Hornchurch Ringers – uniquely quenching their thirst since the 1700s

Now everyone knows that ringing is thirsty work but the ringers at St. Andrews, Hornchurch, have been utilising an unusual way to have a drink, during welcome breaks between the ringing, for the best part of 300 years.

How, I hear you cry? The answer is our ancient ringers jugs.

Bellringer’s jugs are a very rare form of antique; there being only about fifty of them in the country. Hornchurch is lucky enough, however, to own two of these jugs. One of which was made in 1732 and holding four and a half gallons, is 13.5’’ high and 40’’ in circumference, and has the names of the ringers at that time, as well as the two contemporary churchwardens, inscribed under the glaze. It is made of brownish coloured earthenware with a dull glaze. The other larger jug was made in 1815, holds six and a half gallons, is 20.5’’ high and 50’’ in circumference, and is also inscribed. It is very dark, burnt amber coloured earthenware, very thickly and highly glazed, almost purple in hue. A third ringers jug was added by the present bellringers in 1979 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the 6 bells.

The jugs were taken around Hornchurch village on a barrow by the ringers to get them filled with ale, which was then drunk at intervals whilst ringing. Perhaps the inscription on the A flat bell was a gentle reminder not to over indulge ‘Ye ringers all that prize your health and happiness. Be sober, merry, wise and you’ll the same possess’! As if that wasn’t enough, an old set of ringing rules in the ringing chamber went as follows

‘If you ring with spur or hat [wearing them]
Three pints of beer you pay for that
If you swear or give the lye
A pot you pay immediately
If a bell you overthrow
A pint you pay before you go’

T and S (1978)

A further question may be how were our ringing ancestors lucky enough to obtain these irreplaceable jugs? The larger jug is known to have been made by a Mr. C. Cove who had a pottery at the bottom of the hill, the west end, of Hornchurch High Street. It was presented as a gift to the ringers by Mr cove on the 24th May 1815. It is highly likely that the smaller jug came from the same works, as a pottery is known to have stood on that site from the early part of the seventeenth century. Nevertheless, these jugs have had a complicated past, being thought lost, but then found, at various times at Hornchurch Hall, the King’s Head Public Houses and the Grey Towers. It has been discovered that these pitchers, when in residence at Hornchurch Hall, were used to refresh tenants who came to pay tithes. From there they ended up in the King’s Head where they were seized by Henry and Benjamin Holmes (when they owned Hornchurch Brewery) for late rent paying, and placed in the hall of Grey Towers. They were eventually returned to the church when the Holmes family died and their house, the Grey Towers, was held for auction. Their immediate family presented the pitchers to the vicar to be preserved by the church.

Consequently, it is amazing that these exceptional jugs have survived, and a happy conclusion that they have returned to their original home. That just leaves me to wonder why the tradition has not since been revived, and the jugs still used for their original purpose in the present day by the present Hornchurch ringers!

By Letitia Smith