The Entrance Porch

 

FRIENDS OF ST. JOHN’S CHURCH, KEYNSHAM

A tour of St John the Baptist

The Entrance Porch

 

At last we are going inside the church, through the west door recently renovated by the FRIENDS.

Above the doors are the Charity Boards which list various donors and donations – mainly to the Poor of the Parish. At the bottom of the left-hand board are the names “W. Hill, I. Rumsey,  Churchwardens 1696” Above this are several donations of £100 to provide money for the ‘second poor’ those who were not claiming Parish Relief and the fact that Feoffs are mentioned meant land was being made available – I suppose like today’s allotments.

 I like the donation near the bottom “Mr John Henry gave Ten Shillings a Yeare for Ever for a Sermon to Be Preached every Yeare on New Years day”. The third board from the left is mainly about the will of Mrs Mary Whippie who with other gifts left one of £1,000 in 1815; another very generous benefactor.

In the corner near the umbrella stand is the ‘translation’ of the Brief about the collapse of the original tower and the bell rope to the Sanctus Bell (1531) which used to be rung at the elevation of the Host during the Mass.

Look back at the window above the door and on the right (north) side a circular carving depicts a bell and the date 1728. Quite what that refers to is a bit of a mystery. In the north wall is the doorway to the steps to the tower and bell chamber – the steps are another recent repair part funded by the FRIENDS.

The oldest record of our bells is in 1489 when John Chancellor left three shillings and four pence for the bells. In 1508 Nicholas St Lo left ten shillings for the making of the Great Bell. This is possibly now the Tenor (largest) bell but has now been recast probably in 1669. By a stroke of good fortune four bells plus the Sanctus bell survived the collapse of the old tower and were installed in the new tower. More bells were then added in the 1700’s to give a ring of eight and as is the custom most are signed by the founder and include the names or initials of the churchwardens and a suitable phrase in English or Latin. The Bilbie family of Chew Stoke were a well-known local bell founding family (the clock at Queen Charlton was also made by them). The smallest bell, the Treble, at 6 ½ cast made in 1731 bears the names of “William North and Robert Trower Churchwardens” and the delightful inscription,

 

“I value not who doth me see

For Thomas Bilbie casted me

Although my voice it is but small

I will be heard amongst you all”.

 

There are two other Bilbie bells and with a fair wind they can be heard up the Charlton Road at the new development of Bilbie Green.

Bells need maintenance and care and in 1987 Whites of Appleton removed and recast the bells and the Whitechapel Foundry (recently closed) retuned them before they were returned to re-strengthened frames.

If you hear hymn tunes being played on the bells then it is either the Tower Captain Martin Pearson or George Colbourne on the Ellacombe Chimes.

Rev. H.T. Ellacombe was vicar of St Mary’s, Bitton who got into dispute with and sacked his bell ringers in 1822. He missed the sound of the bells and with the help of Sam Wells – a clever workman – devised a method where one person, faced with a series of ropes can pluck them to make a hammer strike the bell and hence play a tune. We are doubly indebted to Rev. Ellacombe for he copied out verbatim many of the original records of the Abbey and the church and that copy was the reference point for much of Elizabeth Whites writing for that period.

The bells have rung over Keynsham for about 500 years. In happiness at weddings, in sadness at deaths, in times of danger and war and in joy at peace, in celebration at Coronations, Jubilees and New Year and all the while calling people to worship. They have done great service – long my they continue.

 
Edmund Prideaux