The bells of St. John the Baptist, Strensham

A stone castle with a clock tower in front of a house

Description automatically generated

Background

The name Strensham is derived from the Old English 'Streongham' meaning Strong Village, and is first recorded in 972 when lands at Strensham were returned to the Abbey at Pershore by King Edgar. Later on, Strensham was granted to the Abbey of Westminster by Edward the Confessor as belonging to the Abbey of Pershore. There is no reference to Strensham in the Domesday Book of 1086, although another local survey dated 1086 lists it as an outlying settlement of Comberton, which is a couple of miles away to the east over the river Avon.

By 1283, the Russell Family were the principal landowners, and remained so for some four hundred years. There are many brasses and monuments to the family inside the Church. In 1388, Sir John Russell was granted a license to crenelate a mansion house at Strensham, this almost certainly related to Strensham Castle, the moated site to the west which probably survived until the English Civil war when it is believed have been destroyed. About this time, the Russells moved their residence to Strensham Court at Over Strensham (now Upper Strensham) to the south, and it is around this that the current settlement is situated.

The last landowners at Strensham were the Taylor family who were button makers from Birmingham. They rebuilt Strensham Court in 1824, this building being destroyed by fire in the early 1970s.

Possibly the most famous son of Strensham was the poet Samuel Butler, baptised in February 1613. When Samuel died in 1680, he was buried in at Paul's Covent Garden, and had a memorial placed in Westminster Abbey in 1732.

The Church

The church sits around a mile from the centre of the village on a rise above the river Avon. Inside there are 16th century pews, a Norman Tub Font, and a gallery formed out of the painted rood screen which dates from 1490-1500. There are also some superb carved memorials to the Russell family.

Its exposed position has meant that it has suffered badly from the elements over the years, especially the tower. Water was leaking through the tower roof, and the stonework was crumbling away. The nave roof was also badly leaking, and the moisture was causing the pews and floors to rot.

The cost of keeping up with the serious erosion became too much for the Parish to cope with, and the Church was vested in the Churches Conservation Trust on 1st August 1991. Restoration commenced in 1994 and continued until early 1996. During this time, the roofs of the Church were stripped and relayed, and the walls (except the tower) were re-covered with a lime-based render. The tower render was replaced in 2002-3

The Bells

The west tower dates from the 15th century, and according to the 1552 inventory, there was 'j letell leche bell' which belonged to the Church. However, according to the 1552 inventory, the bells from Bordesley Abbey near Redditch were bought here at the Dissolution. It states:

'Ther was abowte x yeares passed iij smale belles hangying in the steple solde with the whole assent of the parecheners and the money therof implowyd to make seattes & pues in the churche & to repare the churche. Therbe iij bells hangyng in the stepull wyche Sir John Russell Knyght of late bowght to his owne use of the Kyngs Maiestie deacessd wiche were perteynyng to the late dessolvyd abbey of Borseley wiche bells ye same Sir John Russell ys yet indetted for and be the goods of the same Sir John Russell'

In 1704/5, the bells in the tower were recast by Abraham Rudhall I and increased in number to 5, and the 1740 inventory records this fact.

By 1890 the two largest of these five bells were broken, with a substantial chunk being reported missing from the crown (the top) of the fourth bell.

In 1911 these two bells were replaced, and a smaller sixth bell added by building another frame extension in the SE corner. The three remaining Rudhall bells were retuned and all new fittings including plain bearings were provided. All this was done by the John Taylor & Co. bell foundry, based in Loughborough.

A view of the bells being rung prior to the recent rehanging and augmentation (right-left 6,2,3,4 with 5 behind)

The frame is positioned diagonally in the tower, which is rather unusual. Diagonal frames exist locally at Croome d'Abitot, Abbots Morton, and Powick. Other examples are to be found at places like Nottingham St. Mary and Brailsford in Derbyshire.

Augmentation Project

From 2017 until 2020, the local ringers undertook a major restoration, rehanging and augmentation project. This involved removing the headstocks to Matthew Higby for shot blasting, painting and for the refurbishment of the bearings. The three Rudhall bells were tuned again and two second hand bells added to make a ring of eight. These were obtained from the Keltek Trust, a charity who find new homes for surplus church bells.

The Bellframe.

Parts of the tall frame are possibly 15th C in origin with king posts and straight braces. It was heavily rebuilt in 1704/5 when the five Rudhall bells were installed, and was then re-positioned diagonally in the tower. In 1911, the frame was extended for the new treble bell. The modifications over the years mean that the rope circle was a little strange, with the front four ropes falling close together, almost in a straight line. During 2000 the 3rd was turned around, and the 4th re-roped, which greatly improved the rope circle.

The modifications to the frame for the two extra bells were very minimal. This not only respected the historical aspects of the old timber frame but would involve only minor work to the 1911 framework to house two bells instead of one. The new treble bell would be hung in another corner of the tower where there was just enough room. Only one new pocket had to be cut in the tower wall for the beam on which the new treble would sit, the other end used an existing putlock hole.

A close up of a map

Description automatically generated

The Bells

The details of the bells in the tower are as follows:

A screenshot of a cell phone

Description automatically generated 

The inscriptions are as follows:

  

Here is a view of the 8 bells being rung for the first time. For the full video, click here.