Ring of joy after 2 years of hard work
Noor-Jehan Yoro Badat
For a moment there was a pregnant silence while 1 000 schoolchildren and 120 staff members waited.
And then the six bells pealed, their pitch sharp and sweet in the early morning air on the grounds of the 13ha estate of St Peter’s Preparatory School for boys in Paulshof, north of Joburg.
Three of the bells, which are decades-old and had been laying homeless gathering dust somewhere in the UK, had finally found a new home.
Recently, the school held a service consecrating the addition of the bells to the school’s chapel. The process of acquiring the bells had taken two years.
It all began when the school installed an organ in the chapel. Because the chapel building couldn’t accommodate the sound box, a chamber had to be constructed, says Greg Royce, the school’s rector.
A bell tower, which could accommodate a light ring of six bells, was also added to ensure that the chamber wasn’t a distraction from the aesthetic design of the chapel.
But the project stalled a little as “we felt unsure as to how to pursue the acquisition of the ring, largely because of the cost and our ignorance of those organisations which may be able to assist us”, said Royce.
However, the project captured the imagination of the community, parents, the school council, individuals such as bell engineer Matthew Higby from Somerset in the UK, and organisations such as the Keltek Trust who donated to the project.
The Keltek Trust is an organisation in the UK that helps churches acquire surplus or redundant bells to be hung for English-style full-circle bell-ringing. The trust donated the tenor bell which was acquired from an antique shop in Kent.
Hilary Nothard, the school’s director of marketing, said Higby and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in the UK assisted in sourcing three used bells – circa 1887, 1905 and 1950 – for them.
“As far as we know, we are the only prep school in South Africa to have a ring of bells in its chapel. And we are also only one of two prep schools in the world to have their own ring of bells,” she added.
Over the two years, the school raised funds to pay for the three new bells, shipping and installation, which cost R340 000.
All six bells were shipped to Durban and installed in the school chapel last month.
Royce said having the bells was a huge excitement for them and they were simply elated.
He added that they would have lessons that would train pupils who were interested in the ancient art of bell ringing.
Up in the bell tower, pupils Liam Ramsden, 12, and Liam Morkel, 11, the school’s first set of bell ringers felt relieved that their task was completed that morning. They had rung the bells alongside Fiona Cooper Young, head of the learning centre, and Hugo Roodt, head of the music department.
“I was nervous at first. I thought I was going to break something. But it was fun,” said Morkel.
“It’s not hard at all, but you do have to concentrate,” said Ramsden with a grin.
Roodt agreed. “You have to listen to the rhythm of the bells as they’re ringing. It is a different kind of music and because there’s a visual effect that follows the sound, it’s tricky for a musician.”
Nothard said the chapel was used by the community for funerals, christening and weddings. “So they will be able to benefit from the bell ringing.”