Discover the history of the Bells at Great Paxton Church

Our church bells

Our Church was built about 1020AD in the reign of King Canute. There may have been a tower and bells but we don’t know for sure. The tower you can see now was added in the late 14th century at the end of the existing church and the oldest recorded bell is dated 1400. This bell is still in use today, over 600 years later!  Other bells have been added, or recast, over the years to make up the five we have currently with number six being added as part of the Bell Project.

Church bells were used as we use clocks today - to tell us when to get up, go to work, attend church services and for special days and events - as well as being used in emergencies. Therefore, lots of people had to know how to ring them. It was often the job of teenage boys who were no longer able to sing in the church choir because their voices had broken.
Great Paxton Church

The bells in the belfry

In the belfry at the top of the tower the different sized bells are mounted on a large strong wooden frame, facing different directions so that some swing one way and some another so that they don’t shake the tower to pieces when they all ring.

The bell rope goes over each wheel and down through the tower to the ringing chamber below.

Fixing the bells to ring

Each bell is hung on a wheel, allowing it to swing full circle, with a slider and a stay to control how the bell can move, hold it upside down ready to ring again, or hold it still when required. This allowed the development of more tuneful sounds to be created using ‘change-ringing’ rather than just straight ‘rounds’ - one bell after the other continuously. 

Interestingly, this method is only used in England and Wales and nowhere else in the world except in a few places introduced by the English. We have a unique system that is special.
Great Paxton Church
Great Paxton Church

Ellacombe Chimes

The bells are rung by a team of five (soon to be six) trained ringers.  However, our bells can also be rung by a method that needs just one person, pulling on ropes in a frame, that are linked to separate clappers on the base of the bells.  This is known as the Ellacombe Chimes.

It was invented in 1822 by the Revd. Henry Thomas Ellacombe and his “clever workman” in the Parish of Bitton, located between Bristol and Bath. It is said that Revd. Ellacombe devised the mechanism so that all the bells could be rung by one trusted person without involving a band of unruly and perhaps drunken ringers.

Many church towers have had Ellacombe Chimes in the past, however lots have either been completely removed (leaving just the holes in the ceiling), or have not been maintained so can no longer be played.

We are lucky to have a fully working set, looking remarkably like the one illustrated!


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Contact Us

Mrs Nicci Jones
Benefice Administrator

c/o The Vicarage,
24 St. James' Road,
Little Paxton,
St. Neots,
Cambs, PE19 6QW

  • dummy(01480) 877215

  • dummy admin@thepaxtonsbenefice.org

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