Only at St Lawrence Church, Ipswich, and at St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield, in the City of London, are there rings of five bells surviving from before the Reformation, and ours are the senior.
The building of the tower at St Lawrence began about 1430 because John Bottold was described on his slab at the entrance as its 'first beginner'. In 1447 Thomas Prat's wife Alice left twenty shillings to 'repairing the bells', proof positive that the tower was already built and the first bells hung. The following year Alice Grenehood, widow, left the same amount 'to the making of a bell in the tower there' and in 1451 Christine Hall left more for the same purpose. The Ipswich bells therefore predate the Smithfield five (all cast in about 1510).
While Thomas Wolsey's parents Robert and Joan lived and probably worshipped in the neighbouring parish of8t Nicholas, Joan's brother, the wealthy and influential Edmund Daundy, lived in the parish of St Lawrence and endowed a chantry of St Thomas of Canterbury in the church where priests would sing masses for the souls of the Daundys and Wolseys in perpetuity. The sound of bells at his uncle's church will have been familiar to the young Thomas Wolsey who was born in 1471.
In September 2009 the bells were lowered eight metres and rehung in a new frame in the sturdy part of the tower where they can be safely rung. Ringers will come from all over the country, indeed all over the world, to ring them and hear their uniquely medieval sound, a sound which Wolsey knew well and is unchanged today.
The five bells and their inscriptions
Two bells honour the Virgin Mary and there is one each for 8t Thomas of Canterbury, St Giles, patron saint of blacksmiths, and St Katherine. The Latin prayers are cast on them in raised letters as follows:
Treble Sancta Maria Ora Pro Nobis [Holy Mary pray for us] Made 1490 by Reignold Chirche of Bury St Edmunds
Second Sancta Katerina Ora Pro Nobis [Holy Katherine pray for us] Made about 1440 by William Chamberlain of London
Third Sonitus Egidii Ascendit Ad Culmina Celi [The sound of Giles rises to the vaults of heaven] Made about 1449 by Richard Brasyer 1 of Norwich
Fourth Nos Thomas Meritis Mereamur Gaudia Lucis [May we deserve the joys of light by the merits of Thomas ] Made about 1449 by Richard Brasyer
Tenor Sum Rosa Pulsata Mundi Maria Vocata [I am, when rung, called Mary the Rose of the World] Made about 1449 by Richard Brasyer
It is planned to ring the bells as follows:
•The first Sunday of every month, 9.30 - 9.50 am.
•Every Wednesday lunchtime, 12.30 -13.00 pm.
•Remembrance Day - a muffled peal.
•Christmas shopping Saturday, 18 December 2009 at Noon.
•Christmas morning, 9.30 - 9.50 am.
Other bell ringing in 2010
Easter Sunday morning 9.30 - 9.50 am.
Mayor Making on 19 May and the Celebration of the Town Charter of 1200, on 29 June. Saturday, 10 July, for the Annual Country Dinner of The Ancient Society of College Youths. And on other occasions requested by Ipswich Borough Council or the Churches of Ipswich.
[Editor: Dr Blatchly tells me that the extensive coverage of news about the bells included the BBC World Service. His interview was broadcast in the United States as perhaps the "light entertainment" sandwiched between President Obama's having been called a liar and the predicament of a woman on death row! He also says that there have been visitors coming to Ipswich to hear the bells, staying in hotels on Tuesday night ready for the ringing on Wednesday morning. This is indeed putting Ipswich on the map, pleasantly.