Published on August 3rd, 2014 | by Bill Dargue0
Local Historian Returns to Old Haunts
– and tries his hand at bellringing
Local author and historian Colin Green paid a visit to Castle Bromwich Church at an open day recently – some 60 years since he had worked with his father on that ancient historic building. Colin’s dad was a jobbing builder in Castle Bromwich at a time when the district was largely covered by farmers’ fields. He was often called in to carry out maintenance on St Mary & St Margaret’s church, which was then set in the Warwickshire countryside.
Leaving school at the age of 15, Colin worked at various properties around the area. But by far the most interesting was the old parish church. Its unique structure was the cause of many problems then as now, for it is a medieval timber-framed church that was encased in brick in English Renaissance style about 1730.
Colin remembers climbing the tower with his father to repair leaks in the roof around the flag pole. The sealant then used was known as RITO, a toxic mix of bitumen and asbestos. On another occasion the rector, Rev Henry Forbes called them in to report on the state of the medieval roof timbers. They had held up the roof for over 500 years but were now being attacked by death watch beetle, woodworm, dry rot, wet rot and all the thousand natural shocks that ancient buildings are heir to. Access to the roof space now is via a steep but short stair from the bell ringing chamber, but when Colin was a lad, a very long ladder had to be put up to a trapdoor in the ceiling inside the church. And the only form of lighting was a battery-powered torch. Even as a teenager Colin was amazed at the massive wooden framework that had been constructed in the Middle Ages, all the work done by human hands.
The winter of 1955 was especially severe. Snow started falling in January and by the following month the temperature had fallen to minus 3°C. The church roof was piled high with snow. When finally the thaw came, the gutters and drainpipes were blocked with ice and meltwater began to pour inside the church. Colin’s job was to climb onto the roof to clear drainpipes to allow the water to escape.
Once Colin and his father had to dig up and replace the old drains which took the water to soakaways west of the church. He was thrilled to unearth a silver threepenny bit, (a coin he still has) which must have been a substantial loss to a working man 300 years ago.
While at the church the bellringers showed Colin how to ring the bells, bells he has heard many times over the years, but had never before rung. When he reached the top of the tower, some 70 feet high, the view all around had changed beyond recognition since the last time he was there. Nonetheless in the heart of this Birmingham suburb, Castle Bromwich still retains evidence of a history almost a thousand years old.
For more information, visit the bellringers’ website – cbbells.webs.com.