Thurstable and Winstree Team Ministry

serving the parishes of Tiptree with Tolleshunt Knights and Great Braxted, Copford, Easthorpe, Messing, Inworth,
Layer de la Haye, Layer Breton with Birch, and Layer Marney

The 'Layer' Parishes: Layer de la Haye • Layer Breton with Birch • Layer Marney

The Church Bells at St John the Baptist, Layer de la Haye

Bells book coverThe parish published a booklet (cover shown on right) about the history of the Layer de la Haye Bells and their restoration. Attractively produced with several photographs, copies are on sale in the church priced at only £1.00 each (p & p extra). All profits go towards the upkeep of the bells.

It is thought the oldest bell in the tower, cast about 1459, and the mediaeval wooden frame were given to the church by the monks of St Botolph's in the fifteenth century. Two bells were added in the 17th century and a further two in the 18th century. An extract from the Essex Chronicle dated 14th October 1791 reports that "A peal of five bells, newly repaired and fresh hung, will be opened on Monday next the 17th of October, at Layer-de-la-Hay". As far as we can tell this peal of five bells remained in ringing order up to around the time of the famous Colchester earthquake of 1884. It subsequently became unsafe to ring the bells properly and in 1936 Ellacombe Hammers were fitted by Alfred Bowell, Bellfounder, Ipswich, so that they could be chimed. (In chiming a hammer, operated by a rope, is used to strike the bell, rather than the whole bell being swung through 360 degrees.)

In 1969, when Canon James Allen was the incumbent, an inspection of the bells was carried out by Whitechapel Bell Foundry and an estimate supplied for rehanging the bells. No further action was taken at the time. When writing a history of the church Canon Allen noted "...the bells have been chimed only by means of ropes which reach to the floor of the tower. Is it a pious hope that one may once again hear these bells properly rung?"

During the Revd John Sibson's time as Vicar in the 1980s Brian Keeble, a member of the Essex Association of Change Ringers (EACR), moved into the parish and became a member of the Parochial Church Council. Further enquiries were made about the bells and an inspection was undertaken by the EACR's Technical Adviser. A bell fund was started, helped by a generous bequest from the late Donald Oxton who was for many years a faithful member of the church, a member of the PCC, and a Churchwarden. Again, it was not possible to take any further action on the bells at the time.

The desire of many people to get the bells back into ringing order gathered momentum during the 1990s. The bell fund continued to grow slowly and the restoration of the bells started to feature regularly on the PCC's agenda. In 1997 there was an opportunity to apply for a Millennium Grant which made the project look achievable. Although a Millennium Grant was not forthcoming, the support from the village and elsewhere encouraged the PCC to proceed with the restoration as a very fitting project to mark the new millennium. An initial survey revealed the mediaeval wooden bell frame was no longer usable. Removal of the frame was not an option because of its great historic interest. These factors made the project much more involved and expensive than it might otherwise have been. The only solution was to construct a new frame under the original. This in turn necessitated the construction of a new ringing floor so that the ground floor of the tower could continue to be used as a clergy vestry. All this was additional to work required on the bells themselves, one of which was cracked (the Tenor - which successfully repaired using a specialist welding technique), and the provision of new fittings.

Bells being removed
The original bells are removed for refurbishment.

In 1999 the bells were removed into storage and major structural work commenced to accommodate the new bell frame and ringing chamber. Originally it was hoped the work could be completed in time to ring in the new millennium. That was not to be. The bells and new frame were delivered to Layer de la Haye in December 2000 and installation of the frame began on the 28th of that month. The rehanging of the bells on all new fittings was carried out during January 2001, with the bells being rung for the first time on Friday 26th January 2001 by a team of experienced EACR ringers. On Monday 5th February the parish's own team of ringers, who had been practising in other towers since 1997, were able to enjoy the first practice in their own tower. The main contractor for the bell work was Hayward Mills Associates of Radford, Nottingham.

The Essex Association of Change Ringers was very supportive of local efforts throughout. Their advice, knowledge and substantial help proved invaluable. Their generosity was crowned with the gift of a new bell, made possible by a bequest from the Lufkin family, so we now have a peal of six. Details of the new bell and the five old bells appear below.

On the evening of Sunday 18th February 2001, the church was filled to capacity for a special service at which the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd John Perry, dedicated the new and restored bells and commissioned ringers. During the service one of the lessons was read by a member of the Lufkin family. Brian KeebleThe Master of the EACR, Mr Stephen Nash, presented the Vicar with a cheque for £4,000 towards the cost of the restoration, £3,500 being a grant from the Association and £500 being a further gift.

Right: The late Brian Keeble who did so much to achieve
the restoration of Layer de la Haye's church bells.
Photograph courtesy of the Keeble family.

Much of the credit for driving forward the project must go to the late Brian Keeble, without whom it is questionable whether it would have happened at all and certainly not as quickly. In addition to all the work of co-ordination, this keen bell ringer and stalwart of our church spent substantial time and effort on the actual physical work involved and encouraged others to help with it. We would like to express our appreciation and thanks to all who supported our project.

Bellringing at Layer de la Haye

Ringing practice is normally 7:00pm - 8:00pm on alternate Monday evenings or when there are sufficient people to ring (as at March 2022). For confirmation of when practices will take place please contact the Tower Captain (see below).
New ringers are very welcome, as are visiting ringers.
For further information please contact the Tower Captain, Mark Jones - Tel: 01206-734258
You can email our tower at

Links to Websites

The Essex Association of Change Ringers website is at
The North East District of the Association has its own section on the above website at

Descriptions of Each Bell

The Treble

The newest bell in the tower is called the Lufkin bell, after the late Frank Lufkin who was Master and a Life Vice-President of the Essex Association of Change Ringers. The bell was donated to Layer de la Haye by the Essex Association, the cost being met out of a bequest it received from the Lufkin family.

Founder: John Taylor Bellfounders Ltd of Loughborough. Taylors are the largest bellfounders in the world and a small party of parishioners travelled to Loughborough to witness the casting.
Date: Thursday, 28th September 2000.
Weight: 4 cwt 2 qrs 22 lbs.
Diameter: 28"
Inscription: 'The Lufkin Bell donated to Layer de la Haye by the Essex Association of Change Ringers'.

Number 2 Bell

Number 2

Founder: Thomas Mears I of London.

Date: 1792

Weight: 4 cwt 3 qrs 27 lbs.

Diameter: 30"

Inscription: 'Thomas Mears of London fecit 1792'

Number 3 Bell

Number 3

Founder: Thomas Gardiner of Sudbury, Suffolk.

Date: 1724

Weight: 4 cwt 1 qrs 23 lbs.

Diameter: 32"

Inscription: 'Thomas Gardiner Sudbury fecit 1724'

Number 4 Bell

Number 4

Founder: Miles Graye III of Colchester (a descendant of Miles Graye who cast the Tenor bell).

Date: 1673

Weight: 5 cwt 3 qrs 10 lbs.

Diameter: 33"

Inscription: 'Miles Graye made me 1673'

Number 5 Bell

Number 5

The oldest bell in the tower.

Founder: Johanna Sturdy of London whose husband John, a renowned London bellfounder, died in 1458.

Date: Between 1458 and 1461; believed to be 1459 but this is unconfirmed.

Weight: 10 cwt 2 qrs 14 lbs.

Diameter: 38¾"

Latin Inscription: 'In Multis Annis Resonet Campana Johannis' (English: May John's bell ring for many years).

Tenor Bell

The Tenor

The largest bell in the tower.

Founder: Miles Graye I of Colchester (grandfather or father of Miles Graye who cast Number 4).

Date: 1622

Weight: 10 cwt 3 qrs 22 lbs.

Diameter: 42"

Inscription: 'Miles Graye made me 1622'

The peal is tuned to the key of F

Page updated: 07 Feb 2024 at 20:22