Christmas 2001

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The Christmas trees in Edmonton and Hollesley

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Hollesley on 23 December

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A rather shy Lucy

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On the way from Hollesley to Purley, we stopped off to look at the infamous bells at East Bergholt. Here Lucy inspects the structure that houses the bells in the churchyard.

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Normal English church bells are pulled by ropes. Being at ground level, this is not possible for these bells, so they are swung round by hand - very hazardous! The bell cage houses five bells. When they are not being rung they are left with the bell upright due to the effort needed to get them into this position as they are not counterbalanced.

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The building of a bell tower was started in 1525 with assistance promised by Cardinal Wolsey, but his downfall cut short any help and the work ceased in 1530. The Bell Cage was erected as a temporary measure in 1531 and the bells have been in regular use ever since and are still rung at these times to this day.

Although other bell cages exist, the one in East Bergholt is the only place where the bells are swung by pure force of hand applied directly to a wooden headstock and not by rope and wheel.

What makes this more remarkable is that they are the heaviest set of five bells that are currently being rung in England, with a total weight of 4.25 tons or 4,400 kilos.

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Originally the bell cage was said to have stood in the east part of the churchyard until the 17th century, when it was moved to its present location on the wish and at the expense of Mr. Joseph Chaplin, because of the noise of the bells was disliked by the family at Old Hall.

The bells were removed from the cage in 1972 to enable restoration work to be carried out and rehung, this time on ball bearings, in 1973.

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The bells are mounted in a wooden frame inside the cage. The square bell frame, built from massive oak timbers, is built on a small brick plinth. Overall it is about 6ft (1.8m) high with a narrow walkway about half way up. The ringers stand on this narrow board and lean over the frame to ring the bells.

Swinging such massive pieces of metal and maintaining the precise timing needed to keep the ringing sequence takes a great deal of practice. It takes two years for somebody to learn to ring these unique bells and become a fully fledged member of the band.

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The end of the church, where the bell tower was to have been before funds ran out.

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Lucy and her Grandpa

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Lucy and her cousin Jan with husband Simon, Elizabeth, Tom (Lucy's godson) and Reuben, at their house in Ham, south-west London.

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Unless otherwise stated, all images copyright (c) Stephen and Lucy Dawson