St John’s Church Piddinghoe awarded £34,000 to restore historic bells

Exterior Piddinghoe Church summer

Piddinghoe’s Grade 1-listed church has been awarded £34,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to restore and transform its historic bells.

The successful funding application by the Parochial Church Council at Piddinghoe will support the 900-year-old church of St John’s bell’s restoration and the exciting revival of church bell ringing in our small East Sussex village.

The current three historic bells, dating from the 18th century, will be repaired, and refurbished while three more will be added. The six bells will be rung ‘full circle’ – creating the tuneful ringing so familiar across the UK. 

The £83,500 project, led by a team of four villagers and with additional funding and expertise provided by a local businessman, is designed to build engagement with the church and its bells and will target young people in neighbouring Newhaven. 

Thanks to this funding, youngsters from three of the town’s schools – one secondary and two primary – will learn not just about bell ringing, but how to ring bells, beginning with hand bells before moving on to the historic bells themselves. They will learn how important church bell ringing was, what it meant to communities, and about all the events that bell ringing marked. 

Pupils will also explore the churchyard, giving them an opportunity to discover the connections between the names on gravestones and their own family names. This will be recorded in an oral history project. 

The project will be filmed and preserved for posterity and the future use of the schools. A permanent, interactive exhibition will be mounted at the Church and another exhibition will be created at the newly-established Cultural Space in Newhaven. 

Partnerships have been made with other groups of bell ringers and at the end of the project, there will be a festival of bell ringing with other churches in the locality. Music organisations have also expressed their interest in joining this project.

Once planning permission is granted by the Church of England, it is hoped that the project will start in September 2022, and be completed within eighteen months.  

Project team-member Brigid Simmonds OBE said: ‘Without the support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, none of this would be possible. The Heritage Fund has recognised the importance of bell ringing to the cultural life of this country and how to help us preserve a Grade 1 listed church,  one of only three with round towers in East Sussex.  It will encourage and engage our local community and we are hugely grateful to the Heritage Fund and all National Lottery players for their support.’

Maria Caulfield MP for Lewes added: ‘The securing of the funding for the church bells at Piddinghoe is a huge achievement for the Parochial Church Council. Restoring the historic bells not only adds value in preserving the Heritage of the Church and the local community, but it is more than that. The church is a focal point for Piddinghoe and hearing the bells ringing out across the valley is a sound that unites everyone. Recently the church bells were restored in Rodmell and the community there very much welcomed this. The work done by the Piddinghoe team will ensure that generations to come will not just enjoy the sound of the bells but will appreciate the history and connections they bring.’

BBC South East news item.

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