On Saturday 10th of September, in support of the Heritage Open ‘weekend’, we opened Basingstoke St Michael’s tower to a very interested party of visitors, keen to understand a little more about ringing and to learn about the history of the bells and tower.
At St Michaels we are fortunate to have some interesting historical points to keep visitors interested. The oldest bell dates from 1558, believed to have been cast by an itinerant bell founder locally to the church, with two other bells cast in 1602 and 1670. The remainder of the bells were recast in 1938 when the ring was rehung in a steel frame by Taylors. The Floor that was mysteriously lowered in 1879, (believed to be to improve the draft of the ropes) and leaves our staircases finishing about 1 metre above the floor and various old peal boards including the first peal of Holts Original in Hampshire by the Cumberlands and the first peal on the bells in 1754 by the Reading youths, who were reputed to have walked to Basingstoke, and presumably had to walk back again afterwards!
And of course not forgetting the first peal rung by a lady, Alice White, the 15 year old daughter of the tower captain Henry White, which was rung on the 12th February 1896 at St Michaels.
The visitors listened to a short talk on the history of the tower and the development of bell ringing from Pete Jordan and then treated to a well struck course of Plain Bob Doubles by the local band who were acting as tower stewards. They then had the opportunity to visit the belfry, view the 1843 Vullimay clock and try their hand ringing rounds and lapping plain hunt minor on handbells.
Many thanks to Jon, Lynne, Betty, Mike and Heather who supported the open day from the St Michaels band, and to those who visited (and were sent away with the guild and tower web addresses so they could be even more inquisitive!)