Tony Pullan, 62, is manager of the Liddington Bells Project, which involves preserving the historic bells of the Grade I Listed All Saints Church and adding six new ones, which will be hung later this year. He lives in Wanborough and is married with two daughters.
AS a churchgoer and church bell ringer since his teens, Tony Pullan takes a double satisfaction in his work.
A modest man, he is at pains to ensure he is not singled out for plaudits. Instead he credits his team members and the fundraisers and donors who have enabled the project – costing around £200,000 – to go ahead.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’m not in it for praise or credit. I do it because I love what I’m doing, and if I can bring a bit of happiness to people, hearing the bells, that’s superb.
“The main aim of ringing church bells is to call people to worship, but it’s more than that.
“It’s a physical exercise, it’s a mental exercise and bell ringers form a fraternity. You can go anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world with church bells and you’ll be made welcome.”
Tony, who did most of his growing up in Devon, comes from an engineering background and is semi-retired.
“It is virtually a full-time job, and I don’t know how I would have managed it if I’d been in full-time employment. The Church Council gave the authority for this to proceed in September 2014. I’ve been doing this ever since.”
All Saints is one of the area’s oldest churches, and was a particular favourite of Victorian nature writer Richard Jefferies. A long-serving rector, William Pitt, was involved in founding Swindon Town FC.
The old church bells, some dating back to the 1600s, have hardly sounded since 1948, when expert inspectors were called in and concluded that they should not be used.
“The problems were that the wooden frame moved when the bells were being rung. Gillett and Johnson of Croydon were asked to inspect the installation and they declared the bells unringable.
“It’s an oak frame and its history is uncertain. There’s an inscription on it with the date 1642 and the names of the church wardens.
“The bells have been rung from time to time, mainly for test rings just to see how they rang. I had an email this week from somebody who did a test ring in 1969, which we had no record of. That was a new date for us.
“Then we jump forward again to about 1976,where a gentleman by the name of Malcolm Barnes got involved. He was at that time a young bell ringer, a mechanical engineer by trade, and he and his brother, Bob, tried to get the bells ringing on a regular basis. They did so for about two-and-a-half years. They did a lot of maintenance on the bells to try and make them easier to ring and to reduce the frame movement.”
A lack of available resources, coupled with legal obligations to various heritage and church organisations, delayed the work, but the determination of those involved never wavered.
Malcolm Barnes is the technical manager of the current project.
“He’s up there now, thumping bits of metal around,” said Tony. “This project wouldn’t have taken place with just me by myself.”
Tony’s interest in the bells dates back more than a quarter of a century.
“I’ve been a bell ringer for 45 years, something like that. In those days you used to be in the choir and get kicked out of the choir for messing around and you’d move into the tower! So I’ve had a life-long interest in bells.
“There are many aspects of bell ringing that people get interested in. I’ve always helped out with restoration projects wherever I’ve lived. If there’s been something going on I’ve always volunteered to help.
“Other people are interested in teaching or visiting other churches with bells.
“My wife and I moved here in 1989. This is when the project was sort of gathering speed again. You’d get down to the pub on a Friday night after practice, you’re sitting in the pub and you’re new to the area, and you ask: ‘What’s happening in the area?’ Eventually you get talking about Liddington. ‘What’s wrong with that?’ ‘Well, the bells are unringable there.’”
For many years, there was heated local debate about exactly what should be done.
“We were faced with an old wooden frame and bells that we couldn’t tune, but the discussions over the next 25 years were mostly based on what we did with the wooden frame.”
Some favoured restoring it while others preferred putting in a new metal frame.
Finally it was decided that the old frame and bells should remain in the tower as a museum piece, while a new metal frame and bells would also be installed. The tower roof also had to be replaced.
“I think that was a decision that satisfied probably 95 per cent of interested parties. I wanted to make sure that whatever we did in the church would last for another two hundred or three hundred years.
“I wanted to create a peal of bells that were not a novelty. I didn’t want people to come here, ring once and then never come again. I wanted there to be a peal of bells that were pleasant to ring, easy to ring, enjoyable, and would attract all ages – young people, old people from whatever background.”
Information about the project can be found at liddingtonbellsproject.moonfruit.com