VILLAGERS have raised thousands of pounds to ensure that church bells which have rung out for nearly 130 years remain in use.

Volunteers have removed eight bells from the belfry of St Margaret’s Church in Tanfield, near Stanley, to be taken away to Whites of Appleton, in Oxfordshire, for restoration and re-tuning.

And they will be adding two smaller bells, to make it easier to teach youngsters, so that the tradition of bell ringing is kept alive.

The first six bells were installed in June 1890. The Durham County Advertiser reported, Right Rev Bishop Daniel Sandford “conducted a special service for the dedication of a new peal of bells amid great enthusiasm”.

The bells were supplied and fitted by John Warner and Sons, Cripplegate, London, at a total cost of £450.

Two more were added in 1894 – one of which was donated by the vicar, Reverend Thomas Archdall, in memory of his daughter Ruby, who died in 1892 aged five.

The bells have remained in use since then, except for during the Second World War when church bells fell silent throughout the country. Parishioners and donors have raised £114,000 toward the target of £127,000 needed for restoriong the bells.

The bells are rung by dedicated team, led for more than 25 years by tower captain Andrew Wallace.

He said: “The bells were reframed in the 1950s with steel girders to support them, but unfortunately they were only put in one direction, so when the bells swung in the other direction the frame moved and over the years caused it to deteriorate.

“They became increasingly difficult to ring and ten years ago we decided we had to do something about it, or they would fall silent forever.”

Mr Wallace, started bell ringing at the age of nine under Jim Crowther, who kickstarted the appeal three years ago by pledging £40,000.

Fundraisers decided to add two lighter bells so that it would be easier to teach youngsters.

Mr Wallace said: “There are 10,000 rings of bells in England. It is a totally inclusive activity, which promotes team work. A lot of people consider ringing as their contribution to community life.

“I always say the sound of bells is the church’s audible connection with the community. People can connect with the church without going into it, because the sound of bells can be heard miles away.

“It is something that people associate with village life – the sound of the bells. The tenor bell, the heaviest, rings to strike the hour.

“All the time I have been tower captain I have only ever had good feedback. Everybody in the village is totally behind this project.”

The Durham and Newcastle Diocesan Association of Bell Ringers have donated £10,000. A sale of a church bell recovered from deconsecrated in Sunderland realised £7,000, while a further £17,000 was raised through offering people the chance to have names cast in the headstocks of the bells.

Grants also came from Allchurches Trust, Catherine Cookson Charitable Trust and the Sir John Priestman Charity Trust.

Meldrum Construction Services, of Dunston, are doing some of the restoration work in lieu of taking the old oak beams for recycling.