THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST. PETER, RODMELL
The details below are taken from “A Short Guide to St Peter’s Church, Rodmell”, 2nd edition. Copies of this guide are available in the church.
There’s been a church here since the Norman Conquest. The current building took its main form in the 12th century.
This arch dates from the Victorian restoration of the church, and replaces an earlier pointed arch composed of carved blocks.
The 12th century font is found in the baptistry – to your left when entering the church. The central support for the font is original, but the corner shafts are later additions.
There is a late 12th century pier. The robust central pillar of the side aisle has a capital with foliage and corbels at the angles, one of which is in the form of a human head.
St Peter’s Rodmell possesses an interesting ring of six bells, which have recently been restored for full use.
On Harvest Sunday last year, 110 years after they were first rung on Harvest Sunday 1909, the bells were heard again over Rodmell village in a brief trial peal. This followed many hours of voluntary labour by a group of bellringers to carry out preliminary repairs and maintenance to the now fragile bell fittings. After this the bells were removed from the tower for refurbishment and retuning, whilst in the church itself the task was to conserve and retain the historic bell frames so as to re-hang the bells within them, retaining the unusual timber work and archaeology in the belfry for the next generation to appreciate. This has all now been completed and the bells were pealed again for the first time in their new state on March 24th 2021.
The oldest bell in Rodmell’s tower is also the largest or ‘Tenor’ bell, dating to 1641 cast by Bryan II Eldridge. This was augmented with two additional bells in 1664 by his son, William I Eldridge. These three bells hang in an old oak frame which appears to date from a similar period, being late 17th or early 18th Century. Unusually, this frame is perched at the very top of the tower walls and supported on massive oak beams. These bells were at that time typical of many village churches in the county, such as at nearby Piddinghoe, Iford and Kingston, being three in number but being in this case notably out of tune, as the majority of bell founders of that era had not yet discovered the intricacies of tuning bells with any degree of accuracy.
In 1909 the then Rector, James Boen Hawkesford, commissioned the augmentation of the bells to six. Given that the bells were already not well in tune musically, this was clearly something of a stunt, and was evidently achieved with a limited budget; three small stock bells were purchased from John Warner and Sons of Cripplegate, and were tuned to roughly accord with the existing older bells. They were then hung in a locally made bell frame of very simple construction, comprising horizontal timber beams set into the tower walls, beneath the original three bells. Interestingly, the wheels appear to have been made locally, and copied the unusual pattern of the three older bells’ wheels. The only recorded ringing on the bells as a peal of six was during Rev’d Hawkesford’s tenure, after which it is not known whether they were rung again ‘full circle’. They are an unusual ring of bells, not only because of their hangings, but their unique (some might say discordant!) tuning; the tenor bell is a full semitone flat, giving the ring of bells a mysterious sound. Virginia Woolf appears to have been haunted, or even troubled, by their sound, which she described as ‘sullen’ and ‘didactic’, and that the ‘bells thudded’.
The only recorded ringing on the bells as a full set post-Hawkesford was in 1958, when a visiting band of ringers patched up the bell fittings and rang them, recording this as the first time they had been rung for 30 years. Thereafter the bells have lain dormant, with only nesting birds for company. The smaller three bells have been chimed for services but the historic 17th Century bells remained untouched altogether. Thankfully, the bell installation has been spared the ravages of the elements due to the small size of the belfry windows, and the position of the larger three bells beneath the shingle spire.