We sent Colchester Borough Council's Arts & Heritage Project Officer, Lois Garrod-Smith, out to St Mary's Church in East Bergholt - just beyond the borough's boundaries -to discover what secrets it holds.

With restrictions on travel and a great deal of uncertainty more and more people are choosing to stay closer to home than adventure off into the unknown at the moment. When it comes to visiting Colchester this is no set back! On the doorstep are a whole host of heritage sites with different stories to tell and they are eagerly awaiting to share them with you.

One of these gems is St Mary’s Church in East Bergholt. Just tucked into Suffolk, teetering on the edge of the Essex boarder, this beautiful village houses some very special instruments.  
St Mary's Church, East Bergholt

The church is a Grade 1 listed building and dates back to the 14th Century.  It has some fine stain glass windows and the priest’s room above the entrance to the church, by the south porch, was made famous by John Constable’s painting. The church is very distinctive as it has no tower. Building of the tower begun in 1525 but was never finished.
St Mary's Church, East Bergholt and the Bell Cage

With no tower to place the bells in a cage was constructed to house the bells until the tower was completed. The bells still sit in their cage to this day, so this temporary home has become rather permanent! Not only are these bells different because of their home but they are stored ‘upside down’. It is a very odd site to see these magnificent bells all stood on end, but they are in fact the correct way round.  When we see images of bells on Christmas cards, they are the wrong way round! Every day is a school day!

Bells in the Bell Cage, East Bergholt

These bells are not only interesting because of their storage but they are magnificent to behold because of their size. They are the heaviest set of five bells that are currently being rung in England, with a total weight of 4.25 tons or 4,318 kilos. You may wonder how bells of this size are rung whilst being ‘upside down’. This is all done by hand and perfectly timed, the bell ringers hold onto the blue headstock, at the base of the bell, and push the bells through nearly a full circle, creating their beautiful notes.

The church is not currently open to visitors as it would be normally.  However, the bell cage is in the churchyard and so accessible from the outside.

East Bergholt is also home to a small tearoom and several pubs, ideal to enjoy some grub and then take a nosy round this beautiful church and its fascinating bells.  

If you don’t feel like taking the short trip out there is another way to view one of the bells from St Mary’s. There is one bell on display in Colchester Castle. It is in fantastic condition and stored amongst the other treasures on display in the museum- see if you can find it!

Remember to tag us on social media on all your heritage hunts and happy hunting.


Lois Garrod Smith is Colchester Borough Council's Arts & Heritage Project Officer and has previously worked with the British Museum and Museum of East Anglian Life to complete their traineeship programme, gaining a Level 3 Diploma in Cultural Heritage.

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