane, a member of the Kent County Association of Change Ringers, led the celebration at noon on Saturday by ringing 'rounds' and a couple of verses of the hymn De Still For The Presence of the Lord. He was followed by the church's organist Andrew Cesana who rang the Gloria excerpt from a piece he is composing called Borden Mass and then hymns.

Countries from New Zealand to Canada took part in Chimes Around The World and live-streamed their performances on social media. In all, four churches in Kent took part.

Vivien Smith, Borden's bell tower captain, said: "The Ellacombe ringing apparatus has a very interesting history which not many people know about. Not many churches have them any more."

Ellacombe created his 'chimes' so he did not have to tolerate the "wayward behaviour" of his bell-ringers. He first installed them at St Mary’s, Bitton, in 1821. Other churches subsequently adopted his invention which uses ropes and pulleys to ring bells by remote control.

He had a natural talent for mechanical and technical workings and had previously worked for engineer Marc Brunel who invented machinery to make pulleys at his engineering works at Chatham Dockyard.

Bells at Saints Peter and Paul Church, Borden. Picture: Ruth Cuerden
Bells at Saints Peter and Paul Church, Borden. Picture: Ruth Cuerden
How the bells at Borden are normally rung. Picture: Ruth Cuerden
How the bells at Borden are normally rung. Picture: Ruth Cuerden

The invention has also allowed bells to be rung during the coronavirus lockdown where normal restrictions put paid to the practice. Even now, no more than six are allowed in a bell tower at any one time.

Sanitiser was on hand for anyone wanting to have a go at Borden. Two women joined in. One had never rung before. The other rang Happy Birthday for her son.

Vivien said: "Not many churches have Ellacombes any more. Some were taken out and destroyed by bell-ringers who thought they were a threat to traditional bell-ringing or didn't like the original intention of them. Many have just fallen into states of disrepair.

"It's not known when the Ellacombe was first installed at Borden but it had been unusable for many years. The hammers were still in the bells though and about seven years ago I managed to find someone to take on the restoration of it as an interesting project. For a while, it was just used for ringing tunes and carols at Christmas.

"The pandemic lockdown stopped bell-ringing completely and many parishes didn't hear their church bells at all for over a year.

The church St Peter and St Paul at Borden near Sittingbourne
The church St Peter and St Paul at Borden near Sittingbourne

"Ellacombes suddenly came into their own, as it only needs one person to ring one. So the churches with remaining Ellacombes, dusted them off and got them working again and have been able to keep their church bells ringing throughout the crisis.

"The Borden bells kept ringing even when services weren't being held in church. It was also rung to join in with the weekly Clap for Carers and it was rung for a wedding earlier this year when weddings were being allowed again but normal bell-ringing wasn't. I rang The White Cliffs of Dover on it when Dame Vera Lynn died and there have been several Happy Birthdays to ring for, too.

"It has been very timely, therefore, that the bicentennial celebration has come now, just as restrictions on group bell-ringing has been relaxed and is getting going again."

Chimes Around The World was organised by the Bitton Parish History Group.

A commemorative book has been produced by the Bitton Parish History Group detailing the history of the Ellacombe and including contributions from more than 100 bell towers which took part.

Chimes around the World began in Timaru, New Zealand at noon on Saturday (11pm, Friday, BST) and worked its way around the world over the following 17 hours.

Read more: All the latest news from Sittingbourne

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More