There is a long history of bells and bell ringing in Birchington going back well over 500 years, the earliest recorded mention of them in the parish records is in 1532.
Item ij new belroyps on to the grett bell and other to the small bell xviiid (1/6 in old money 7 ½ p in new money about £40 at today’s value)
Click here for more details from the book “A History of the Ville of Birchington 1893 by J P Barrett I produce a cheap reprint of this book from the best edition (1908 reprint with additional annals) click here should you wish to buy it.
Although the only connection with TV series and Waterloo tower that I know of is that it appeared in a 1978 Blakes7 episode, on arrival at Quex Park I was greeted by the device in the picture above, click on it to enlarge and was immediately reminded of the TV series The Prisoner.
I am ever mindful that Thanet is an island and with the steady increase of denizens combined with the advances in technology, every time I leave it I check that the exit road hasn’t turned into the entrance road and all escapes have been closed.
Anyway back to the surveillance point or whatever it is, looking at this thing, first impressions suggested that all would not be well with this visit and that the nasty modern world had invaded Amicus Kentis.
Last time I visited the bell tower there, an open day probably about 15 years ago, the most pleasant part of the visit was the viewing gallery, situated in the metal spire 77 feet above Quex Park the views are quite remarkable.
Now the only part of going up the tower (not the viewing gallery I could understand members of the public not being allowed up there) that could by any stretch of the imagination be considered dangerous is ascending the narrow spiral staircases inside one of the turrets.
On yesterdays visit I was told that now heath and safety regulations meant that one could only go up the tower as far as the first floor (nothing much there and you can’t see out of the windows), no one there seemed to know quite why this was the case, the spiral staircase between the other floors is just the same, equally safe or dangerous however you like to see it, all the bells were down, so no danger there.
So no photographs of either the bells or the view only, the only person I knew connected with Quex, who I am sure would have been quite happy to let me all the way up the tower, was Christopher Powell Cotton unfortunately he died in 2006.
Click here for the pictures I did take, I got a bit diverted into photographing various cracks that have appeared in the tower, these don’t seem to be consistent with stresses caused by ringing the bells and interested me.
Some notes on the tower, sources “The Waterloo Tower at Quex Park” by Hazel Basford (8 pages A5 50p published by The Quex park Society of Change ringers) and http://www.quexringers.org/pages/change-ringers.htm but mostly from my own researches.
Information about why John Powell Powell the local squire decided to build his own bell tower is scant.
Tradition has it that he offered various bells and to build a bell tower at the west end of Birchington church, there is no information now as to why his offers were spurned the Powle family have been at Quex since 1673 (vide Hasted vol X 1800), I am assuming the family is the same and the spelling only has changed.
John Powell Powell also built a second tower on his estate for another of his pleasures, the discharging of cannon (vide Ireland vol I 1828 who also points out that nearby is Plum-pudding island, a resort for pugilists exempt from the intrusion of constables &c.) so perhaps he didn’t need a reason.
I digress back to the bells, when completed in 1819 it was the first bell tower in Kent to have a ring of 12 bells the next to this being Canterbury cathedral having only 10 bells at that time.
The tenor bell is inscribed "This peal of bells was cast for John Powell Powell of Quex House, Isle of Thanet, by Thos. Mears of Whitechapel, London, for the amusement of himself and his friends". A truly secular peal!
The architect was William Fuller Pocock the cost of the tower was about £9,000 a considerable sum at that time. The height of the top of the metal spire is 124 ft the top of the brick tower being 60 ft 6 ins above ground.
Originally the bells were hung in two tiers on an oak frame, the bells were cast by Whitechapel Bell Foundry and various recastings have been done by them over the years (people that build bell towers for their own amusement don’t expect to go back to the shop for repairs after a mere 200 years and find they no longer have the spare parts) the last being in 1989 the result of a freak accident when the wooden stopper became detached and jammed bringing the 9th bell to a dead stop and severely cracking it. This bell weighing I believe about 9cwt was then smashed up in the tower and thrown over the side of the tower, the shards being collected up for recasting on the floor of the ringing room. The recast bell was the hoisted up the tower with considerable difficulty and rehung without removing any of the other bells, an operation not without risk.
I should note here that there is an iron grating in the middle of the ringing room, on the ground floor of the tower, under this is a shallow well with short passages leading from it, they don’t go anywhere and are not worth ruining a perfectly good pair of trousers over.
The boards in the ringing room record various feats of campanology, the rules here are always the same, one band of ringers for the duration, no one is allowed a rest or to let go of their rope. If anything goes wrong the peal is considered lost and the ringing stops. As an example of what I mean, the boards record that in 1959 a long length of the Cambridge Surprise Major was rung 13,280 changes taking 8 hours 12 minutes.