The Bells

There are three bells in the Tower of St. Matthew's.  They are contained in a three bell, wooden frame which is thought to have been installed at the restoration.

The smallest bell has a diameter of 23.5 inches and has the inscription: "All praise and glory be to God, 1634".  Mr John F. Mulvey of Tamworth reported in 1973, after carrying out research on the Bells, that he thought this was probably cast by T. Hancox II of Walsall, as a slightly larger bell than this was supplied to Wolverhampton Parish Church which had similar lettering.

The second bell has a diameter of 25 inches and is inscribed "Ora Pro Nobis Beata Eliena" in mediaeval capitals. Mr. Mulvey translates this as "St. Helen pray for us" and very rare. He suggests that it was cast well before the Reformation, probably about 1500, and very rare.  He gave two possible reasons for it being in a church dedicated to St. Matthew. Firstly, it may have been the patron Saint of the donor, unless the Church's dedication has changed, and secondly that it may have been purchased from a Church with such a dedication, the nearest of which is Ashby de la Zouch.  He thinks this is possible, as as that time of the Reformation the religious communities and private chantries had their bells confiscated and they were either sold for scrap or bought by other churches.  He also states that in the Inventory of 1553 it was mentioned that Harlaston had mortgaged its second bell in order to reshingle its chapel roof.  Also that there was a private bell in the chapel belonging to the ancestors of Sir Richard Vernon.

However, the Rev, Norris, Author of a book called "The History of Haselour" in 1894 also makes a reference to this particular bell in St. Matthew's Church and quotes its inscription.  He also offers alternative explanations for its being there as follows:-

"It was by no means unusual in early days to dedicate church bells to the Patron Saints of those who gave them or of those in whose memory they were set up and there is reason to believe that this course was adopted by Harlaston.  It may be impossible now to ascertain with absolute certainty of whom this bell is a memorial, but there were two members of local families bearing the name in the fourteenth century who may have been thus commemorated.

Harlaston till very recent days was included within the Parish of Clifton and although it may have originally have been a domestic Chapel attached to the Manor of the Vernons, yet it is well nigh certain that it became a parochial chapel and was probably that referred to as "Clifton cum capella" in the King's Book of 1535.

It is known that the coheiresses of Sir William de Camville I 1337 were Matilda and Eleon0ra; that Eleonora conceded all right in Clifto to her sister, Matilda and that Matilda became the wife of Sir Richard Vernon of Harlaston.  Now Matilda commemorated her family and their alliances in a magnificent window of painted glass in Clifton Church; may she not have commemorated her sister, Eleanora, by the presentation of this bell to the Church of Harlaston.

But there is an alternative that presents itself with some show of reason.  In the year 1349, Hugh de Hopwas was presented to the Rectory of Elford by Sir John de Ardenne and Ellena (De Wasteways) his wife. In 1353 he was presented by Sir Richard Stafford to the Rectory of Clifton and during his tenure of that office Sir Thomas de Ardenne, the son of his early Patrons, married Catherine de Stafford, the daughter and subsequent heiress of the Lord of Clifton, thus ultimately uniting the Lordships of Clifton, Elford and Haselour. In 1361 Hugh de Hopwas founded a Chantry in Clifton Church "for the welfare of Richard de Stafford and Maud his wife and the soul of Isobel his former wife". and since Hugh is known to have been exceedingly generous in his benefactions, and especially mindful that the Harlaston bell have have been set up by him as a memorial of Elena de Ardenne?  The problem perchance my never be satisfactorily solved, but at all events the evident antiquity of the bell renders neither of the above suppositions untenable."

Either of the above possible explanations for the bell being at Harlaston Church is quite feasible, but it may be thought that a reference to the Vernons in each of the gentlemen's suggestions tends to give more support to the theory involving the Vernon family. The matter remains open to discussion, but it is evident that in Harlaston Church we have a very, very old and rare bell.

The third and largest bell is not so interesting.  It has a diameter of 27 inches and has the inscription: "J. Warner & Sons, Crescent Foundary, London, 1856".
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