St Margaret’s, Hermingford Abbots

Ellacombe apparatus, St Margaret’s, Hemingford Abbots

Walking at Hemingford Abbots and Houghton yesterday. Bells drew us to the church of St Margaret of Antioch after lunch.  It’s one of some 250 such dedications in Britain.  Margaret, is known as Margaret of Antioch in the West, and as Saint Marina the Great Martyr in the East.  She is said to have been martyred in 304; though she was declared apocryphal by Pope Gelasius 200 years later, devotion to her revived in the West during the Crusades.  She was reputed to have promised powerful indulgences to those who wrote or read her life, or invoked her intercessions. Margaret is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and one of the saints Joan of Arc claimed to have spoken with.  Her saint’s day in the Anglican Church is 17th July.

Clock mechanism, St Margaret’s Hemingford Abbots

The bells that summoned us were being played by one man on a bell frame. Known as an Ellacombe apparatus, it is a mechanism devised in 1821 (200th anniversary this year) by Reverend Henry Thomas Ellacombe for performing change ringing on church bells by striking stationary bells with hammers.  He wanted an alternative to dealing with unruly local bell ringers.  This method does not have the same sound as full circle ringing due to the absence of the Doppler effect, as the bells do not rotate and the lack of a damping of the clapper after each strike.  It sounded more like a carillon to me.  The cogs and gears of an ancient clock hang above the frame – it looks as if it might have been made by the local blacksmith.

In the churchyard a pale grey granite headstone: ‘Tom Stocker  Farmer 1939-2019  True hope is swift and flies with swallows wings’.

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