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Norwich church’s bell rings for the first time in 38 years

The bell at St Michael at Plea church, (Norwich Christian Resource Centre) has been re-hung after an absence of at least 38 years. Centre manager Steve Foyster listens to the bell chime.

The bell at St Michael at Plea church, (Norwich Christian Resource Centre) has been re-hung after an absence of at least 38 years. Centre manager Steve Foyster listens to the bell chime.

Archant © 2011

The bell at a Norwich church tower is ringing out in time for Christmas – after a silence of at least 38 years.

The evocative chimes of church bells are the very essence of any seasonal soundscape.

But for decades, one of Norwich’s medieval treasures was forced to celebrate in silence after losing its traditional call to worship.

Now a bell at St Michael at Plea is ringing out for Christmas once more – for the first time in at least 38 years.

The church on Redwell Street has been mute ever since it was deconsecrated in 1973.

The building is now used by the Norwich Christian Resource Centre as a bookshop and café, where the subject of bells as an audible signal of faith was discussed at a study course in 2009.

It was a discussion which inspired café volunteer and Norwich bell-ringer Sheila Spreadbury to locate a redundant bell at another city centre church, with the help of the trustees of the Norwich Historic Churches Trust.

The bell from St John de Sepulchre on Finklegate was retrieved and winched into its new home by Neil Thomas, a bell-hanger for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London.

And the restoration of St Michael’s voice was completed with the generosity of Mrs Spreadbury’s friend Olive May Alderton, who had died in 2001.

The project’s benefactor, although brought up in Essex, had lived in Norwich and loved the sound of the city’s campanologists – leaving a legacy in her will specifically to re-hang a bell in any Norwich church which didn’t have one.

Steve Foyster, manager of the Norwich Christian Resource Centre, said: “I love to hear the sound of bells. They are very evocative and they can encapsulate the feeling of Christmas.

“You hear songs like Ding Dong Merrily on High and it is a testament to the original Christmas story.

“But the sound is also a reminder that this is not just a building. People say it is a shame that this fine medieval building is no longer a church, but as Christian resource centre this is the next best thing.

“It is a beautiful old building which used to be a church where people worshipped for 500 years. Those vibes are still around and the bell only helps add to that quality.”

The bell is linked to the mechanism of the church’s famous clock, made in 1827 and marked with the words “Forget Me Not”.

As the clock rotates, a sensor sets off the subtle hourly chimes which can barely be heard outside the gates of the church, between the hours of 9am and 6pm.

“It is quite muted, but it is so nice to have a bell ringing again,” said Mr Foyster. “Whether we can find a way to amplify it, I don’t know. Perhaps it might be possible to put a mic on it. But it took almost two years to get it here, so we’re just doing one thing at a time!”

Mr Foyster said he did not know exactly when the original bell was removed.

“It was at least before 1973 when the church was deconsecrated, but it could have been much earlier,” he said.

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