It is recorded in Sussex Archaeological Collections that in 1724 Jevington had 4 bells in the Saxon tower. Today there are just two, one thought to be a small ship’s bell which was not one of original four. The Victorians can be blamed for the over-restoration of the church in 1873 but not for selling off the 3 Jevington bells. These disappeared long before 1873.
No one knows exactly when the bells were sold or to whom, but dates point to the period covered by the incumbency of the Rev Henry Grace who was the non-resident Rector of Jevington for 60 years, when the church was greatly neglected. He was Vicar of Westham where he resided and his sister was married to Rev Henry Kelsey of Folkington.
The two remaining bells are very interesting, especially the larger one. This is 30½ inches in diameter, weighing 6cwts, 2qtrs, 13lbs. It has no date or bell founder’s mark, which is normal for an early bell of this type, but bears the 3 marks below.
It is termed an “Ancient Bell” of the Brede Group which dates from 1470- 1487. It is inscribed “Sancta Katerina ora pro nobis”, Holy Catherine speak for us. St Catherine is the saint to whom most bells are dedicated. In 1864 there were less than 100 such bells in the country and by 1915 only 7 existed in Sussex. So the large bell at Jevington is a rarity and has been rung for over 500 years, without being re-cast.
The tenor bell
Inside the tenor bell
Following a specialist inspection in 2002, arranged by the Sussex Bell Group, it was realised that the bell frame is Mediaeval and dates from the same period as the large bell. This makes it one of the oldest surviving frames in the country.
The bell frame
The second bell is less than half the size with a diameter of 14 ½ inches. It was always thought to be a ship’s bell possibly from a wreck along the Beachy Head coast. However, experts think it is more likely to be a Sanctus bell. It is inscribed: “W Gyles Captan, John Wood made me 1698".
The small bell
There is no record as to where Jevington’s other bells went. There are two stories concerning the cart taking the bells away: One says the horses got to the end of Church Lane and one dropped dead. Another that when they reached the ‘Eight Bells’ they refused to go further and an angel was seen hovering above them.
Jevington has this rhyme concerning their bells: “Jevington folk are very proud people, They sold their bells to mend their steeple, And before they are left in the lurch, They would sell their steeple to mend their church.” There were never 8 Bells in the Jevington tower, as some people suggest, as that type of change ringing did not come about until a later period. So although a nice thought, the ‘Eight Bells’ inn did not get its name from the church bells and it probably derives its name from the nautical 8 bells.
Sadly, we are unable to ring the bells at present as work is required on the frame and new bell mountings need casting. The church now hopes to raise funds towards this following the major restoration work to the tower, which cost £145,000 in 2005.
Researched by Rosalind Hodge