The beautiful Parish church of St Anne, Alderney, is often referred to as the “Cathedral of the Channel Islands”. It was built at the sole expense of John Le Mesurier, son of General John Le Mesurier, the last hereditary governor of Alderney. It was consecrated in 1850.
The old church, which was too small, and in a poor state of repair, was demolished upon the building of the new one. Only the tower, built in 1767, now remains. It still has the two original bells, which are heard daily, striking each quarter hour.
Ninety years after the consecration of the church; on Sunday,23rd June, 1940, shortly after dawn, the bells rang out the message to the Alderney people to make their way as quickly as possible to the harbour to board the ships, waiting to take them to England, pending the certain occupation of the island by the Germans.
The Germans occupied Alderney nine days later, and had no respect for the church. It was put to profane use, and was soon used as a wine cellar. The vault was desecrated, the altar was dumped in a nearby field and the headstones were uprooted in the churchyard.
As the 1939-1945 war progressed, so the need became greater for the Germans to find more raw materials with which to manufacture munitions. Not surprisingly, the bells came in for attention. Each was removed from the tower, thus enabling the belfry to be used as a machine-gun post. Evidence of this can be seen by the carving of names of the German soldiers on the walls, some of which are dated. Four bells were shipped to France to be melted down for munitions, and were stored in a field near Cherbourg. One bell, however, was on a wooden gantry outside the main church door and the other was at Braye harbour, waiting to follow the others to Cherbourg.
Upon the occupation of the Cherbourg area by British troops, Captain Tudor, the Cherbourg Garrison Engineer identified the bells, some of which were damaged, and in due course they were brought back to Alderney.
The bells were hung on low trestles near the gateway leading to Victoria Street. It was then that they were “clocked” by the simple means of pulling ropes attached to the clappers, the ringer having to run from one bell to the next!.
In 1953, the sum of £4,000 was raised by the people of Alderney for the restoration of the church. Messrs. John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough quoted £1,370 for shipping the bells to their foundry, recasting and retuning them, and returning them to Alderney. Her Majesty the Queen Mother sent silver to be auctioned in aid of the bells. Mrs. Daisie Mignot paid for the recasting of the tenor bell; Mr. Francis Impey for the 5th; Beatrice Fox-Grifﬁths for the treble, and she also sent many gifts from America to assist the bell fund.
Just before Christmas 1953, the SS Arrowhead brought the six recast bells back to Alderney, now fitted with cast-iron headstocks, self aligning bearings, the traditional wheels, together with an Ellacombe chiming console. The bells were rehung in the original 1850 oak frame, suitably repaired after being damaged by the occupying troups.
There is no evidence of method ringing by an Alderney band of ringers between the original installation in 1850 and May 1979. The only evidence of a local band is that the late Mr. Leonard McLennon was Tower Captain for some two years before the last war. There was a team of local residentss, but they were content to ring “rounds”.
In May 1979, a new band of ringers was formed, after a band rung a peal to celebrate the induction of the Rev. Edwin Bennett as the new vicar of the church, a great supporter of the band. Mr Tony Fortin, who rang in the aforementioned peal, came to live on the island, and being a competent ringer, he taught the novice band. He was very ably assisted by Mrs. Joyce Dixon, the local postmistress, who could ring call changes.
Also, the editor of the “Ringing World”, (at that time, Mr. Charles Denyer) paid a visit, and a cover story appeared, which put Alderney on the ringer’s map. This resulted in a large number of visitors coming to Alderney, and, in turn, resulted in the novice band increasing it’s repertoire over a relatively short space of time.
The Alderney bell ringers belong to the Channel Islands District of the Winchester and Portsmouth Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers.