The church of St Anne was built in 1850 to the design of Mr George Gilbert Scott, and is one of the finest Victorian buildings in the Channel Islands. The church is often referred to as ‘the cathedral church of the Channel Islands’ because of its size and splendour. It was designed both as the parish church for the island and also as the garrison church for the military stationed here in the mid 19th century. The belfry is the largest in the Channel Islands and is larger than many English cathedral belfries. Clearly Scott’s original intention was to hang a large number of bells to match the grandeur of the rest of the church. The reason why this was never done is unknown, but perhaps because there were no Alderney bell ringers able to ring the bells. Instead, only six bells were hung, suitable for a small parish church, but somewhat out of place in Scott’s magnificent belfry.
These six bells suffered at the hands of the Germans when the island was occupied during the Second World War. The fifth bell was cracked and broken into several pieces. The fourth was used as an alarm bell at the harbour and the other four bells were taken to France. The bells when recovered were recast by Taylors of Loughborough and rehung in the tower.
Fast forward fifty five years to 2013 and an enthusiastic band of St Annes ringers has been continuously active for 25 years. However the bell fittings were now in need of a major overhaul. Fortunately the church had been in recent receipt of a bequest by ex ringer, Dorothy Leach, which could be applied to the restoration of the bells. This seemed to the ringers to be the perfect opportunity to augment the bells to give us the finest ring of bells in the Channel Islands.
We therefore commissioned Matthew Higby to undertake all the work and asked the Loughborough Bellfoundry to cast six matching bells to add to the six bells that are already here. This has provided Alderney with the first ring of 12 bells in the Channel Islands and only the fourth ring of 12 bells in the Diocese of Winchester. As such, these bells have put Alderney on the ringing map and we expect a steady stream of visitors keen to try them out. This will help the local ringers who always welcome visiting ringers and the local community who rely on visitors for their livelihoods. We have also installed sound control, so that visitors can ring the bells without disturbing our neighbours.
Naturally we need a few more ringers to manage the additional bells and several Alderney residents have come forward to learn. A large number of residents have learned to handle a bell over the years but have had to give up for one reason or another. Hopefully some of them will now find that they can fit in a few hours a week bellringing. We also have some hopes that for a few UK bell ringers the presence of a ring of 12 bells on Alderney will be the deciding factor in whether to retire here.
The bells were taken down in early July 2013 and transported to England (courtesy of Channel Seaways) in order that they can be restored and matched to the six new bells. The bells were returned to Alderney on October 14th. The Dedication service was held on Thursday October 17th, the first practice was on Wednesday Nov 6th and the first public performance was on Remembrance Sunday, November 10th, 2013.
One of our new learners, a recenet visitor to Alderney as Living Islands Officer, has published her view of the new bells.