The Bells of Landulph

Monochrome image of Landulph Church looking across the graveyard, with dramatic skies

Back in the 18th century the Pennington family of Lezant and Stoke Climsland were the finest bell founders in the West Country.

They went through Cornwall and Devon, casting wherever there was sufficient bell-metal provided by the parish and there was clay deep enough to make a casting pit. The Penningtons cast some 480 bells between 1710-1818.

Now one church that called on their services was Landulph. In 1767 their bells were in a poor state and it was decided to recast them. Of course the task was given to Fitz-Anthony Pennington, one of the famous bell-founding family. Fitz-Anthony came to Landulph and there by the church he found the ground was rocky and hard.

There was no-where to dig a bell pit, line it with sand and clay, and cast a bell. So he came up with a radical plan. Three miles south down the River Tamar was Antony, with deep soil and good clay. He decided to recast the bells there, transporting them to and fro on the River Tamar. To do this he employed the old ferryman and even older ferry that regularly crossed the Lynher, a tributary of the Tamar, at Antony Passage.

The first bell, the smallest, was taken down from the Landulph tower, loaded on the ferry, carried down the Tamar and across the Lynher to Antony. Here in the deep clay it was recast and returned to Landulph. In turn six of the bells were successfully recast and rehung in the bell-frame. But, in turn, each bell was heavier than the one before and with each bell the old ferry boat floated a little lower in the water. The seventh bell was taken to Antony in April 1768.

A great bell pit was dug and lined and there the bell was recast. By 30 April the bell was ready to return. But it was a blustery day, the bell was heavy, and the freeboard of the boat was reduced. “Sail, sail!” cried Pennington, for the journey by river was only three miles, but by land via Trerulefoot and Tideford it was 18 miles. It would take days to transport the bell by ox-cart on those rough roads.

So they set sail. They had just started their voyage and were crossing the Lynher at the Antony Passage. As they moved from the shelter of the shore the wind gusted and the old ferryboat heeled, for it was not built to carry such weight in rough water, and now it was grievously top-heavy. Water started to flow over the gunwale. The boat sank lower, capsized and disappeared beneath the water.

The bell was lost in the mud of the river-bed.

Both Pennington and the old ferryman were drowned. Fitz Antony Pennington was only 38.

His body was recovered and laid to rest in Landulph Church. He lies within the sound of all of his bells but one, and that one is forever silent.

retold by Mike O'Connor

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