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Death in the Tower

Like all other church bells in the country the Presteigne bells were silent for nearly 3 years during the Second World War, from June 1940 to Easter 1943. There was a time, though, when the bells were silent for another reason…

In December 1892 one of the ringers, George Vaughan, climbed the tower to do some repairs on the bells. The bells had been left in the “up” position, meaning that they were ready for full-circle ringing. Mr Vaughan accidentally pulled two of the bells beyond their balance position and was killed as they swung and hit him. The following article is taken from the Parish Magazine at the time.

 SHOCKING DEATH IN A BELFRY AT PRESTEIGNE

 We regret to state that Mr George Vaughan, stone mason, and one of the ringers at the parish church, lost his life under unusual circumstances, on Monday December 12th. The church bells had been left, after ringing for evening service on the previous day, in a position known as “set” and Mr Vaughan went to the belfry about two o’clock in the afternoon to correct some fault with the gear. He was not afterwards seen, but when some of the ringers went to the belfry in the evening they found Mr Vaughan dead.

His body was astride a beam amongst the bells. It is supposed that in the course of his work he dislodged one of the bells, causing it to swing over, and that, to save himself, he had clutched the wheel of another, and caused that to fall also. One of them had evidently struck him on the head killing him instantly. Several persons recall noticing the sudden striking of one or two of the bells about three o’clock.

Deceased leaves a widow and two children to mourn his loss; we regret to state, however, that one of the children, a little boy has since passed away. An inquest was held at the Shirehall on Tuesday Decr. 13th, before the Coroner W. Wakelin, Esq, Mr J. W. Newell being foreman of the jury.  The deceased’s father indentified the body and said deceasee was 37 years of age.

W. Davis, blacksmith deposed to seeing deceased at about two o’clock in the churchyard.  William Lewis, a cousin of the deceased related the facts concerning the discovery of the body and added that he, the deceased’s brother, and Mr James Young had arranged to meet in the belfry to do some work to the bells on Monday night at 7 o’clock. He found the body lying lengthwise on a beam in the bell tower and under two of the bells (numbers 1 and 2). He was quite dead. The bells were up at set, it being customary to leave them so. If the bells had been down the accident could not have occurred. Deceased must have pulled down bell No. 2 before he could have done anything to it. He (deceased) had altered the bell-stay, put the bell at set and then gone up amongst the bells again.

By a juryman: Deceased must have been walking along the beam near bell No. 1, and have slipped. As he went down his leg must have caught No. 1 and pulled it over on to him, and he then must have put up his arm and so pulled No. 2 onto him. Deceased’s arm was wedged between the spindle of a clock and the beam.

By a juryman: It was a dangerous practice to leave the bells at set. Mr Millichamp produced a sketch of the position of the body.

Dr. Balfour said he found no marks of violence other than those caused by the accident. He agreed with Messrs. Millichamp and Lewis as to the cause of death.

The Coroner summed up and the jury returned a verdict of accidental death. They expressed the opinion that the practice of leaving the bells at set was a dangerous one, and ought to be discontinued.

THE FUNERAL

The funeral of Mr George Vaughan, took place at the cemetery on Friday afternoon Dec. 16th. Deceased being a member of Court “Industry” A. O. F., the funeral was attended by a number of his fellow members and many other residents of the town. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Mr. John Price, builder, and a number of beautiful wreaths were sent by numerous friends. At St. Andrew’s Church on Sunday morning, the Rev. Pakenham West, preaching from the words “Be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh,” thus referred to the accident:

“We have lately had a terrible warning of the shortness and uncertainty of life, which could not fail to impress us. Even when we read the account of some fearful disaster to those unknown to us, such as the railway accident at Thirsk, or the loss of the mail steamer Roumania off the coast of Portugal, we are filled with intense pity, not only for the sufferers themselves, but also for their many relatives and friends. But when a shocking calamity occurs on our town and in our own parish church, we feel as if the angel of death had almost touched us with his wings. It was a sudden death, it was a violent death, and a solitary one. No hand was near to avert the coming doom, no voice to breathe a prayer for mercy as his spirit passed for ever from this world of toil and sorrow. ‘On earth bells do ring, in heaven angels sing’

“Such accidents are fortunately extremely rare in the history of campanology, although I have heard that a somewhat similar fatality occured in another belfry about forty five years ago. But during the 175 years that the bells have hung in this church tower, no such terrible misfortune has ever been recorded. The sad event has cast quite a gloom over the town, and we all feel the deepest sympathy with his sorrowing relatives, and especially with his lonely widow and infant children. How true are the words of the Burial Service. ‘In the midst of life we are in death,’ and how necessary it is for us who are strong and well, as he was this day week, to take to our heart our blessed Lord’s solemn warning, ‘Be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh.”

Headstone

The Gravestone of George Vaughan (Click to enlarge)

The grave of George Vaughan, his infant son and his wife are located in the town graveyard just to the north of Presteigne. To find it simply go through the gate, take the path for a few metres past the first large conifer tree, then turn left and walk about 75 metres across the grass. You can’t miss it; it’s quite a distinctive headstone.

These days we are much more safety conscious and never carry out any work on the bells when they are in their “up” position.

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