According to the 1552 inventory, Hornchurch had at that time 5 bells, so it is probable that there have been bells at least since the building of the present tower in 1476.
In 1779 William Mears of Whitechapel Foundry cast six new bells for Hornchurch probably using the metal from the old 5 with the addition of some new extra metal. The heaviest bell, the Tenor, weighed 19 ¾ cwt. These bells were rung by a company which called themselves “The Hornchurch Youths” and who appear to have a relatively proficient band from the commemorative boards that remain in the tower today. This is confirmed by the fact that they were invited to open the new ring of bells at Bobbingworth in 1841.
In 1732 and 1815 ringers’ beer jugs were made, which list the names of the ringers at that time and are now very rare. Review the ringers jugs on this site, click here.
The rules of the Hornchurch Youths were hung in the ringing chamber in the 19th century and were as follows:
If you ring in spur or hat,
Three pints of beer you pay for that,
If you swear or give the lye,
1 pot you pay immediately,
If a bell you overthrow,
A pint you pay before you go
By the 1890s the bells were becoming difficult to ring, probably due to the wear and tear of the frame in which they were hung. Ringing ceased altogether in 1898.
At the Easter Vestry meeting of 1900, the Vicar proposed “that the Church Wardens be empowered and requested to repair the bells by a special collection of necessary funds”. This collection ran to £200-13-8d and was used to repair the frame and provide two extra bells, the cost of one of these being equally shared between the Vicar, Colonel Holmen and Mr T Gardner (two local JPs).
The new bells came from the same Whitechapel Foundry now under the name of Mears and Stainbank. They were dedicated by the Bishop of Colchester on April 12th 1901.
Most of the money had been spent on the new bells and relatively little, £42, on the frame repairs. The result was that by 1908 the bells were again difficult to ring. A report by Church Warden, Walter Dendy, listed many problems. It was decided to install a new cast iron frame provided by the John Taylor Foundry at Loughborough, and at the same time to re-tune all the bells and modernise the way in which they were hung. This involved removing the “canons” (loops cast in the crown of the bell) so that they could be bolted directly to new cast iron headstocks. As a result the weight of the Tenor was reduced to 18 cwt.
Apart from replacing the bearings with modern ball bearings in 1967, nothing other than routine maintenance has been required since and the 1909 frame has remained in excellent condition.
After the Second World War, ringing at Hornchurch was at a low ebb and a new Ringing Master, Frank Gant, was appointed and remained in the office for the next 30 years. During this time he raised one of the strongest bands in Essex and the strength of our current band stems largely from his work.
It was also Frank Gant who put our finances in hand, saving a portion of any income from wedding ringing so that we could finance any necessary minor repairs and provide for the future. This included a long term ambition to augment the bells to ten. The money put by provided the starting point for fund raising over the years leading to the augmentation project of 2001.
In 2013, the ninth was discovered to have cracked and a decision was made to recast the bell using the original metal; this was completed in early 2014.