The sound of bells is deeply rooted in British culture and many of us live within hearing range of bells. Traditionally, they have been used to call us to wake, to pray, to work, to arms, to feast and, in times of crisis, to come together. The sound of bells can be for the purpose of celebration, or for reasons of solemnity. Above all, bells are the sound of freedom and peace as in World War II they hung silently until the day they could ring in the peace.
The early missionaries used small hand bells to call people to worship and were later introduced to Christian Churches on a wider scale. By the middle ages, bells were thought to have supernatural powers and to drive away evil spirits. There is a story of bells being rung as a warning of impending attack in the 7th century, which had the unexpected result of scaring the enemy attackers into retreat. Later, it was believed that bells could ring themselves, further fuelling this belief. In the beginning, bells hung on a simple spindle and were chimed using a rope, however before long, bell ringers were experimenting with different ways to ring the bells with better control, and things have been progressing since then. The reformation sadly saw the removal of many bells, but afterwards they were reinstalled, and we still enjoy the glory and poignancy of the sound of bells to this day.
At St. Albans, our bell was first installed in 1959 by Mears London. For reasons unknown, the bell was out of use for many years. This year, 2020, it was decided that it would be fitting to restore and reinstall the bell in memory of all those who have lost their lives as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The bell was taken down on 3rd December 2020 and taken to Bridport in Dorset for 2 weeks of restoration by Nicholson Engineering Ltd. The bell was returned on 10th December, and on 11th December 2020, the bell was blessed with oil of Chrism and given the name Alban, in order to set it apart from other bells in a ceremony much like a baptism. Later that day, the bell was rehung and now proudly rings out as a symbol of our faith. The bell has been kept intact but has been modified for modern use and is automatically set to ring at 9am, midday and 6pm. There is an electronic fob with pre-programmed settings that can be used for weddings, funerals and other occasions, a far cry from the original spindles and ropes of early bells!
On 17th December, a special liturgy was held to celebrate the unveiling of a plaque in memory of those who died of the covid-19 pandemic. Reverend Amanda Keighley and Reverend Tom Keighley from St Nicholas Church of England parish joined us. In addition two councillors from the Hornchurch resident association, Councillor Barry Muggleston and Councillor Stephanie Nunn unveiled the plaque for us. During the Liturgy, Ann, Francie and Julie Nolan lit candles remembering all those who have lost their lives to the Covid-19 pandemic, which included their mother Frances, one of our parishioners, who sadly passed away in April. The celebration was sombre, but full of hope for better days ahead, as well as faith in our Lord and the knowledge that we are stronger when we pull together for the sake of the community. As the Angelus bell rings out each day all those we have lost will be in our thoughts and prayers.
By Chloe Kelly