RESIDENTS in Litton Cheney will be asked to dig deep to help repair their centuries-old church bells.

St Mary’s boasts a peal of eight bells but two – the sixth bell dating from 1656 and the eighth or tenor bell from 1470 – need major surgery. The cost is likely to be around £16,500.

Restoration project manager John Salvetti said there was a great deal of support in the village for the restoration project.

He said: “The eighth bell and the seventh bell are pre-Reformation and go back to before Henry VIII’s time. The sixth bell was struck in 1656.

“It is awe-inspiring to think they are still up there and functioning at all. That is exactly why we ring – we feel privileged to be able to ring bells which have been rung for so many centuries by so many different people and we are just taking our turn in history.

“It is amazing and they need to be looked after so that people can go on doing it in the future.

“That is why there is a lot of interest in the village and a lot of keenness to get them sorted so that they will last another 50 years.”

The eighth bell needs the most work as it is cracked and there is only one place in the country specialised enough to do it in Newmarket, said tower captain Wendy Firrell.

She continued: “We called Nicholsons of Bridport in January to inspect the bells. We knew that our number six bell was cracked but it is beginning to get worse.

“The transport costs are huge and it is a major job getting bells out of the tower for a start, and the access to the church in Litton is not easy.”

“It is going to be a major thing but it is something that we have to do in the next three years otherwise our bells will become unringable which would be very sad. So that is why we are embarking on this project.”

The tenor bell is the heaviest at 13cwt, as well as the oldest, and always has to be removed if other bells need work, said Mr Salvetti.

He added: “The main problem for us is that the heaviest bell – the tenor – has to be taken out every time you want to move another bell out because it sits over the hatch.”

The sixth bell cracked because it is made of bronze but the headstock, which the bell is fixed to so it can swing, is cast iron. They both expand and contract at different rates - a common problem for older bells.

The project organisers now have to get quotations and when that is done they will be applying to church funding bodies to apply for grants.

However, they will raise some money by themselves. The first of the fund-raising events will be on July 27 when Jan and Nick Lunn will host ‘tea on the green’, followed by a lunch in the village hall on August 31.