The Church Bell
Many of you will have heard the ringing of the church bell as a call to a service or, since 2014, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of a Kettlestone soldier in WW1. It is an archetypal sound of the English countryside. Our bell has a long history: stamped on its rim is the inscription ‘Elias Brend fecit 1658’, that is, Elias Brend made it 1658. That date is significant in several ways. Firstly, Oliver Cromwell died in September that year and secondly Elias’s father John also died that month and Elias took over the bell foundry.
Bell founding had had a thin time during the Commonwealth period, possibly for puritanical reasons. Whether the casting of our bell has positive or negative connotations regarding Cromwell’s death is not known.
The Brend family had been bell founders in Norwich since the middle of the 16th century. Their works were originally situated in St Stevens but moved to All Saints Green. Elias died in 1666 and with him so did the Brend family’s connection with bell founding. There are not many records of church bells cast by him (but certainly no more than twenty) so our bell is a rare specimen of Norfolk bells.
During his short reign Edward VI drove forward the Reformation that his father Henry VIII had set in motion and in 1552 Thomas Cranmer’s revised prayer book set the English Church as a Protestant body. The dissolution of the monasteries and the stripping out of ‘iconoclastic materials’ from churches had provided wealth for the Crown and to further that end and prevent loss through corrupt practice in the parishes Edward called for an ‘Inventory of Church Goods’ also in 1552. The inventory for ‘Ketillston’ lists six items; three relating to priest’s clothing of ‘black wursted’ and ‘silke’ valued at ‘xvj pence’ each, a ‘Chaleis siluer parcel gilte’ valued at ‘xxviii shillings vj pence’, ‘one bell weynge ij cwt valewed at xxx shillings’ and ‘a clapper valewed at viij pence’. So in the middle of the C16th our church already had a bell which was its most valuable possession and the value of the bell metal would have gone towards off-setting the cost of the new one in 1658.
Bells in church towers started to appear in the early medieval period to call the faithful and warn of danger however loud noise such as bell ringing was also used to ward off evil spirits so perhaps our superstitious ancestors were grateful for this secondary function at the important services of baptism, marriage and burial.
Why is our church where it is?
There is, of course, no definitive answer to this question as no record of its foundation is possible to look at circumstances that could have influenced our medieval ancestors in making their decision. By about AD700 East Anglia was nominally Christianised with the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy being the major conduit for the ‘new religion’ and, not unreasonably, there would be a desire from them to demonstrate their belief. Also as Christian influence grew there was a call from the wider population to have their own places for worship and consequently there was a surge in church building in the following centuries.
The recent discovery at Great Ryburgh of a Christian cemetery dated to around 750 shows that there were followers of the religion in this area quite early on. The site of our church is at the highest point in the settled area of the village and the wish to place the building prominently, declaring its status in what would have been a more open landscape, is understandable. Just down the road from the church lies Manor Farm and ‘manor farms’ can have a very long history; literally the farm of the ancient manor which could go back to Saxon times. So how suitable it would be for the church to be right next to the Lord of the Manor’s farm with power and influence being gained by both from their proximity to each other at a time when society was becoming increasingly hierarchical!
Adjacent to the church there is a spring and from prehistoric times this would have played a very important part in peoples’ lives: a natural gathering place and most likely carrying spiritual significance because of its mystery and life enhancing qualities. The nascent Christian church did turn its attention to eradicating pagan sites, sometimes adopting them as their own. Did this happen here? Was this spring important enough to have a marker or ‘shrine’ in the landscape to highlight its spiritual standing? Maybe, maybe not, but the early Christian priests would have found such a close supply of fresh pure water an absolute bounty for the baptismal conversion of their congregations.
One thing that can be said with certainty is that the choice of this site has stood the test of time. It is still a place of worship and continues to hold its strength at the head of the valley in which Kettlestone lies.