St Mary’s Belfry Restoration – Week 1 update

St Mary's Church

St Mary’s Belfry Restoration – Week 1 update

Over the years the cast iron frame at St Mary’s has undergone extensive rusting leaving it in a poor state needing some major work. At the SCR AGM in March it was agreed that this summer would be the perfect opportunity to tackle this long overdue project in order to help extend the life of the frame.  As well as de-rusting and repainting the bell frame, it was agreed that it would also be wise to also de-rust and repaint all other metal components in the tower such as the headstocks,  clappers and clock hammers etc  as well as sanding and treating the bell wheels. Along with this work, a pre-existing, almost complete sound control platform that for many years has sat above the bells unused, would be completed so that St Mary’s could benefit from variable sound control.

After months of planning the project finally started last Sunday afternoon and good progress has been made in the tower during the following week. Early in the week the focus was on dismantling as much of the installation as possible to give the best access to the rusty frame. All the pulley blocks and stays were removed and lowered to the ringing room, while the wheels for all 10 bells were dismantled and hoisted up to the platform above.

Pulley blocks and stays coming off

Pulley blocks coming off ready to take down the tower

    Pulley blocks down

Pulley blocks in the ringing room

Towards the end of the week, the mammoth task of removing all the rust from the frame began, and thanks to the power drill wire brush attachments good progress is being made. The photos below show the state of the frame and headstocks before the work started.

2nd before

3rd headstock

(As part of the project the bells will also be cleaned and re-polished)

4th and 5th before

4th and 5th

6th 7th 8th before

5th (just), 6th, 7th and 8th

6th before

6th headstock

7th and 8th before

7th and 8th

9th before


9th headstock before

9th headstock

protected tenor

10th headstock (bell wrapped to protect)

1,2,3,4,5,8 protected

Protected bells (8,1,2,3,4,5)

The photo below shows the extent of some of the worst rusting of the frame, and the de-rusted surface after using the wire brush power drill attachment.

Frame before and after

The biggest success this week was with the new sound control system. Both of the existing trap doors were extended with new wood and the old rusty hinges were removed and replaced such that both doors now open into the center of the room. An electric winch was fitted to the existing metal beam used to support the clock mechanism and a series of pulleys installed so that the electric winch could open both doors. Two safety features installed ensure that the winch automatically stops when the doors are either fully open or fully closed. The system was complete on Thursday and is working well. The YouTube video below shows the system operating.

 New sound control system operating

A qualified electrician is working closely with us, and he will be extending the operations and power cables for the system down into the ringing room so that the whole system can be operated from the ringing room.  He is also going to install a set of “door status lights” which will show what state the system is in – open or closed. All very exciting progress!

Next week…

The plan for the upcoming week is to continue de-rusting the frame, aiming to have this complete by next Friday to allow the clean up to begin before painting starts the week after. The wheels will also be sanded and painted this week. An update of the progress will be posted again this time next week.

Daniel Graham

Steeple Keeper, Southampton City Ringers