The Bells of St Wilfrid’s

The oldest bell in the tower of St Wilfrid’s has been ringing out across Kibworth for four hundred years. It was made in 1618 by George Oldfield, a famous bell-founder from Nottingham. Two of its companions are almost the same age, having been cast just three years later. 

In early times, church bells were usually cast where they were needed. The largest bell at St Wilfrid’s weighs over half a ton, so it was easier for a bell-founder to travel with his equipment and tools than to move a heavy bell from a foundry to the church where it would be hung. 

The eight bells are the work of four men who are regarded as the finest bell founders in the East Midlands. The Oldfields first cast bells in the time of Henry VIII. The two bells from 1621 were cast by Hugh Watts who was Mayor of Leicester in 1634. While in office he received Charles I and his wife to the town. 

One hundred years later, Thomas Eayre of Kettering added a further two bells. Eayre was another fine craftsman. He used thin strips of wood to measure and record the shape and size of the bells he most admired, so he could recreate their sound.

The fourth bell founder was John Taylor of the famous foundry in Loughborough. In 1904 they recast the bell which had been damaged when the spire fell and added two more bells in 1910 to make the peal of eight we hear today.

The collapse of the spire was a dramatic episode. John Nichols in his History and Antiquities of the County of Leicestershire says the tower contained ‘a musical peal of six bells founded in 1732.’ He describes the tower and slender spire as ‘exceedingly well-built’. Unfortunately, he was wrong because at 9am on Saturday 23 July 1825, it collapsed, bringing the bells crashing to the ground.

Surprisingly, the smallest bell was the only one damaged. The tower of St Wilfrid’s was rebuilt, but without a new spire. The six bells were rehung on 5 November 1834. 

When it was recast, the treble bell had a new inscription commemorating the marriage of Dr Charles Hayes Marriott FRCS to Lucy. In 1859, Marriott became house surgeon at the Leicester Royal Infirmary. He was recognised as the foremost surgeon in the area. In 1882, he operated on Joseph Merrick, the so-called ‘Elephant Man’. He was also Kibworth’s local GP, captain of Kibworth Cricket Club and the first chairman of Harcourt Parish Council. Marriott Drive is named after him.  His wife Lucy also left her mark. She was born in 1844 in Hertfordshire. In her will she left money to be used for ‘the sick and the poor’. This trust still operates today in Kibworth. 

It is recorded that in Kibworth, a ‘pancake bell’ was rung on Shrove Tuesday, the feast day before the start of Lent. The bell called people to church to be ‘shrived’ or absolved of their sins at a special service. It was rung at just before 11am. It also reminded people who didn’t attend, to start making their pancakes. 

Canon Edward Fletcher became rector in 1902 and during his time the full peal of bells we hear today was completed. In 1904, a new iron frame was installed to hold eight bells, and on 21 November 1908 a first full peal of the existing six bells was rung. When the last two bells were cast at the John Taylor Bell Foundry in Loughborough, Ernest Morris from Leicester conducted a full peel on 12 November 1910. 

Just a few weeks before the peel was performed, there was another special occasion. On 8 October 1910, Frederick Staniforth, one of the bell ringers, then aged twenty-one years, was married to Mary Elizabeth Hancock. It seems the bell ringers marked the occasion and the local professional photographer Walter Bale recorded the bell ringers’ celebration of the event. 

The bells of St Wilfrid’s have been part of the social fabric of Kibworth for so many years. Next Sunday morning or Wednesday evening, open your windows and listen!