Tower and Bells
Very little is recorded about the bells but Vestry notes in the late 1700s stated that work on the bells had been seriously neglected. An old Zennor church pamphlet (un-dated) states that of the bells, “Three are ancient, being re-hung in 1717, when at least one of them was old enough to need re-casting”. We also learned that plans for a new peal of five bells from Harvey, the bell founder at Hayle, had to be abandoned due to the cost.
Research indicates that the fourth bell probably dates from about 1600, possibly cast at the Exeter foundry, and is now listed as worthy of preservation. It bears the Latin inscription ‘Sancte Johannis ora pro nobis’ – ‘Saint John pray for us’. The third bell (re-cast in 1926 and now our fifth bell) has a similar inscription ‘Sancta Maria ora pro nobis’ The second has no markings at all and could possibly pre-date the fourth bell. The rim is chipped but whether this happened during casting or to help tune the bell after casting we are unsure. A major restoration of the bells took place in 1926 when the Tenor (heaviest), weighing 12cwt, the Treble (lightest) and the third were all added and a new all-metal frame installed to support the bells. Vestry Minutes record that after a dedication ceremony in the church “peals were rung by ringers from various parishes, including those of Madron, Gulval, Crowan as well as Zennor. Tea was provided for the parishioners in the afternoon, and a dance was held in the evening. The peal consists of six bells, two of which are re-cast, and three new; all being tuned to the one old bell”. It seems that the parishioners were delighted to have the bells ringing again.
Today, Zennor still has a ring of six bells. We have a band of ringers who practice every week and also ring at weddings and other special occasions so it caused quite a stir when a Quinquennial inspection reported that the bell frame was so rusty where it entered the external tower walls that the bells were unsafe to ring. After nearly a hundred years, time and the effects of the damp Cornish climate had done their worst. The bell frame, which takes the weight of the bells, was badly rusted where it entered the external tower walls, making it unsafe. There was also rusting of metal parts of the bell fittings and some of the timbers needed replacing - all in all major restoration work was needed.
Obviously, this work was going to cost a great deal of money - a total of £56,000 needed to be raised. Fortunately, the PCC (church council) secured a grant of £27,400 from the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as £7,500 from both the Truro Diocesan Guild of Ringers and Cornwall Historic Churches Trust. These grants, together with fund raising events and the generous donations from parishioners and visitors to the church, meant that we quite quickly reached our target and the work could commence.
To carry out the necessary major repairs was a huge undertaking. The bell frame and the bells had to be removed from the tower through the bell trap (which can be seen in the ceiling of the ringing chamber) and transported by lorry to the Bell Foundry of John Taylor & Co in Loughborough. The frame was rebuilt, the bell wheels refurbished, and the bells had their worn metal and old timber fittings replaced, as well as being re-tuned. The actual work took about three months to complete, after which everything was then transported back to the church and hoisted back up into the bell chamber. The bells should now be good for another hundred or more years and, after two years of silence, are once again ringing out across the parish. Watch the video below to see Zennor bell ringing team ringing the bells for the first time after the restoration.