SIX church bells have been removed from their tower for the first time since 1923 in order to repair them.

The restoration project at St Mary’s Church, Long Wittenham, is being carried out by Whites of Appleton – one of the few restorers of bells in the country – and it is expected to take four months.

Leading the project is Julia Sargent from Little Wittenham who said that all the work would be under strict Covid-19 guidelines.

She said: “It means that we can’t invite people in to see the bells when they come down but we will keep a photographic record.

“The support of the village has been vital enabling this project to happen and we look forward to being out to ring the bells again for everyone to hear and begin a new bell-ringers recruitment campaign."

The bell frame is now being cleaned and painted by a professional company which does not come at a small price.

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The cost of the project will be at least £37,000 but costs have risen.

New ropes guides are to be installed. They are metal structures which attach to the walls of the tower with holders through which the ropes pass when ringing.

Covid-19 regulations have meant that local volunteers can no longer be used.

Five bells were first hung in the 12th century church in 1765 and a sixth was added in 1923.

But the bells were heavy and difficult to ring and were at risk of becoming dangerous unless they were repaired and restored.

The tenor, weighing 9cwt and with a diameter of 37 inches, and the treble bell which weighs 4cwt with a diameter of 27 inches, are among the six bells being restored.

Last year the village church raised £43,756 to contribute towards the restoration.

Once the bells have been restored they will be back in use at the church and continue to ring for services as they have done since the 1700s.

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