The Current Bells
St John's has 10 bells, which were cast by Gillett & Johnson in 1911 when the peal was augmented from eight bells. The Treble weighs 4cwt and the Tenor weighs a little over 21 cwt and is tuned in E Flat.
A Short History of the Bells
1559: A petition in the Court of Requests against Laurence Wright, a London bellfounder, concerning a badly-cast tenor bell indicated that in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st there were 5 bells in the tower. This was the usual maximum at that time, 6 bells being rare. In spite of the wholesale selling off of Church Bell metal to dealers in "Monastic Surplus Stores" in the reigns of Henry VIII and his son Edward VI, which made it necessary in the year 1549 for the Crown to appoint Commissioners to prevent Churchwardens selling their church bells for cash, we find that in 1559, Hillingdon Parish Church possessed five bells, which was two more than permitted to a parish church by the Canons.
1623: The old medieval tower containing the old 5 bells was taken down because it was "ruinous" and in 1629, a new tower was built. It was the subject of a dispute between Uxbridge and Hillingdon. The five bells existing at that time were rehung in the new tower.
1676: The first mention of bells in the surviving parish records dates from 1676 when new bell ropes cost the parish 11s 6d. It is presumed that these bells were those hung in the tower/turret that was described as "ruinous" and subsequently demolished after which the new tower was built in 1629.
1731: The six existing bells were made into eight at a cost of 500 pounds by the generosity of two parishioners, William Harrington, yeoman, and Richard Ashley, baker, who had 'to indemnify the parish from any public charge in the commission of the work in the sum of 500 pounds
1911: The existing bells were recast, two smaller bells added to augment the ring to ten, and they were rehung with completely new fittings in a new H type steel bell frame by Gillett and Johnston Ltd, of Croydon. The bells were tuned on the Simpson five-tone principle and the tenor weighing 21cwt 1qr 22lb is in the key of E flat. The new ring was dedicated by the Bishop of Kensington on October 7th and the first peal was rung on December 7th 1911. Mr. John Stilwell, the vicar's warden, whose family came to Hillingdon in 1790 and had always taken great interest in local affairs, defrayed the cost of the entire work.
1947: Mr Joseph John Pratt, who had been a bellringer for nearly 60 years, aged 73 and his wife, Louisa Sophia aged 76 died within a few days of each other in 1947 and were buried together in Hillingdon Cemetery. Handbells were rung over the grave at the funeral by Hillingdon ringers. Mr Pratt held various offices of the Middlesex County Association between 1897 and 1916. He was Tower Captain until his death. He rang at St. Andrew's Hillingdon West (now Uxbridge) before 1896. He rang in 4 peals on the old 8 bells at Hillingdon and 19 on the 10 bells. His last peal was on 28 April 1934. A bookcase stands in the tower to his memory containing the Library.
1952: Mr William Honor, a bellringer at Hillingdon for 68 years died aged 85. Mr Honor rang up to 18 months before his death and it was only fear of giddiness attacks that prevented him ringing after that. At ringing the tenor behind, he was an artist and the late William Pye often spoke of his prowess in that direction. He rang 5 peals on the old eight bells and 13 on the 10 bells. He was tower captain in 1923. A peal of handbells , which were used by him and other Hillingdon ringers over 50 years before when Carols and other tunes were played around Hillingdon village , were restored by the parish donation to the sum of 25 pounds. These handbells hang in a wooden case in the belfry and are used for special occasions only.
1964: Bells were overhauled by Whitechapel bell foundry, chiming hammers were fitted to the two trebles and ball bearing pulley blocks were fitted. Lady Juliet Craig, daughter of John Stillwell, generously undertook the cost of this work. Also at this time, the steeple keeper, Mr James Sexton paid for and installed a new chiming frame to include all ten bells.
1969: The bells were rehung on ball bearings and quarter-turned. Before Lady Craig died in April 1969, she asked that the bells be rung in her memory. A quarter peal of Grandsire Caters was rung half muffled on the day she was cremated. A memorial service was held in Hillingdon Church on June 9th 1968. In thankful memory of the life and work of Sir Gilfrid and Lady Juliet Craig (daughter of Mr John Stilwell), the bells were quarter-turned and rehung on ball bearings in May of 1970 by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry through the kindness of Mrs Barbara McLellan, Lady Craig's daughter. The bells were rededicated at a special service on March 30th. Whilst the work was in progress, the local band rang at St.Andrew's Uxbridge.
1981: During an inspection of the tower, it was found that the oak beams supporting the top of the tower had decayed and the top section was resting on 2 layers of brick. Scaffolding was erected and the oak beams were replaced with concrete. Again, the local band rang at St.Andrew's Uxbridge during this time.
1982: Cupola bell restored. The cost of the foundry work was defrayed by John Shepherd, churchwarden. The name "John Shepherd" on the cupola bell is that of John's great-great grandfather, churchwarden in 1808. Members of the Guild paid for and carried out all the site work of dismantling and rehanging under the guidance of the captain, Ronald Russ. John was elected an honorary member of the Bellringers Guild in 1984 because of his lifelong support and friendship to the Guild. A full peal was rung in his memory on the day he died in 2003.
1990: Fred Goodfellow, who had been a ringer at Hillingdon for 65 years, 23 of them as Captain, died. A full peal was rung in memory of him and a peal board made by George Pipe of Ipswich hangs in the tower in his memory. Fred had held many offices in the Middlesex County Association almost continuously from 1931 until 1976 and was elected Vice President in 1978. After his retirement from Captain of the Hillingdon band in 1981, he was unanimously elected Captain Emeritus. He is still well remembered for the weekend outings he arranged for his friends and also for the outings he arranged in half term holidays for the benefit of those at school learning to ring. He taught many people to ring over the years including all officers of the present band.
1995: A new clapper fitted to tenor bell. Since installation in 1911, it had always required two people to raise this bell before ringing or else the clapper would end up on the wrong side of the bell after raising, making it difficult to handle. Eayre and Smith of Melbourne, Derbyshire were asked to investigate this and give an opinion. It was discovered that the crown staple was too long. This meant that the clapper started to swing back before the bell had swung as far as it was going to. The Guild paid for and fitted a complete new replacement clapper. From that time, it has been possible for one person to raise this bell correctly, albeit with considerable effort.
2010: Bearings and Gudgeon Pins renewed. A Maintenance Team made up of volunteers from the Middlesex County Association lifted each of the bells, and removed the bearings so they could be cleaned, re-greased and replaced. During this work it was discovered that a gudgeon pin on the fifth bell, and the Tenor were damaged and needed to be repaired. This work was undertaken by Whitechapel Bell Foundry.