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Belfry News February 2018

The Story of Number Five

The tower at Sutton St James stands alone, some 66 feet from the chancel and some 2 degrees out of perpendicular,but where is the intervening nave? There seems to be doubt as to the exact cause of its demise though it was perhaps destroyed by Cromwell's soldiers in or around 1650. It seems we shall never know what really happened . However, we know more about one of the tower's six bells, No 5, which predates the destruction, being cast in 1603 and still giving good service today. We know that its founder was Tobias Norris of Stamford, born in 1586, which makes him just 17 years old when he cast this bell which is inscribed "MULTI VOCATI PAVCI ELECTI", informing us that "Many called, few chosen" Remarkably, this bell dates from the last year of Elizabeth 1st's reign and has continued to "call" throughout the reigns of the succeeding seventeen monarchs who preceded our own Elizabeth 2nd. It also carries the name, "Thomas Warde Vicar, but I have not been able to trace him in the records at Sutton St James or at Long Sutton, so who he was and why his name is inscribed remains a mystery.

The tower was built during the 15th century and according to the Sutton St James Millennium Book, there were three bells. I have no data about these or even whether they existed. However we are certain that our No 5 was the smaller of two bells cast by "Tobie" Norris in 1603. These two bells remained in the tower until 1824 when a third smaller bell was added. I do not know whether this was a recast of an earlier bell, or a new addition to the two earlier Norris bells. Suffice it to say that these three bells remained untouched through the decades to 1902 when the larger Norris bell , being cracked, was recast by Blackbourne (he came from Holbeach). It seems that after this time the bells fell into disuse for in the 1922 church inventory there is a sad little note, "The bells are not rung anymore", which was a great shame as at that time there were many activities in the village. In the Millennium Book, for example, I was intrigued to read of the Rose Queen Festivals held from 1927 to 1935-dances by "Fairies and Fairy Queen", "The Maypole Girl", "Mr Morris's Excelda Dance Band" etc-shades of days long gone when we were innocent.

The Toby Norris bell on its
original wooden headstock in
position on the wooden frame

The Toby Norris Bell from the original ring of
three, now retuned and mounted on a new
headstock on the new cast iron frame and is
now No 5 in the new ring.

Oh well, enough of this nostalgia. A massive effort commenced in 1996 when at a cost of about £80,000 five new bells were cast and No 2 bell of the old three became No 5 of the new six,thus continuing 415 years of history. What does it sound like, this old bell? Well, compared with its five modern counterparts, rather "short of breath", that is, its resonance is somewhat lacking, but then at 415 years who wouldn't be a little breathless. I'm glad it was kept.

John Bennett