Removal of bells from a closed church

Our round-up of 14 August 2022 included the case of Re St James Church Kirk [2022] ECC Bla 3 which concerned a refurbished ring of eight bells at Over Kellet, only six miles from where Frank lives (and rings). For readers, the particular interest in this case lies in the requirements associated with making changes to a closed church, aspects of which still fall within the faculty jurisdiction. The earlier case  Re St James Church Kirk [2019] ECC Bla 4 involved an initially interim loan of a much older but unringable bell from the same closed church to Lancashire Museum Services.

Re St James Church Kirk [2022] ECC Bla 3

The Petitioner, the Senior Church Buildings Officer for the Diocese of Blackburn, proposed the removal of the eight bells from the redundant church of St James Church Kirk (“Church Kirk”) and their re-installation in the church of St. Cuthbert Over Kellet. The proposal was:

“To remove the ring of eight bells and the bellframe from the tower, trade in the tenor bell, recast the Bb, F and treble bell, refurbish the remaining bells and associated fittings, introduce a new treble bell and rehang in a new bellframe in the tower at Over Kellet St James [sic: it should have been Over Kellet St Cuthbert]. All in accordance with the quotation and specification by John Taylor and Co. [bellfounders and bellhangers]…” [1].

Legislative background

The kernel of the issues before the court is summarized in paragraph [4],

“The Church Kirk Regeneration Trust (the Regeneration Trust) is in negotiations to acquire the church of St James. According to the Statements of Needs and of Significance submitted in support of this faculty application, the Regeneration Trust has no need of the bells, and they will not be rung if they are left in place at St James’s Church. However, if they are removed to St Cuthbert, Over Kellet, the bells will be refurbished, and rung regularly.

It is acknowledged that there will be some harm to the cultural significance of the church building at Church Kirk, as a place where the bells were once rung regularly, because there will no longer be any opportunity for the local community to hear the bells. However, it is said that this harm is mitigated by the fact that the bells will not be rung if they remain in place at St James; and it is balanced by the consideration that the bells will be rung regularly, and treasured, at the church of St Cuthbert in Over Kellet”.

Aspects of the legislation specific to Church Kirk as a closed church include:

  • It was necessary for the Senior Church Buildings Officer to act as Petitioner since the church of St James had been declared closed for regular public worship by a Pastoral Church Buildings Scheme, made under the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011 on 5 May 2016; the Scheme also created a new benefice [1].
  • As the church is no longer being used for ecclesiastical purposes, the ecclesiastical exemption from the requirement for the local planning authority to give listed building consent before any works can lawfully be carried out to the building is no longer applicable, s60(1) Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. Listed building consent was therefore required for the removal of the church bells.
  • Nevertheless, the building remains subject to the faculty jurisdiction and a faculty is also required for the removal of the bells. The Chancellor noted “[a] faculty is a permissive right to effect some alteration to a church building or its contents. The grant of a faculty does not require the works thereby authorized to be undertaken; it merely renders them lawful if and when they are undertaken”.
  • As the church is Grade II* listed, the faculty application falls to be determined by reference to the leading case of Re St Alkmund, Duffield [2013] Fam 158 at 87 (as affirmed and clarified by the Arches Court’s later decisions in the cases of Re Bentley Emmanuel Church [2006] 2 WLR 1008 at 22 and Re St Peter Shipton Bellinger [2015] Court of Arches at 39).

An application for listed building consent had been submitted by the Church Commissioners’ Officer who is overseeing the transfer of Church Kirk to the Trust. The diocesan Bell Adviser had been consulted and expressed no objection to the removal of the bells. The application was recommended by the DAC with the proviso that Listed Building consent is received from the local authority [2].

The Bells

The Chair of the Regeneration Trust wrote to the Church Commissioners indicating that:

“[4]. …the Trustees’ position had always been that the bells should remain in the church until a reasonable decision was taken on their safe future; [t]hat it is highly likely that at some stage they would be removed to gain access to the top of tower. The bells completely hinder access to the top of the tower and its vista which is the main asset to [the] building. The Trust did not strongly object to the bells being removed, and discussed various options last year should a future decision be made on the tower’s regeneration”.

In parallel with these arrangements, the Keltek Trust, a registered UK charity whose objective is the relocation of second-hand and redundant church bells, offered a grant of £10,000 to fund the removal of the ring of eight bells from the closed church of St James, Church Kirk provided the Diocese of Blackburn offer the bells, and their fittings and bell-frame, free of charge, to St Cuthbert, Over Kellet [6].

The eight bells were installed in St James, Church Kirk in 1989 following a disastrous fire in 1983. They were originally cast by Warner & Sons of Cripplegate, London in 1865–7; they were introduced into St James from Pendlebury where, in 1936, they had been re-tuned and re-hung on metal stocks by John Taylor & Co of Loughborough; this firm will be undertaking the work of removing the bells and re-installing them at Over Kellet [9].

The DAC’s Bells Adviser commented that at present the church at Over Kellet has a derelict ring of three bells and has no bells suitable for change ringing. This proposal will therefore involve training a band from scratch. The Lancashire Association of Change Ringers (LACR), which represents ringers in this area, is aware of the project and is supportive of it. The tower captain at Silverdale, one of the churches with bells closest to Over Kellet, has offered to help teach ringers. The installation of a ring of eight bells will provide an extra church activity which will contribute both to the life of the church and to the community it serves [13].

The quotation from John Taylor & Co notes that with the nearest ringable bells to Over Kellet being located at Melling, Hornby, and Morecambe, the LACR has identified that its Lancaster branch is in very great need of a ring of bells that are easily accessible for training. The location of Over Kellet to major road networks, and the newly installed bells, would make it an ideal facility for the training of new bellringers. The quotation also notes that “… it has been proven that by installing ringing peals of bells in churches where there were none in use, congregations have grown and an extension to outreach has developed”.

Analysis and conclusion

The Chancellor considered the objections [22], and the other material. He was not satisfied that the proposal to remove the bells would cause any harm to the significance of this closed church as a Grade II* listed building of special architectural and historical interest; the bells in question were introduced into the church only relatively recently, and they form no part of the original fittings or fabric of the church. They were not in place when the church was first designated as a Grade II* listed. He considered that the removal of the bells would present no threat to the church building’s present listed status because all of the features identified in the listing particulars will remain even if the bells are removed [23].

With regard to the second Duffield question, the effect of this proposal, if and when fully implemented, would be that a full ring of eight bells would be removed from a closed church to a fully functional church, albeit some distance away but within the same Diocese, where they could be heard and enjoyed, not only by a new local community, but used to encourage, and grow, a new generation of  ringers [24]. He added:

“[29]. …[e]ven if the bells were to ring over Church Kirk, this would no longer be to call people to worship in the church because it is now closed for public worship. In my judgment  the consistory court should favour a proposal that will lead to bells being rung to signify the presence of a worshiping church in the community, and to invite local people to worship there, over one that does not”.

[30] Clearly, the complete removal of the ring of eight bells is an all-or-nothing proposition. There is no lesser alternative: either they all stay or all must go. In my judgment, the benefits (as summarized at paragraph 26 above) of removing the bells from the closed church of St James, Church Kirk, to St Cuthbert, Over Kellet, far outweigh any slight harm that their removal will cause to the former building.

After considering and the points raised by the objectors [31 (1) to (7)], he concluded by emphasizing the nature of, and the limitations upon, this court’s decision [32], stating that the faculty:

  • is entirely permissive, and entitles the Diocese to remove the bells, rendering such removal lawful. It does not require the bells to be removed. Whether or not the bells are to be removed is a matter entirely for negotiation between the Diocese, the Church Commissioners, and the Regeneration Trust.
  • will not take effect unless and until local authority listed building consent has been obtained for the bells’ removal.
  • He proposed to direct that the bells are not to be removed unless and until the Diocese are satisfied that sufficient funds have been raised or secured to enable the Over Kellet Jubilee Bells Project to proceed; and the church of St Cuthbert, Over Kellet have obtained a faculty authorizing the installation of the bells in that church.

A faculty was granted, subject to conditions [33].

Re St. James Church Kirk [2019] ECC Bla 4

This judgment, which was reviewed in an earlier post, has a number of parallels with the more recent judgment concerning this church, supra. In both cases, the church was closed at the time of the application, and here it was made by Elaine Hargreaves on behalf of the Blackburn Diocesan Board of Finance (DBF). This sought permission for the transfer of a single bell to the Lancashire Museum Services, the future of the building being dealt with by the DBF under the relevant provisions.

The then Chancellor, The Worshipful John W Bullimore, commented “[t]here was a ring of 8 bells cast in 1865-67 (i.e. those covered by the above Petition), but I do not know what has happened to them following the closure; the bell I am concerned with is far older” [4]. This older bell is described in paragraphs [5] to [10]; a brief history was provided by one of the DAC’s advisors,  “some of it at least being garnered from a volume entitled The Church Bells of Lancashire by F Cheetham”. Chancellor Bullimore emphasized:

“I need to stress at the outset, that the bell is cracked, it is standing on the floor at present, and is incapable of use. It is 29 inches in diameter and dates from 1537, though the Roman number is designated as MCCCCCXXXVII, which is unusual – a D normally being used for 500. It is inscribed with wording which translates as ‘Maria am I, by Peter van den Ghein cast in the year 1537‘.

This bell-maker was based in Louvain/Leuven in what is now Belgium. Bells from this area are rare in England. It was first hung in Whalley, but was transferred to Church Kirk in 1856 and was hung in the tower along with another bell and presumably was rung. It was subsequently returned to Whalley in 1876 for some reason. Apparently a ring of 8 bells was installed, made by Barwell of Birmingham ‘the predecessors of the present ones’. I do not really understand this. I cannot believe there have been two rings of 8 bells installed in a very short period in St James’s” [7].

A letter dated from the Rt hon Graham Jones, then MP for Haslingden and Hyndburn, argued that the bell should be retained in the church “essentially because a local group (Church Kirk Regeneration Trust) was in the process of completing an assessment of the site, after which they intended to develop proposals for the use of the church building. In the meantime they did not want any of the historical features to be disposed of, and the bell was part and parcel of the history of the building and should be retained with it” [2].

The Chancellor briefly considered the position of the bell as a church treasure [12],

“the first question has to be, is this a church ‘treasure’? I do not think every item of historic interest has to be categorized as such, and the circumstances in which disposal is contemplated is a very relevant factor. Here the building has ceased to be used for worship, it has no body exercising the responsibilities formerly exercised by the Parochial Church Council (‘PCC’), and it has no “congregation”, who could ‘appreciate’ its presence. Who can it be a treasure for? If its familiar surroundings have been removed, what is the best thing to do with it?”

The Chancellor decided that the matter should not be left open indefinitely, and therefore made an order that the bell should be transferred to the Museum on loan for an interim period expiring on 31 December 2021 [13]. Further, he indicated that the Church Kirk Regeneration Trust (CKRT) should be party to future proceedings and three months before the expiry of the period, it should submit written proposals for the bell for a further decision by the then Chancellor.

In the absence of any proposals being presented within the stated time frame, the bell should remain in the custody and possession of Lancashire Museum Services on a permanent basis, and CKRT will cease to have any standing under this Order to make any application in regard to the bell.

David Pocklington

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Removal of bells from a closed church" in Law & Religion UK, 19 August 2022,


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