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Tower of fire-destroyed church to be cleared after historic bells removed

PUBLISHED: 12:26 07 September 2020 | UPDATED: 12:26 07 September 2020

Historic bells that were hanging in the tower in St Mary's Church in Wimbotsham were removed by abseilers. Picture: Philip Wing

Historic bells that were hanging in the tower in St Mary's Church in Wimbotsham were removed by abseilers. Picture: Philip Wing

Archant

Work to clear out the tower of a fire-destroyed church has been able to take place following the removal of three historic bells.

A view into the bell chamber from the scaffolding showing the bell cage and badly charred bell surroundings. Picture: Philip WingA view into the bell chamber from the scaffolding showing the bell cage and badly charred bell surroundings. Picture: Philip Wing

St Mary’s Church in Wimbotsham, near Downham Market, was gutted by fire in September, which destroyed the roof and interior of the medieval building including a holy table dating from 1638 and priceless carvings.

Permission was granted last October for the removal of three bronze bells which were left suspended on a badly charred ancient wooden bell frame.

At the time, church officials were worried the bells, which date back to the 14th and 15th century, would fall and be further damaged.

Following site investigations and discussions about its future use, work had begun earlier this year to move the restoration along but plans were brought to a halt due to lockdown.

Fire gutted the church at Wimbotsham, near Downham market  Picture: Chris BishopFire gutted the church at Wimbotsham, near Downham market Picture: Chris Bishop

Abseilers removed the bells last month and they have been placed in storage until repair work is carried out to the church and it is known whether they can be returned.

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In a Diocese of Ely church report, churchwardens Philip and Liz Wing said one bell had cracked as a result of the heat and “rapid cooling” and another was badly cracked from the fire.

It added: “Until the fire, the bell was in reasonably good working order, with no cracks.

Fire destroyed most of St Mary's Church in Wimbotsham.    Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019Fire destroyed most of St Mary's Church in Wimbotsham. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019

“Since the fire, a crack can be clearly seen.”

All three bells were taken to Soundweld at Exning before being taken to White’s of Appleton Oxon, who will decide what can be done.

As a result of the removal, work can now be carried out on the inside of the tower to clear all charred timbers, floorboards and cross beams.

The churchwardens said: “The frames and louvres of the bell soundings must all be removed and replaced. A temporary roof will be installed for protection and replaced by a permanent roof later in the process.

Churchwardens Philip Wing (left) and Liz Wing. Picture: Sarah HussainChurchwardens Philip Wing (left) and Liz Wing. Picture: Sarah Hussain

“The tops of the nave walls have now been weather protected by a bed of mortar. Inside the nave the walls have been lined with timbers and will now be clad in weatherproof plyboard to protect the walls over the winter.”


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