For the first time since WWII, bells across the UK have largely fallen silent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With lockdown restrictions in place, it is the first time in 75 years that bell ringers have been unable to visit churches and cathedrals to do what they do best.
During the crisis, the Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust (LBT), which owns the last remaining specialist bellfoundry is looking to highlight the impact of bells on our daily lives and what they mean to us as a country.
Throughout history, bells have played a significant role in our lives by providing a soundtrack to many of the UK’s key historic moments and personal milestones. Day to day, many of us – religious or not – delight in the sound of chiming bells from our local bell towers, whether it be during weekly bell ringing practices, or the call to attend weekend church services.
With the world coming to a halt during the global pandemic, busy roads have become much quieter and bustling town centres eerily dormant. The chimes we usually hear marking the time of day have also largely stopped. The only bells that may still be heard are those which are still being sounded from buildings which have installed electrically wound clock mechanisms.
As the lockdown continues, the majority of clocks that are still hand wound have also been silenced with volunteer clock winders being denied access to wind the clocks.
The sound of church bells ringing is deeply embedded in British culture and the hearts and minds of its people, and bells have different meanings and purposes across the world. But no matter where you are – they are always there to inform us of something, to mark a beginning or an end.
Bells are also a sound of hope, freedom and peace and the only other time bells were silenced in British history was during WWII when it was agreed bells would only ring as a sign of invasion. However, the bells were then rung to announce the end of the war and to declare peace.
Andrew Wilby, trustee of the Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust, said: “This is such a monumental moment in history for many reasons, but also because this is the first time since WWII that bell ringing has been interrupted due to social restrictions.
“People have often sought peace in the sound of bells and in these unprecedented times, we are looking for symbols of normality. Once things begin to return to some semblance of normality, we urge people to appreciate bells and remember their historic significance and the fact that they are ringing for us.
“Bells are so very important globally and we must protect, respect and appreciate how much they mean to us in the UK and across the world. Myself and the team at the trust very much look forward to when we hear bells ringing once again.”
Situated in the heart of Loughborough, the Loughborough Bellfoundry, also known as the John Taylor Bellfoundry, is the last major bellfoundry in the UK, and more than 25,000 bells have been cast there since the present bellfoundry buildings were built in 1859.
The trust was set up to protect the future of bell making on the site, to ensure the last remaining bellfoundry in Britain will not be lost. The Loughborough Bellfoundry creates bells for thousands of buildings all around the world. Its bells can be heard around the UK and across the world, including Malta, Australia, the United States, South Africa and Singapore.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund recently awarded the Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust funds to work up a full application for the investment needed to repair and restore the Grade II* listed buildings. Whilst the business is in good fettle, the Victorian bellfoundry buildings are not, and without urgent repair works and a sustainable plan for the future, the bellfoundry could be lost forever.
To avoid the considerable loss of traditional craftsmanship and seismic impact on historic buildings around the world, the team behind the restoration project is seeking £1 million from members of the public and any organisation wishing to help secure the Bellfoundry’s future for generations to come.