ANYONE within a few miles of Faringdon on Thursday afternoon might have wondered why it sounded like the church bells rang out for three hours solidly.

The answer is – they did.

From 2pm to 5pm, an eight-strong team at All Saints Church in the Market Place rang out a total of 5,040 changes on eight bells without repeating a single change.

That is no small work-out – the heaviest bell is 1,700 weight, or one-and-three-quarter tonnes.

The reason for the musical marathon? Thursday marked 100 years to the day since the church's last tower foreman, Private William Henry Rivers, was killed on a First World War battlefield.

Private Rivers, who served with the Royal Berkshire Regiment, 2nd/4th Btn, died in action in Albert, France.

To honour his memory, bellringers travelled from across Oxfordshire and beyond to ring out the half-muffled three-hour peal for all the town to hear.

The event was also a part of a much larger project by local bellringers – the restoration of the the church bells in nearby Longworth.

Villagers are trying to raise £120,000 to restore the bells at the 17th century church which have not rung in 100 years.

The three-hour peal in Faringdon was a good excuse to raise awareness for that project, and some of the bellringers even raised sponsorship for Longworth.

Among the bellringers was Valia Battat, who is leading the Longworth bells restoration project.

She said: "It went really well.

"Christmas isn't always just about bright lights and presents: 100 years ago on Christmas Day people were suffering and dying.

"We specifically rang the bells half-muffled which is always used for periods of mourning.

"It was a way of getting people to sit up and say 'what's going on?'"

All Saints Church is also currently hosting an exhibition all about the bellringers of Faringdon in the First World War era.

The exhibition includes a rare opportunity for visitors to see the Great War Memorial Rolls of Honour – a beautiful hand-illuminated manuscript book finished soon after the First World War which records the names of all the fallen bellringers throughout the country including Longworth's Private Rivers.

The book is usually kept at St Paul's Cathedral in London and is rarely seen outside, but custodian of the Rolls Alan Regin brought the book to Faringdon and also took the opportunity to join in Thursday's ringing session.

Now the Longworth bells appeal continues.

The church now has £40,000 and will carry on fundraising throughout 2017, all in memory of Private Rivers.

Ms Battat added: "There could be no greater tribute to his memory than in restoring Longworth's bells for full-circle ringing after almost a century of silence."