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  • Haydn Wheeler.

"By Ringing Of Bells" Peace and Safety Across the County.

The bells of St Mary's of Shroton , Iwerne Courtney Dorset. Seen here courtesy of John Taylor & Co "Bellfoundry" where restoration of the ground floor 9 cwt ring of six was undertaken.

St Mary's Church Shroton.

The bells of St Mary's Church in Shroton have undergone restoration. Work on the bells was carried out by John Taylor & Co "Bellfoundry Loughborough.

With the church links to the Clubmen, a look at the part bell ringing played in the Clubmen movement is of considerable note and worth consideration. With a want for a "Peace and Safety Across the County" and a desire for the warring parties to come to agreement, the Clubmen of 1645 were revolutionary in demands and actions. A Parliamentary Newspaper said of them.

"This third party hath peeped, for many months in many corners, they will have an army without a king, a lord or a gentlemen almost"

A sound heard in the 17th Century is still ringing to the present. The age of two of these six bells having under gone restoration date back to the 16th Century with one being pre reformation.

Video from St Mary's Church, relating to Clubmen.

The overnight confinement of The Clubmen in St Mary's Church after the Battle on Hambledon Hill and the bells used by the Clubmen in signal to gather in strength are now both housed in the same place, a place being used for their holding . The pre reformation bell in itself cast by its maker to gather with the intention originally of our tie to Rome and Pope, was now rung at a time between King, Church and Parliament being torn. The holding of the Clubmen and many of their leaders being local clergy were lectured from the pulpit by Cromwell himself, whose later broad tolerant approach to the church is in stark contrast to the late 1630s Stuart England Laudianism.

Cromwell a staunch Puritan at the start of the Civil War, a clergy with a longing for a stop to the war and a return to a more Elizabethan stability, is all taking place under the 16th century cast pre reformation bell hanging in situ above.

Neil Thomas from John Taylor & Co "Bellfoundry" with pre reformation bell in St Mary's Church Shroton 2017.

The Bells of St Mary's Church in Shroton. Two of the original 16th century bells in the church, would have been rung for the Clubmen to gather in August of 1645.

There are several accounts of the nature and plight of bell ringing and ringers thorough the Civil War.

One can imagine the signal being put out across the counties to gather as Cromwell's dragoons headed their way in Dorset.

An account by John Vicars, the contemporary biographer of the Civil War in England's Parliamentary Chronicle, gives a reference to the signal to gather by bells by the Clubmen of Dorset.

"The said Clubmen most peremptorily and insolently sent (upon the Lords Day at night) to have their Leaders re-delivered unto them, and caused their Bells to be rung in all places, and Alarms to be given in their all way of rising, to have their Leaders re-delivered unto them, and about 2500. of them instantly met in a body at Hambleton-hill, with their Colours displayed,

General Thomas Fairfax

In a letter from Sir Thomas Fairfax to the House of Lords dated July 3rd 1645, he gives an account of the Clubmen of Wilts and Dorset. The letter is a long account of the Clubmen and describes their "modus operandi" Part of that letter contains a paragraph with reference to use of bells.

"Their Heads send out to the several Towns; and, by ringing of Bells, and sending Post from one Rendezvous to another, into the several Towns and Hundreds, they draw into great Bodies. For Distinction of themselves from other Men, they wear White Ribbon, to shew, as they say, their Desires of Peace. They meet with Drums, flying Colours, and for Arms they have Muskets".

The ringing of bells as a call to rendezvous was a means to gather bodies of Clubmen at short notice.

A long tradition of bell ringing as a form of communication is nothing new, as with the obvious use of signaling the start of a mass or service.

What brings the Clubmen into focus in the use of bell ringing is not only in it's call to gather, but through 1645 it was associated with the Clubmen as an organised body.

Meetings around the County being signaled by bell ringing showed people were getting organised at short notice .

John Morrill in his excellent book "The Revolt of the Provinces" states some Associations (Clubmen) "instructed all their members to turn out as soon as the alarm was sounded, but in Dorset to avoid false alarms, no man shall raise into arms but such as are so summoned by the watchmen"

"This was later amended to elected representatives in every village, who were to list all fit men, and appoint those, who were to appear when the bells rung."

Once gathered the process of getting organised could begin. Putting into print their grievances in the forms of petitions and declarations and getting their voice heard in the chaos of the civil war was essential, as this voice was minus a King or Parliament perspective narrative but neutral in manner.

A risk at the time, as this was seen as a danger to both the warring parties.

Bell ringing through the counties associated with Clubmen through the English Revolution could also in part be terrifying, a warning of oncoming troops and a call to prepare for the defense of goods, self and property.

A verse from The Siege of Bradford by the poet John Nicholson has a colourful description of a Clubmen encounter with Royalist troops, where "the wool-packs fall from the church steeple, guns are firing and the church bells are ringing the alarm"

The soldiers plunder, murder, rob and steal,

Ruin has stamp'd with terror every street,

Death has rode boldly on his sable car,

And crush'd his victims in this civil war,

All villains are let loose, their harvest now,

Order destroy'd, authority laid low,

And anarchy flies on her raven wings,

The verse of Nicholson sets a fictional scene based on eyewitness accounts . Another eyewitness account of a common nature is one to the speaker of the House of Commons William Lenthall. It reports of the Clubmen of Sussex and an attempted warning in 1645, with a bloody end for those who went to warn by bell ringing.

"In the early hours of Sunday morning the 21st September Major Young with ten horse and forty footmen set on their quarters (Clubmen) in Walberton, killing who went to warn by bell ringing, seeing him as the most dangerous ( hence stopping the warning) With the warning quashed, most fled. The report records two malignant ministers taken prisoner and some stragglers who were to be made examples of to deter further Clubmen activities".

The ancient church (above) in the village of Compton Abbas, now a ruin with only the 15th century tower remaining. In 1645 this church was ministered by the Reverend Thomas Bravell, a leader in the Clubmen movement. The bells of which no doubt would have been rung as a signal to gather at the hill opposite the village which is now called Clubmen Down . The bells from the church were transferred to a newly built Church in Compton Abbas in 1866.

The ringing of church bells across the counties of the South West of England during the English Revolution rang as call of warning and to rendevous by the Clubmen. A sound heard by those of the 17th century can be still heard. The Clubmen saw fit to gather and show their grievances and strength by signal of bell ringing.

In hearing today those bells of before a thought of The Clubmen and their message of a "resistance to all plunderers" still holds a vital part in a telling of our social history and present .

Thanks to John Simmons PCC and Malcolm Trowbridge (captain of the tower) and all those who in the village of Shroton, also Neil Thomas from John Taylor & Co "Bellfoundry Loughborough.

Video from Walberton and the killing of the man most dangerous, bell ringer.

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