The North Bucks branch outing culminated in a late-afternoon drive almost to the front door of the Marquis of Northampton at Castle Ashby, but had begun some seven hours earlier at Bromham, near Bedford, where the church of St Owen stands a distance from the present village, in the middle of a park created by the Dyve family in the seventeenth century and containing the earthworks of the deserted earlier village.
Bromham bells are a Taylor eight of 21cwt, augmented from a Taylor six in 1934 and therefore Simpson-tuned, very dignified and perhaps the most musical of the bells encountered during the outing. As you might expect, we rang Grandsire, Plain Bob and Stedman – though there is a St Ouen Doubles, there isn’t an extension to triples, so we weren’t able to honour the unusual dedication with our choice of methods.
Our next tower, Stevington, a leisurely 10 minute drive away, could not have been more of a contrast. An eighteenth century five, the historic sound reminded us of what change-ringing must have sounded like in its earliest days. The bells are hung in an Anglo-Saxon tower (much like Lavendon), and rung from a ground floor ringing chamber entered through a side opening, as the entry from the nave has been blocked by the re-erected Jacobean chancel screen. The church had many other historic features, not least two ruined aisles each side of the chancel, and those not engaged in rehearsing their repertoire of doubles methods found much to keep them intrigued.
On to Carlton, a pleasant 9cwt six, though by this time we had started losing ringers to events back in MK, and then to lunch at the Fox in the village. The relaxed timetable gave us plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely meal in good company and sample the beer on offer – some of us were bold enough to try the Norwegian Blue, which was definitely not an ex-beer.
Harrold, just across the Ouse, are another six, a little heavier at 13 cwt, and given a sonorous tone by the reverberations in the spire. Equally of note was the huge gap between 1 and 2, left to give room for the augmentation to eight that hasn’t happened yet, and that 4,5 and 6 came down vey close to the edge of the balcony. At a personal level I was glad to see my godfather’s name appearing as a churchwarden on a peal board from nearly fifty years ago.
Bozeat, our first of two Northants towers, was nearly a lock-out – the tower captain had chosen to go to Yorkshire instead of meeting us – but keys were rustled up in time for a quick grab. The belfry had a very old-fashioned feel, full of black varnished peal boards from a previous century of five bell peals at the tower, often in methods not now much rung, achieved before its augmentation to a 16 cwt six.
And so to Castle Ashby, our final tower. The church is situated between the big house’s terrace garden and the orangery – as Pevsner says, rarely is a church made so much part of the private garden furnishings of a mansion, and so to get there we had to pass by the front door of the Marquis of Northampton (though the church access is no longer through his garden, as it once was). The presence of the marquis and his ancestors is just as prominent once you get inside the church, not least through a twice or three times life size carving in gleaming white marble of an angel about to play the last trump, placed at the west end of the nave in memory of a nineteenth century marquis. It’s only a shame that the family didn’t spend more on the bells and less on monuments. A 19cwt five would be challenging under any circumstances, but a long draft and poor hanging doubled the difficulty. Methods without dodges (Reverse Canterbury, All Saints) came to the fore, as we rang on what was the oldest bell of the day – the fourth was cast in the first year of Henry VIII’s reign.
Many thanks to Doug Hird for organising a successful and well thought out tour around towers in the district’s near north – the result of meticulous preparation and careful reconnaissance.