This December, villagers will celebrate when, for the first time in 40 years, the twin bells of St Matthew’s, Otterbourne ring out to welcome Christmas Day.
In 1969, one of the bells in St Matthew's had to be removed and was never replaced. The remaining bell then deteriorated. Matters became even worse when it was discovered that the masonry of bell turret was becoming unsafe and the church might have to close. A fund was set up to rebuild the turret and restore the bells. With the help of the residents of Otterbourne the funds started to roll in.
By 2011, half the estimated sum for the restoration had been raised and it was at this stage that the project team contacted Viridor Credits Environmental Company, which works under the auspices of the Landfill Communities Fund, to fill the gap in funding. A project brief was presented to Viridor Credits who then offered a substantial award to provide the remaining funds. There was much celebration within Otterbourne and work to rebuild the turret, cast a new bell and restore the remaining old bell proceeded throughout 2012.
The new bell is an exact replica of the broken one which was removed in 1969. Taylors, who had cast the original bell in 1838, paid the church the princely sum of 7 shillings and 6 pence (about 38p) to take it away. Unfortunately, the new 2012 replacement bell cost several thousand pounds more.
On a day in August this year, all was ready to fit the bells back into the rebuilt turret. As the first bell was winched up the tower it rang out cheerfully as the chains from the block and tackle knocked against it. Before long the new bell had been placed in its mounting and was rung for the first time to ensure that it was correctly in place. Soon after, this procedure was repeated with the older bell, all the while watched by a large crowd that had gathered.
By Mid-September the project was complete and local children were given the opportunity to try ringing the bells themselves during the church's Open Day. A service of dedication was lead by the Rector, the Revd William Prescott during morning service on 22 September and included the ringing the bells accompanied by loud applause.
Church Warden, Dick Oldham, said that it was a tremendous effort by the local community which had saved the village church. He thanked everyone who had helped, especially Viridor Credits who had provided such a generous grant. Now the repairs are complete St Matthew's is thriving and everyone is looking forward to the church remaining at the heart of the village for years to come.