Double the appeal for bell-ringers

THE last time the six bells of St Anne’s Church were taken down was by the Germans during the Occupation.

Ringing the changes: Bell-ringers at St Anne’s are hoping they will soon have double the number of bells to ring on Sundays.
Ringing the changes: Bell-ringers at St Anne’s are hoping they will soon have double the number of bells to ring on Sundays.

THE last time the six bells of St Anne’s Church were taken down was by the Germans during the Occupation.

They wanted to have them recast as cannons.

This Easter they will be taken down once more for an altogether happier reason – for repair and, hopefully, to return as part of a 12-strong peal of bells.

The extra six are to be a gift from an anonymous benefactor and will mean St Anne’s – known as the cathedral church of the Channel Islands – will have the largest number of bells of any church in the region.

First the Deanery of Guernsey must grant a faculty to take the existing bells down, and then one for adding another six.

Helen McGregor, master of the Channel Islands district of Winchester and Portsmouth Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers, said: ‘If the faculty is granted it will really put Alderney on the bell-ringing map.

‘At the moment bell-ringers visiting the Channel Islands go to Guernsey, where they have a peal of 10 – they wouldn’t think to visit little old Alderney with only its six bells. But if the faculty is granted and we get 12 bells we will become a magnet for bell-ringers visiting the Channel Islands, and that will just be superb.’

If all goes to plan, the bells will be out of action for two months. Originally installed in 1850, the bells have had an interesting past. On Sunday 23 June 1940, shortly after dawn, the bells rang out the message to Alderney people to make their way as quickly as possible to the harbour to board ships waiting to take them to England.

The bell tower was used as a machine gun post during the Occupation and soldiers’ graffiti can still be seen etched into its walls.

Four of the bells were shipped to France to be melted down to use for munitions. But in Cherbourg, then occupied by British troops, the garrison engineer identified them through their inscription and brought them back to Alderney.

They were finally renovated and reinstalled in 1953, with the Queen Mother sending silver to be auctioned in aid of their restoration.

Now there are around 20 bell-ringers on the St Anne’s Church roster. And in contrast to the UK, here the art is going from strength to strength.

‘Bell-ringing throughout the UK is suffering from a lack of recruits, but here on Alderney we are doing very well indeed – after all, everyone likes a success story,’ said Mrs McGregor.

‘But I think it is also a reflection on the community here – nobody sits in and watches television every night.’

The group practises on Saturday morning and provides a half-hour peal on Sunday for the church service.

More bells will mean fewer people sitting out during ringing sessions.

‘When we have more bells we will be able to involve more people in any particular piece of ringing,’ she said. ‘The interest that can be generated from ringing 12 bells is far more than the interest you can get from just six.

‘The different combinations that are available, the skill that is required  – every ringer will have to raise their game a bit because the gap between each successive bell is so much smaller.

‘It will make us better ringers.’