Curious bell inscriptions of Nottinghamshire

By R B Parish

An unseen piece of heritage which gives us an indication of how society has changed through the years is literally above our heads! Church bell inscriptions. For example they can show how religious changes affect their dedications.

Before the Reformation bells were almost certainly dedicated to saints with elaborately inscribed Latin verses. A survey done in the 1800s revealed 52 out of 800 which were pre-Reformation, with Scarrington having all their bells intact. Halam in the county has two of the earliest one inscribed ‘Sca Maria’ (St. Mary) and another ‘Ave Maria’ (Hail Mary). Kirklington has a bell with “St. Mary pray for us.” Mattersey has a very rare inscription, a bell dedicated in 1420 to St. Augustine. Selston, Clarborough and Greasley still had their daily Angelus bell inscriped with ‘Gabriel’.Holme by Newark has a bell inscribed 'Tobias' and is possibly the only bell inscribed such.

After the Reformation, inscriptions were in English with verses from the bible. Gamston for example has an interesting inscription, a biblical message we could all do with heading:

“Do as you would be done by”

At Misson the inscription is more personal:

“From Lightning and Tempest, Good Lord deliver us”

The tower was struck by lightning in 1894 and this clearly was a request to avoid it happening again. Kneesall’s inscription indicates the shift to celebrating the monarch rather than the saint:

“Good save the church, our Queen and Realm”

At Farnsfield the bells each have different inscriptions according to their parochial function: weddings and funerals:

“Our voices shall with joyful sound make hills and valleys echo round.”

“In Wedlock’s bands all ye who join with hands your hearts unite So shall our tuneful tongues combine. To laud the nuptial rite”

“Beg God your soul to save

Before I call you to your grave”

Often the inscription records the donor of the bell Harby:

“Ellen Freeth, while yet alive, gave Harby church this peal of five.”

In some cases the inscriptions give evidence of the bell foundaries involved. There were a number of bell foundries in the county, with Daniel Hedderleys being the last having one first in Bawtry and then moving to Nottingham. This family including Thomas and George were the last of the bell makers working between 1722-1800. The earliest bell makers were William Langton and Richard Redeswell working in Nottingham from 1433-1438. Other bell makers were Richard Mellour, 1488-1508, Robert Mellour 1510-1525, the Selyokes working around 1500 and longest running the Oldfield family 1550-1680. The latter being the most frequently encountered in the county marked with H.O or G.O a cross, crescent and star. It would be interested to hear of any more bell inscriptions

The author is researching folklore and customs of Nottinghamshire and would welcome any correspondence on the matter Rossparish

This page was added by R B Parish on 14/03/2013.

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