Woodborough’s Heritage

Woodborough, a Sherwood Forest Village, recorded in Domesday

The bequest: In 2007 the Church learnt that Mannie Foster had also remembered them in his will with various bequests to Epperstone and Woodborough Churches. To St Swithun’s he had left, in addition to his collection of church music, a sum of money for the installation of a sixth bell in memory of his father Charles Ernest Foster, Church-warden, 1907-1938. The gift was generous and exciting but posed problems. The belfry was quite crowded with its heavy timber bell-frame and five bells dating back to 1560, expert advice was needed.

John Mansfield (Mannie) Foster: Mannie, pictured here on his 90th birthday, died in 2006 at the age of 94, and will be remembered as a great benefactor of our village. His contributions to The Institute, the Church, the Woodborough Feast, the Local History Group and much more besides are well known and documented. For St Swithun’s Church he was at various times chorister, organist, bell-ringer and clock-winder. An appreciation of his life in the form of personal testaments can be found elsewhere on this website.

Mannie was a great supporter of bell ringing at St Swithun’s Church. The new frame design would not only make the bells easier to ring, but also improve access for visitors who wish to see our heritage. The repair and restoration work to the belfry, greatly assisted by his generous bequest, will provide us with an installation that will last well into the future and provide a memorial not only to Charles Foster but also to Mannie himself.


The first assessment: The bell frame was surveyed and recorded and samples taken for dating. It is believed that the frame was made in about 1680 when the bells were first made up to four, but the supporting floor beams are from about 1850 at the time when the top of the tower was rebuilt.

Samples may confirm these dates when the timber growth rings have been analysed. Other assessments came from the inspection carried out by the Southwell Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers’ Bell Repair Fund experts. They concluded that the timber bell-frame was badly decayed in many of its joints.

It moved too much when the bells were rung and after nearly 330 years was nearing the end of its life. During that time, the frame had seen two of the original four bells replaced, the bells rearranged and the frame modified for a fifth bell, which had been installed later in 1985. The second report was that woodworm had damaged the four beams supporting the belfry floor. They had been thoroughly treated many years ago; but now there was evidence of further damage. Clearly it was necessary to carry out repair work on the frame and belfry regardless of Mannie's gift.

Above, assessment of the timbers which were being surveyed for decay. Also at the same time the beams

had core samples taken for dating purposes. Below two examples, one of fungus and the other of timber rot.

The team: The Parochial Church Council [PCC] set up a small team under the leadership of Paul Sail, the Churchwardens Chris Parrott and Alan Wright and Tower Captain Stephen Smith, to assess the best way forward. Recommendations and quotations were requested from three local bell-hangers. Other churches where similar work had been done were visited and opinions sought from the Diocesan Guild, the Bells Advisor to the Diocesan Advisory Committee at Southwell Minster, and English Heritage. Sources of finance to assist with the cost were also researched.

After careful deliberation, it was decided to recommend to the PCC that the bequest should be accepted and work carried out to remove the decayed timber frame, to re-hang the old bells with new fittings and to install Mannie’s new bell in a new steel frame suitable for six bells. The Faculty to permit the work was obtained and an order placed with the Nottingham firm of Hayward Mills Associates. Work began after Easter with completion expected around the end of May 2008.

Left: Paul Sail, David Burgess, Alan Wright, Stephen Smith, David Marshall, Andrew Mills, Ben Giles and  Rev’d Anthony Giles.

Right: Norman Tyler, Paul Sail and from Haywood Mills Paul Mason.

Photographic record: The Woodborough Photographic Recording Group filmed the work as it progressed and provided a display in the church so that everyone could see what progress was being made. They would take 200 photographs and just over one hour of un-edited video. A video record of the whole project should also be available later in the year.

The cost: The target for fund raising for the work to the bells and tower was set at £37,500. Grants and promises totalling £27,700 were obtained from the bequest, and in conjunction with:-

Further fund raising: The Newstead Abbey Singers are particularly thanked for giving from the takings at the concert they gave in church on April 12th. They chose a varied programme of songs by a range of composers. Many songs had links to bells. There were also two virtuoso performances by Viola Calthrop-Owen on the flute. It was announced at the dedication service in July that the project was now fully funded and all expenditure covered. Bishop Tony unveiled a plaque which can be seen on the right just inside the doorway to the south porch.

The first phase: Before any removal work could commence the church clock had to be stopped as the belfry floor supported the clock driving weights. This was done on Easter Monday, March 24th and the hands set at 12 o’clock and they would stay like this until the bells returned.

Various scenes showing the removal of the bells, followed by the timber frame. This continued until

the belfry was empty and then ready for the next stage, which was making good the stonework.

Work to remove the five bells and supporting frames commenced on Tuesday 25th March 2008 and was completed successfully in only four days. The bells were taken from the tower to Hayward Mills premises in Radford to be refurbished and tuned into better harmony with each other. The tenor sounds a nominal note of 792Hz which is slightly sharp of G (International Standard Pitch) according to the survey undertaken by Hayward Mills Associates before work started. The tenor and fifth did not need tuning, nor the new treble, but the second, third and fourth have been tuned into better agreement with the other three.

The old wooden frame was removed (along with a considerable amount of accumulated dust and rubbish) and the church returned (almost) to normal. The old timber frames were left in the churchyard pending sale. During April various remedial tasks were undertaken in preparation for the return and installation of all six bells. Of course the clock had to remain stopped and silent because the driving weights could not be replaced until a new belfry floor had been installed.

The stonemason making repairs to damaged stone, he also creates a level for the new steel frame.

During May the stonework on the inside of the tower was cleaned and the mortar joints re-pointed. The areas disturbed by the removal of the belfry timbers were made good and new slots created to take the new steel frame. A volunteer work party vacuumed and cleaned the whole tower from top to bottom. All four windows were fitted with baffles to provide enhanced weather and bird protection.

New belfry layout for 2008 showing position of all 7 bells

A - North wall.  B - Viewing platform. C - Doorway from staircase.  D - Bell wheels facts:

* Note the School Leavers’ bell was once hung in the tower of the Victorian school and now resides in the Church tower but is not part of the St Swithun’s bells,

The final phase:  On Monday 16th June the new steel frame was delivered and during the next four days installed in the tower along with the original five bells now refurbished and tuned. Later the same week “Mannie’s” new bell arrived from Holland and was put on display inside the Church for a few days. Dr Sheila Smith, Mannie’s niece and other family members came to see the new bell before it was installed in the belfry. 

Left: Mannie Foster’s family visited the church to inspect the new bell.

Right: the new bell on display just prior to it being hoisted to its position in the belfry.

The inscription on the new bell reads -

Charles Ernest Foster
Churchwarden, 1907 - 1938

There was further work inside the tower for the stonemason to bond the steel frame to the stonework, and also the new bell wheels and ropes had to be installed, all this work was completed during the first week of July.

A test ring of the bells took place at 6.00pm on Friday 4th July 2008; the old five bells were rung for a wedding on 5th July and rung again for Sunday morning service on 6th. The new bell and frame were dedicated and the old bells re-dedicated by the Bishop of Sherwood, the Rt. Rev'd Tony Porter. During the service the six bells were publicly rung together for the first time. After the service several members of the Southwell and Nottingham Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers and representatives from Haywood Mills Associates joined the local band in general celebratory ringing.

Job done. The bells hanging in all their splendour, Mannie’s bell on the right.

Conclusion: A large number of people have been involved in one way or another with this project. Without them we would not have been able to complete the work and to do so without cost to St Swithun’s restoration fund. We have received help from volunteer labourers from our village and from the Southwell and Nottingham Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers, which has reduced the cost of the project. We have received substantial financial support from Woodborough residents and past residents. We have attracted grants from a number of Trusts and Funds. These are all recognised on the Dedication plaque in the church porch, and elsewhere on this web page.

There are a number of minor works needed to the furnishings in the belfry, clock room and organ loft before we can say we have finished to our full satisfaction. These will include items designed to tell visitors to the tower about the history of the bells and clock and to explain the unique way that English church bells are rung.

It has taken eighteen months for us to complete the works: not long compared to some other belfry projects. We would like to record our grateful thanks to Paul Sail for his taking on the Project Leadership and steering it to a successful conclusion.

The Woodborough Photographic Recording Group recorded the whole project in both digital still photography and digital video.

St Swithun’s Church 2008 Bells Project

These nine photographs above cover the time between the steel frames arriving at church

and the re-installation of the bells, then finally the wooden bell wheels are attached.

Mannie's bell arrived from Holland at mid-day on 20th June 2008

It was intended that Mannie’s bell, and the old bells, would be on display in the church before being placed in the tower in mid-May. This was to give everyone an opportunity to see the bells and appreciate their place in our village’s history in a way rarely possible. However, due to various delays the only bell that could be displayed was Mannie's bell.

Paul Sail, David Burgess and Alan Wright on a visit to Haywood Mills Bellfounders,

where the five bells under went repairs and re-tuning.

The second phase: New trapdoors were installed behind the organ and in the clock-room floor by a local joiner, Malcolm Waters. The next job was making good the inside tower stonework that was disturbed when the belfry floor came out, also replacement of the central mullion in the tower west window, which had become badly weathered.


Founder & date cast






1 - Treble

Royal Eijsbout Holland for the Foster family 2008





Edward Arnold 1794





Henry Oldfield II circa 1600





John Taylor 1652 recast 1886




5 - Pancake bell

Henry Oldfield I circa 1555




6 - Tenor clock bell

John Taylor 1680 recast 1896




7 - School leavers' bell*

John Taylor 1874

Not known

Not known

The Right Rev’d Tony Porter, Bishop of Sherwood dedicates the plaque. Also in attendance on the 7th July 2008 Alan Wright,

Chris Parrott, David Elson, Judith Glass, Ann Healey and Rev’d Anthony Giles with the Venerable Ian Russell.

A large number of people, many who had contributed to the project in so many ways, enjoyed the dedication service held on 7th July 2008. It was a great pleasure to once again welcome Bishop Tony Porter to St Swithun's Church. We also thank you Anthony [Rev'd Anthony Giles] for making all the arrangements for an excellent service.

From a viewing platform at the top of the belfry, The Right Rev’d Tony Porter, Bishop of Sherwood

being shown the completed project by Bell Tower Captain Stephen Smith



The re-installed bells rang for the first time at precisely 6.00pm on 4th July 2008.

The work to complete the project finished earlier the same day.  

Introduction: This is the story of how the five bells became six and the background to funding, planning, removal, and finally installation are summarized here as a further record of the continuing history of St Swithun’s Church. The residents of Woodborough were kept fully up to date of progress throughout the project by reports month by month in the Woodborough Newsletter by Tower Captain, Stephen Smith.

Back to top Next page