The 17th century bell that hangs at St Peter’s Church in Stornoway is to receive some much needed repair work.
Serious rust to the clapper and headstock has meant the bell at the Francis Street church has not rung since August, when scaffolding erected to allow work to be conducted on the church's leaking belfry revealed its condition.
Specialist bell foundries who can aid in getting the bell back into operation are now being contacted by the vestry building committee. While the clapper, headstock and bearings will need replaced, the body of the bell, which was recast in 1954 and is inscribed 'Te Deum Laudamus' ('Thee, God, we praise'), remains in working order.
Dating from 1631, the bell at St Peter’s has travelled through much of Stornoway’s history and Lewis's geography. It is believed to be the only surviving relic of the one-time St Lennan’s Church on Point Street, and would have rung during the Cromwellian occupation when troops used the church.
In a letter describing the bell’s journey, William Foulger and Ken Galloway of the Stornoway Historical Society say it is certainly of Dutch origin, with Colin, 1st Earl of Seaforth having invited Dutch merchants to set up in Stornoway in 1628 to encourage the development of a commercial herring trade.
Noting that St Lennan’s was replaced by the new Parish Church (St Columba’s) in 1794, the letter adds: ‘The bell disappeared from history for a while but we know it was hung at the Manor Farm (on the site of the present day Cabarfeidh Hotel) during the time of the Aignish Riots in 1888, when it was used to muster the Royal Scots.
‘It later went to Galson Farm and then travelled farther north to be relocated at St. Moluag's Church in Eoropie, Ness for a short time, where it was rediscovered by Rev Henry A Meaden of St Peter's Episcopal Church sometime just before or after the First World War.
‘Meaden, who was a keen antiquarian, saw the obvious historical value of the bell and had it hung at St Peter's some time in the early 1920s. The bell therefore completed an interesting religious circuit, starting with the Earl of Seaforth's Episcopal faith in the 1630s and culminating in its present-day location at St. Peter's Scottish Episcopal Church in Stornoway.’
Stonemason Dr Mark Thacker, who is working on the belfry, said finding that the bell was in poor condition was fortuitous.
“It was only when we got the scaffolding up that we could see the bell close up. It was then that we saw the corrosion.
“Obviously when iron rusts it expands, which affects the bell.”
Work on the belfry is likely to be at least another eight weeks and will include inserting medium flow grout on a stone-by-stone basis, and the removal of a tree that has started growing in the masonry. At present the masonry is being protected by damp hessian and tarpaulin.
The belfry work is being overseen by architect Campbell McKenzie, who said the bell at St Peter's has a connection to the whole community, rather than just an episcopal congregation.
"There is not much of 17th century Stornoway surviving. There is very little evidence of Cromwellian Stornoway, so it is tied to the whole town," he said.
While the work on the belfry is generally set, the timeline for repair of the bell components will depend on funding.
Anyone who wishes to donate towards the repair and upkeep of the bell can contact the buildings committee treasurer Donald McKee at