St Martin’s

The Church was built in the 13th Century with additional work in the 14th, 16th and 19th centuries. One of the major problems we face is maintaining the graveyard and if you have any relatives buried at St Martin’s any donations would be gratefully appreciated. Please donate whatever you can to St Martin’s Church and Maintenance Account Sort Code 77-72-12 account number 21143653.

The bells of St Martins

St Martins has three bells, the largest of which is dated 1612. This measures some 40 inches in diameter and, at the time of writing, was just 400 years old, the date of 1612 on it’s shoulder testifying to this. The other two bells are a little smaller – 36 and 3/8 inches (no date) and 33 and 1/8 inches with a date of 1670.

In a publication dated 1882 “The Church Bells of the County and City of Lincoln” by Thomas North – a weighty tome of some 800 pages or so – we read that a member of the Oldfield family was responsible for the casting of our 1612 bell, namely Henry Oldfield, son of Henry Oldfield. From other sources we learn that generations of this family cast bells at the Long Row foundry in Nottingham from about 1370 right through to 1793. Another Oldfield, George, son of the younger Henry, was also involved in the foundry, at one time recasting the tenor bell of Nottingham’s St Mary church in 1637. Many Lincolnshire bells first saw the light of day at Long Row as well as our own 1612 bell – whether the other two bells at St. Martins are from the same foundry has yet to be ascertained.

On page 745 of the above publication, we learn that apparently, in 1566 “church wardens of South Willingham reported that ‘two handbelles’, which belonged to this church in Queen Mary’s time, had been sold and defaced and that ‘our sacringe bell’ had been broken in pieces and defaced”. A spot of 16th century vandalism it would seem.

Returning to our three St Martin’s bells, on the same page we are given all three of the inscriptions which are as follows-

1612 reads “God save his church”
1670 reads “T Watam R Burnit 1670 WS”

The undated one reads “in noie thu ome genu flectatur” – “ in the name of Jesus Christ every knee shall bow” although elsewhere in Mr North’s labour of love we are told that this latter is not quite complete, the full inscription being “in noe ihu xpi ome genu flectat celestiu terstriu t infroru” – “in the name of Jesus Christ every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, in earth, and under the earth”. This same full inscription can apparently be found on the number 4 bell at Corby.

Mr North’s publication also states – “There is a tradition that about a century ago one of the Vyner family was lost on the wolds in a fog and found his way to South Willingham by the sound of the bells, which were ringing preparatory to Christmas; and that to mark his gratitude he left a charge upon some land as a dole for the poor of the parish. The tradition is probably founded on fact for 13s and 4d is still received annually”. It is possible that the Vyner referred to above may be related to Robert Vyner of Gautby Park. Gautby Hall, the ancient seat of the Vyner family, was destroyed in 1874.

Interestingly, one of the names on the 1670 bell – Watam – was a name that was still around in our village in 1948. It may be found on the Louth Rural Survey which was carried out that year, the person in question being listed as residing at Poplar Farm (although in this case the name Wattam has two t’s). Is there a connection I wonder?

It is fascinating to dwell just for a moment on some of the historic happenings since our 1612 bell was put in place –

1612 Death of William Shakespeare / Authorised Version of the bible
1642 Civil war breaks out in England – Birth of Isaac Newton
1666 Fire of London
1701 Act of Settlement requiring the English monarch to be Protestant
1760 Death of King George II
1829 George Stephenson builds his famous “Rocket steam locomotive”
1833 Slavery banned throughout British Empire
1863 London Underground opens
1912 Titanic lost
1934 The Cheeeseburger is created
1953 Seat belts introduced
1979 U.K.s  first lady prime minister – Margaret Thatcher

And – more locally:

1655 Betts family of South Willingham started farming on the estate, finishing in 1979.

And no doubt during the 1600’s several South Willingham properties were, or were about to be, constructed including Woodbine Cottage, The Thatch, The Forge, Church Farm, Oak Cottage and no doubt several others, now long gone.

Sad to say, the chances of St Martin’s bells ever being rung again, at least in the foreseeable future is unlikely. Although the bell frame itself appears to be ok, the timber wheels around which the bell ropes would once have run are literally breaking apart. Incidentally, it is the 1612 bell that resounds through our village every hour and half hour, so even after four centuries it is still providing a useful service to our residents and long may it do so.

Postscript – Having said the bells are unlikely to be rung again, just to prove me wrong, they did (as you may have heard) ring again just recently to welcome in the start of the Olympics.  But this was due only to Terry Ringrose’s ingenuity whereby, with the aid of pulleys and, I believe, an additional rope, South Willingham was once again treated to the sound of St Martin’s bells ringing out across our village.



The 1612 bell of St Martins
Eric Payne Aug 2012



St Martin’s Church Tower clock

I have often thought it would be interesting to find out exactly when our church clock (made by the well known clock maker J W Benson of Ludgate Hill London)  was put in place. After some uneventful browsing through the internet I came across a certain gentleman by the name of Chris Mckay. He informed me that, unfortunately, all records of Benson’s products were lost through WW2 bombing , also saying that Benson for some reason never put dates on his clocks. However, Chris had found a reference to our clock in ‘The Builder’ magazine of September 1878. I then contacted the British Library asking if they had this particular magazine and lo! yes,  they did have a copy and were able to confirm that in the issue dated 21st September 1878, on page 1001 a brief mention is made (just 12 lines) saying that a turrett clock was fitted in the tower and that    “it’s manufacture was entrusted to Mr J. W. Benson of Ludgate Hill”.

So, we can now say that for the past 134 years residents of South Willingham, past and present, have been gazing up at our clock and listening to it’s chimes. And, all credit to Mr Benson, still keeps good time (providing that it is wound twice a week, and regularly maintained).

Eric Payne 24.12.2012


2 Responses to St Martin’s

  1. Kathy Chambers says:

    Hello, I am trying to trace a vicar of St Martin’s Church, a Rev Charles Patrick and his wife Linda. Can I address the letter to St Martin’s Church, South Willingham, LN8 6JF

  2. admin says:

    Hi Kathy, we have sent you an email with the address you require.

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