Ding, dong, merrily on high, the bells are back at St Michael and St Wulfad Church in Stone
THE peal of bells will ring out from a church once again after a £130,000 restoration project.
St Michael and St Wulfad Church, in Stone, marked the return of its 300-year-old bells with an open day and blessing service at the weekend.
Following a huge fund-raising effort the four bells, dating back to 1710, have now been returned along with six new bells.
The Stone Bells Appeal was started last year following fears they would have to be replaced by bells taken from the derelict St John's Church, in Hanley.
However, residents rejected the idea and formed a campaign to raise money for the work in a bid to secure the future of the bells.
Donations from local supporters and grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, North Staffordshire Association of Bell Ringers and the Garfield West Foundation saw the historic instruments saved.
Yesterday, the 10 bells were blessed by the Bishop of Stafford, the Right Reverend Geoff Annas.
It followed an open day on Saturday, where families were invited to view the newly-restored bells.
Ian Cardinal, rector of the parish, said: "We are all thrilled the bells have been returned to the church.
"The bells were in desperate need of restoration and were coming to the end of their life and sounded out of tune.
"A lot of the bell ringers found them very hard to pull as well, as they were sticking to the wooden frame.
"The bells are normally rung every hour and we've had to disconnect the clock tower while the bells were being repaired.
"I've had a lot of people telling me they have missed the sound of them and asking me when they will be back."
The old bells were sent away for restoration in October last year, to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in London.
Chairman of the appeal committee, Barry Smith, aged 61, from Stone, said: "We are overjoyed that the bells are back where they belong.
"They are going to be hung back on the tower this week, with work starting today.
"This has been one of the biggest fund-raisers for the church, due to the amount of money.
"We've raised about £120,000 so far and are only £10,000 away from the target.
"Initially, we thought that it would take at least four years to raise that amount, especially in this economic climate.
"But we have been overwhelmed by the generosity of everyone who contributed, including the residents of Stone.
"We originally had eight bells, but four couldn't be restored, two were bought by a heritage centre in Gloucester, one was bought by a church and one was recast.
"We've bought six new bells, so now there will be a longer ring coming from the towers.
"We have also installed a new steel frame on the tower for the bells to hang from, which is more secure and robust.
"Hopefully, this work will mean that the bells can be enjoyed for another 400 years to come."