The Challacombe Church Bell, 1866

Church of the Holy Trinity

Prepared by Michael Steer

Arthur Mee in his Devon volume of the King's England series (1965) writes of Challacombe:

It is on the very edge of Exmoor, with a tiny church rebuilt in 1850, except the tower. Here is an ancient font with an ancient bowl, and a stone pulpit reached by a stairway which climbs through an arch in the wall. A plain arch leads from the nave into the tower, where we come upon the astonishing spectacle of ferns climbing high up in front of the west window. (p. 76).

In 1866, the Rev H.T. Ellacombe surveyed the church bells in almost all of the towers of all the parish churches in Devonshire, and in that year read a paper on the topic to the Exeter Diocesan Architectural Society. The paper appeared in the Transactions of the Exeter Diocesan Architectural Society, Volume I Second Series Part III, Exeter: William Pollard, (1867), pp. 221-406. An extract of Ellacombe's complete listings by Jean Harris appears elsewhere in GENUKI Devon. The church tower at Challacombe has four bells.

One of these bells at Holy Trinity Church, according to Ellacombe, is inscribed:

Humphrey Webber, William Partridges, Ambros Dallyn, Wardens, 1772

Another of the bells bears a unique and peculiar Founder's mark that became the subject of scholarly speculation and debate.

In the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London, Volume 6 appears the following entry (pp. 217-8).

The Rev H T Ellacombe, FSA, local secretary for Devonshire, made the following communication to the Secretary, respecting the inscription on a bell at Challacombe. Co. Devon.

"I have just seen the Proceedings of our Society, and therein my attention is called to the discussion that took place on the 5th and 12th of May, 1864, about the Challacombe bell; a rubbing of which I sent to Mr Ashpitel. Since that time I am convinced that the whole thing is a founder's blunder, a misplacing and mistaking up of letters intended for something else, very probably Ave Maria etc.

Now I will not undertake to settle that question; but think I can prove the probable date, and where and by whom the bell was cast.

I have lately finished an examination of all the bells in all the old towers in this county, and I have found several with the Ave Maria legend, - after which the initials R S as at Challacombe.

In the old churchwarden's accounts (unusually interesting they are), of the parish of Woodbury in the years 1548-9, are the particulars of an agreement with one Roger Semson of Aish-Priors, (Somerset) to cast some bells. The whole journey too and fro with eight oxen and five men, headed by the churchwarden on horseback, is particularly described. None of those bells now exist at Woodbury. I have considered that the initials R S on other bells in other towers must be those of Roger Semson.

One such I very lately found at Luppitt in this county, an Ave Maria bell, which from the letters etc. I at once recognised as one of the founder's; on it I found a lot of letters different from Ave Maria, but of the very same mould as that at Challacombe, very close together, but spelling backwards BY ME ROGER SEMSON; and hence I have no doubt that the Challacombe bell was cast about that time at Aish-Priors by the aforesaid illiterate but excellent bell-founder".

The Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London, Volume III, Second Series, is a rare and much sought-after book produced digitally from a copy in the University of Liverpool Library collection and can be downloaded from Google Books. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers