The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone.
Preservationism in Britain, as practiced by the official quango, English Heritage, in the case of Malvern Priory is determined to block the repair or replacement of ill-designed wooden Victorian bell frames, invisible to public and now warped, at the price of condemning the exercise of the far more ancient English tradition of change ringing to desuetude.
Here is the problem with enlightened regulations generally: those in charge of applying them are commonly too ill-informed and unwise to understand what is important and what isn’t. I remember my former New England town debating a proposal to surrender similar sweeping authority to a local historic district, whose officers could tell us what color we could paint our house and whether we could repair our porch. But the authorities in charge would have been the same clueless housewives who arranged to have our Main Street’s ancient slate sidewalk pulled up and replaced with synthetic, and who thought it a good idea to install halogen lights on the steeple of our Congregational meeting house.
The historic bells, which include one that dates from 1350, desperately need new frames to be installed high inside the tower.
However, English Heritage objected because it believed the A-frames from 1887 needed to be preserved.
There were no objections to updating the frame from the parish, the general public, the Victorian Society, or the Council for the Care of Churches.
However, English Heritage has stood its ground and took the case to an expensive and special consistory court hearing where the chancellor of the diocese heard the evidence and ruled the frames must stay.
Without the necessary replacement frames, the bell ringers say it is now just a matter of time before the bells become too difficult to ring.
The tower band is getting older and locals are concerned at the prospect of “The Exercise” not being practised in the Worcestershire spring town if new ringers can’t be trained there.
Campanologists across the country now fear the ruling might prevent other parishes taking on the might of English Heritage, and that other historic towers could fall silent.
The Victorian A-frames are now accepted to be a bad design and they were not in use for long.