The village of Longworth is embarking on an ambitious church bells project, as Hannah Somerville discovered

The toll of church bells could soon be ringing around a Vale village once more after a restoration project was launched.

The bells of St Mary’s Church, Longworth, date from as early as 1662 and have not been rung full-circle since 1922.

A £120,000 restoration project will be launched this Sunday at a special event called the Longworth Festival of Bells.

Project manager Valia Battat said: “We found that because the bells haven’t been rung for such a long time, villagers had no idea what was there or about their history.

“But three years ago when I started putting on talks, they quickly got involved in the idea of restoration. People are really excited about it.”

The oak frame to which the bells are attached is rotten and could collapse. Work will include a full restoration of the five bells and frame at nearby firm Whites of Appleton Ltd, which was founded in 1824. The bells will then be tuned at Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London.

A new treble bell will also be added and inscribed with the names of legendary bellhanger Frank White, the fourth generation to run Whites of Appleton, and Dennis Leslie, a Second World War evacuee and the last person to ring Longworth’s bells full-circle.

Mr Leslie died in 2013 but his twin Norman, 85, of Faringdon, still plays regularly and it is hoped he will ring the bells on their completion.

Ms Battat, 51, said: “I was Dennis’s last pupil. He was such an amazing person and when he died he left a big hole. I realised someone had to do something.

“We are trying to get this done and the money raised while Norman is still fit to ring. We have asked White’s to pencil in next September; I don’t want to wait around.

“Longworth is a very pro-active village for fundraising and up for a challenge.”

If completed on time, the bells will be rung on the centenary of the death of Private William Henry Rivers, Longworth’s last recorded bell tower captain. He died while serving in the Royal Berkshire Regiment on December 22, 1916, aged 41.

By special permission, the Great War Memorial Book of Church Bell-Ringers, which includes Private Rivers’s name and is normally only viewable at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, will be on display at the festival.

There will also be a huge mobile belfry, handbell ringing demonstrations, slide shows, films and talks.

There will also be tea and refreshments, a cake stall and a plant stall.

Whites managing director Brian White, 74, said: “We are looking forward to the event. My great-great-grandfather Alfred did work in Longworth and the Leslie twins worked for us. What never ceases to amaze me is that people who wouldn’t give money towards the organ, or heating, or church roof, will give money to restore the bells because you can hear them all over the village.”

* For more information on Longworth Festival of Bells, visit 01865 821671 or email