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So, farewell then

Martin Horrox

For ten years Martin Horrox lived in Helland, largely unseen and unknown. Then he said he would help the bells appeal, and suddenly his name was everywhere – always attached to a request for other people’s money.  As he prepares now to return to the dampness and obscurity at the bottom of the hill, we asked him to write some valedictory words.

Bog.  Bog.  Bog.  Bongggg.

Those are the sounds of four demonstration bells being struck with a hammer at the Loughborough bell foundry of John Taylor & Co.

You can make a bell out of any metal whatsoever – but if you really want it to ring, to resound with that lovely hummmm at the end of the note, you have to make it from bell-metal.  Each of the first three demonstration bells looked like a bell and felt like a bell, but only the fourth was made of bell-metal and rang like a bell.  Stray too far from the magic mix of 77% copper and 23% tin, and you get bog not bong for your buck.

Well, that’s one thing about bells I didn’t know at the start of 2020, when I first offered to help with fundraising for new bells in North Curry.  Here’s another: most people, including me, would draw bells as they have been shown on every Christmas card ever printed – with the open end (to use the technical jargon) downwards. The rest of Europe may toll or chime that way, but in English change-ringing the bells turn full-circle and ring when they face up.  It’s a common misperception – which one TV network demonstrated to the whole nation when it broadcast the video of North Curry bells upside down.

So much for things I didn’t know (there were more, but this is not the place ... ).  What I couldn’t know, of course, at the start was whether a small village could raise a very large sum of money.  It would take a sustained effort of goodwill, time, enthusiasm and generosity from the non-churchgoing majority as well as the church community.  And all for a project that does not score highly for usefulness: why spend thousands to keep the church clock chiming, when you could buy everyone in North Curry a wristwatch for a fraction of the price?  The appeal of the Appeal, so to speak, had to be to the heart, not the head.

And that is exactly how it turned out – magnificently so.  John Major’s rose-tinted definition of Britishness famously included cricket, warm beer and dog lovers.  He should have added ‘the bells of a village church’.  Is it the sense of permanence and tradition that they embody?  The sense of belonging?  Or the feeling that if you can hear the bells you are part of a community: a human place on a human scale?  Maybe all of those and more.  A proper village should have a church, and a proper church should have bells.  What more need be said?

The interest and enthusiasm were contagious.  People I didn’t know stopped me to say how much they wanted the bells back; then, as the Appeal progressed – and we could begin to think it would succeed –  how much they looked forward to having them back; and now, especially after the Coronation peal, how delighted they are to hear the bells ringing out once more.  The sound is harmonious and triumphant.

This village, and its friends from farther afield, have achieved something remarkable: not only new bells but an uplifting of the spirits that will endure for generations to come.