Bell set to go Down Under

The oversized bell being removed.
The oversized bell being removed.

An oversized church bell could soon be heading for a new home in Australia.

Stonework repairs at St Paul’s Church, Seaton Sluice, revealed damage caused by the corrosion of girders supporting a bell installed there when the former Ochiltree Memorial Hall was dedicated as a church in 1961.

However, some residents are unhappy with the proposal as they believe it should stay in the village, even if it is used as a monument.

Initially, the plan was to replace the girders with stainless steel, but structural engineers advised that the bell was too heavy for the decorative tower, which was built in 1914 and not designed to be load-bearing.

The bell was obtained, but not hung, in 1940.

With the approval of the Diocese of Newcastle and the help of the Keltek Trust (a charity specialising in re-homing redundant bells), the bell is set to be sold to St Joseph’s RC Church in Rockdale, New South Wales, where a bell was stolen 20 years ago.

This will go through if the Delaval Parish application to install a new smaller bell at the church through the Church of England’s Faculty system is given the green light by the Chancellor of the Diocese of Newcastle.

Seaton Sluice resident Tom Newstead has objected and his petition has received dozens of signatures.

He said: “The bell is an important piece of history and it belongs to the people of the village, so the church council and diocese should not be allowed to make this decision.

“We will continue to try to prevent the sale.”

Vicar of Seaton Sluice, the Rev David Bowler, said: “Of course it’s sad to have to part company with a bell that’s been part of the village for over half-a-century, but we have to take our engineer’s advice and look to the future of the church building as a whole.

“Bells have a personality and I’m very pleased that ours is going to a new life in another church, where they’re already looking forward to its arrival.”

He added: “To our amazement, Father Brendan Quirk, Parish Priest of St Joseph’s, has heard from a local lady who came from Seaton Sluice and was married at St Paul’s when the bell was rung for her wedding.

“She’d seen the story on Facebook and hopes to visit Rockdale once the bell is installed to hear its voice once again.”

If the sale does ahead, its proceeds will go towards repairing the church building (including the masonry damage caused by the bell installation) and the purchase and installation of the smaller bell, newly-cast by Taylors of Loughborough and hung in the church porch in memory of a parishioner.

The old bell was intended as a memorial to the first Vicar of Seaton Sluice, the Reverend Canon W. E. Jackson who died in 1931.

However, Canon Jackson was later commemorated when the parish purchased the Bishop’s Chair at the Church of Our Lady and the bell remained in store until 1961.