St. Helen’s Church
(A brief pen-portrait of the interior)
A low doorway and two steps lead into the Ringing Chamber. This has a wooden floor and roof. The matchboard round the walls was part of the improvement scheme of 1901 when in May of that year the Rector wrote “The Belfry has been thoroughly done up — the matchboarding and new linoleum and the whitewashing have made the Ringing Chamber look bright and cheerful”. Re-decoration took place again in 1974 with the ringers doing the work themselves. In the process an area of graffiti on the clock weight casing was preserved for posterity. The carpet was purchased from funds raised as a result of collecting and selling waste paper. The laying of the carpet was the particular work of two ringers — husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Norman Reiph. The five wooden benches were made from driftwood salvaged from the banks of the nearby river Thames. The small cupboard designed to hold text books and other literature on campanology was presented “In memory of Barry John Couzens, bellringer at this church from 1950 to 1972”.
The bell ropes were purchased at a cost of £100 from funds raised as a result of a Sponsored Walk undertaken by the bellringers in 1973. There is an entry in Churchwardens Accounts of 1849 stating that £2 8. 0. was spent on a “new sett of bell rops”. That was in the days when there were only six bells to buy ropes for, and when a complete set could be bought for less than the price of one rope today. In 1862 the cost of 8 bell ropes was £54. 0s
This year, 2017, the bell ropes were once again replaced but at a cost far greater than the £100 of 1973!
The ‘squint’ window on the east wall opens to reveal a superb panoramic view of the interior of the building. It is thought that Smetham (Henry Smetham – ‘Rambles Round Churches) may have mistakenly attributed this window to the Porch Room in his writings and it could be more correctly connected with the gallery which would have been immediately below in the Nave. The lowering and raising of the roof probably had some influence on the size and shape of this window over the centuries.
The eight ropes on a frame on the west wall are those of the Ellacomble Chiming Apparatus. An entry in the records of 1876 reads “chiming apparatus £2 10. 6d”. A further entry in the Parish Magazine of February 1901 mentions “the chiming apparatus which has just been fitted up in the belfry . . . In future we aim at chiming in the mornings and ringing for the evening services on Sundays”.
Ringing Chambers invariably contain records of peals rung on important royal, national, historic and local occasions. These records usually list the ringers and sometimes a word or so is added about their expertise. This chamber is no exception. An impressive board records:—
The Ancient Society of College Youths
On Wednesday December 26th. 1866 was rung in
this steeple, a true and complete Peal of
Containing 5040 changes in 3 hours 3 minutes.
M.A. Wood - 5th
R. Hopkins - 6th
W.C. Middleton -7th
A. Hayward - Tenor
Conducted by Matthew A. Wood
This appears to coincide with the return and rehanging of the bells following recasting.
During earlier times the bells were part of life itself being time-keepers, used on festive occasions and on solemn ones, for informing parishioners of emergencies and for drawing the people from their work and worldly pursuits for prayer and worship.
At the end of 1976 those who ring the bells regularly here include:
Mr. B. R. Trill — Captain of the Ringers
Mr. N. Relph Mrs. N. Relph
Mr. J. Parnell Miss R. Hagreen
Mr. A. P. Gray Miss C. Philcox
Mr. D. Slater Mrs. B. R. Trill
Mrs. N. Relph
Miss R. Hagreen
Miss C. Philcox
Mrs. B. R. Trill
Today we have a thriving company of bellringers ably led by our Tower Captain, Mr. Bryan Boughton, and all newcomers are warmly welcome.
On the next floor, reached by way of the ladder and through a trap door, we come to the Silence Chamber. Massive oak beams resting on large stone corbels are the most impressive feature here. The bells and the bell-frames are supported by these and, in considering the weight, account should be taken of the stress and movement involved when the bells are being rung.