A Guidebook to St John in the Oaks Jersey – Part 3
4. Bells and their Ringers
The Church is fortunate to be one of only two churches in Jersey with bells hung for "change ringing" (the other being St. Mark's Church in St. Helier). This is the traditional English style of bell-ringing which involves the bells swinging through a full 360°, so the bell-ringers are able to change the order in which the bells ring in accordance with complex patterns.
It is also unusual in that the bellringers stand around the font in full view of the congregation, rather than being hidden away in a room high above. The present ring of bells was cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, of London in 1979, making them comparatively youthful in bell terms. They are hung just below the spire, at the base of the clock.
Each of the eight bells is named after a saint and they have the following weights, notes and names:
Weight Note Name
Tenor 7-0-4 B James
7th 5-1-2 C# Peter
6th 3-3-24 D# John
5th 3-2-4 E Mary
4th 2-3-24 F# Helier
3rd 2-3-8 G# Matthew
2nd 2-2-2 A# Mark
Treble 2-2-0 B Paul
As is traditional with bells, the weights are measured in hundredweight (cwt.), quarter cwt. and pounds. The Tenor is therefore a little under 10 cwt. (half a ton), which is relatively light, making the bells easier to ring than many others. By standing beneath the ropes and looking up, you will see the name of each bell inscribed on inside of the metal ring which guides the ropes.
The bell-ringers are affiliated to the Winchester & Portsmouth Diocesan Guild of Church Bellringers, and take part in annual inter-Channel Island competitions. The trophy for this competition has been a regular visitor to St. John! It should hang on the pillar of the North-East corner of the tower, so you will be able to see whether St. John's bell-ringers are successful this year or not.
There is a further bell hanging in the tower, above the other bells. This bell was cast in the garden of Colomberie House, St. Helier, in 1754, and is reputed to be the only one cast in Jersey still in use. Its casting did not go smoothly, however. The first attempt failed because the funnel which led the metal into the mould got blocked. The second attempt came out perfectly, with the new bell weighing in at 11,1,16 (1,276 lbs.). It carries the inscription:
LA CLOCHE DE SAINT JEAN FOUNDUE PAR MAITRE JACQUE PITEI LAN 1754
In earlier times, it was tolled on the morning of a funeral to remind St. Michael that his services would be required to escort a soul to paradise. It is now used as a Sanctus Bell and also for the Church clock, which was given in memory of Major J. H. Sims-Hilditch of Melbourne House, in 1969.
Following the Reformation, the South aisle would have been crammed with horse-box pews which would have partly cut out the terrible draughts. The rights to occupy these family pews were attached to certain properties and there were many legal squabbles. Each parishioner knew and kept his place in church, yet free seating was provided for the poor!
Parishioners in the South aisle used to have their enjoyment of hour-long sermons marred by a pillar blocking the view of their beloved Rector in the pulpit. In 1828, the Ecclesiastical Court refused to sanction the removal of an offending pillar, fearing a probable roof collapse. However, Rector Samuel Wright had a huge surprise when, on returning from a holiday in France in 1837, he found that the pillar had been dismantled, a wider arch made and the column re-erected in the Rectory garden, where it still stands today.
During the restoration of the Church in the 1930's, the old pews were removed and were replaced by handsome, if somewhat uncomfortable, oak ones. This re-ordering put an end to unnecessary clutter and created an atmosphere of dignified religious serenity.
The West doors of the South aisle, now hidden behind the organ, were wide enough to accommodate the Parish cannon during the days of the Jersey Militia. An external porch once gave pew and cannon fodder protection from the elements!
The Good Shepherd Window, the first window in the South Aisle, created by Neil Mackenzie, of the Jersey company Visionary Fine Arts, was dedicated: "to the glory of God and in gratitude for the love and support this Church has given the Hibbeard Family", on Sunday 6th December 1998. In vivid colours it depicts Jesus, who as the inscription from John's Gospel proclaims: "I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me." (John 10:14).
The images capture the relationship between shepherd and sheep and in so doing, illustrate the nature of Jesus' care for His people, while also reminding us of the words of Psalm 23, where the psalmist describes the provision, protection, guidance and care of God.