400-year-old Hartlepool church bell at centre of ding-dong court battle

An out-of-tune centuries old bell at a Grade II listed Hartlepool church has been at the centre of a court battle over whether it should be retuned or not.

Tuesday, 26th April 2022, 9:15 am

Local church authorities want the bell, which dates back to the end of the 16th Century, to be retuned as part of a project to improve the sound of seven other more recent bells at All Saints Church, in Stranton, Hartlepool, which itself dates back to the 12th century.

But conservation group the Church Buildings Council (CBC) argued that the ancient bell was a link to the sounds of the past and as such should be left as it is – even though it is out of tune.

The issue went before an ecclesiastical court where it was decided the bell could be retuned after it was pointed out it had previously been in 1907.

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All Saints Church, Hartlepool. Picture by FRANK REID

The CBC had argued that the sound of the bell should be maintained as an “aural link to the past”.

In objecting to the re-tuning plan, the CBC said: “The bells are part of the aural history of the place, experienced by generations in Stranton.”

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However, Adrian Iles, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Durham, in his role as a judge of the Church of England’s Consistory Court, said in a judgement: “Historic bells form a rare and important link with the past.

The All Saints Church bell that was cast in 1599 was at the centre of a court battle over its retuning.

"They are an aural record of sounds experienced by local communities hundreds of years ago.”

The Chancellor added that the bell, along with the others, is now “caked in grime from industry, salt and sand”.

And in light of the fact the bell was previously retuned, he added: “Any harm caused by retuning this 16th Century bell (which does not sound as it did when originally cast, and has not so sounded since 1907) is slight, and is outweighed by the benefits to the church and local community.”

Andrew Frost, secretary of the Hartlepool Guild of Bellringers, said afterwards: “They are in need of re-tuning. They were tuned as well as it was thought possible at the time, but there’s much better tuning these days.”

Andrew Frost, secretary of the Hartlepool Guild if Bellringers.

But he assured people: "They will remain sounding like Stranton’s bells.”

It is hoped work will start towards the end of June and more details about the project will be given soon.