Centuries old bell rings out for first time over Nansledan

Centuries old bell rings out for first time over Nansledan

An historic bell made in Bodmin almost 400 years ago has taken pride of place in the roof of the new nursery being built in Nansledan.

Members of the Duchy of Cornwall’s design, build and project management teams gathered together on the construction site to hear the first chimes ring out from this key piece of Cornish heritage.

The bell was cast in 1631 by Robert Pennington of Bodmin, one of the founders of a family-run casting firm, responsible for the creation of hundreds of bells throughout Cornwall and Devon between 1607 and 1819.

It has now been hung in the specially made tower on top of Nansledan’s purpose-built nursery, due to open next year.

Because it’s so old, the bell will ring out only on special occasions, ensuring that the sound of the chimes will be an extra-special treat for the nursery children, staff and surrounding residents and businesses in Nansledan, which is being developed by the Duchy of Cornwall as an extension of Newquay.

Peter James, project manager for Duchy of Cornwall, hung the bell before Nansledan’s masterplanning architect Hugh Petter was given the honour of striking the first notes.

“I felt very privileged to do so,” said Hugh, adding that the nursery building has been designed to have a bell and this one was the perfect fit, in every sense.

“The fact that this is an historic, Cornish bell feels very right and proper,” said Hugh. “It’s like it’s always been there and I’m delighted it’s found such a good new home. It’s lovely that this new community has this piece of history on such a prominent building.”

Peter James added: “We’re thrilled to have been able to bring this bell back to Cornwall almost four centuries after it was first cast and we look forward to hearing it ring out over Nansledan on special occasions in the future.”

The new nursery is part of Kew An Lergh (Cornish for Way Close), which is the historic name for the field in which it is located.

As well as the brand new nursery, Kew An Lergh will include new shops, offices and flexible workspace in two Arts and Crafts style buildings grouped around a landscaped courtyard with trees, outdoor seating and parking areas. The photo below from photographer Hugh Hastings shows the buildings under construction and was taken in August.

The Pennington family were famous for their expertise and the bell is marked with an ‘R.P’, for Robert Pennington of Bodmin.

Few other details about this particular bell’s history are currently known. Its exact origins – when and where it was hung – remain a mystery.

It was bought years ago by a Somerset-based professional bell hanger, who found it in a local salvage yard and kept it as part of his collection.

Nanseldan’s commercial manager Pat Wilkins came across it during a nationwide search for a bell to fit the nursery’s tower. “I’d said to this bell hanger in Somerset that we needed a bell that was a certain size and he said he’d got this particular one that we could have.

“He knew it was a Pennington and he liked the idea that it was going back to Cornwall and that it was going to be part of a nursery building.

“It was certainly a lucky find. It looks the part and sounds great. It couldn’t have worked out better.”

The centuries-old bell was in surprisingly good condition and hasn’t had to have much repair work done before being hung in its new position.

Nowadays, most bells are usually rung using an electromagnetic hammer but it was agreed that using a manual system on certain occasions would be more appropriate for such an ancient item.

“It’s not a bell that’s going to ring out every day,” said Chris Braley, project manager at Nansledan.

“It’s just nice to know there’s this important piece of history up there. And with the scaffolding around the bell tower now removed it is ready for everyone to see in all its glory.”

Cornwall-based Naturally Learning will be running Nansledan’s new nursery school from April 2023, offering children the chance to connect with nature and explore the great outdoors.

Mandy Richardson, managing director of Naturally Learning, said: “We’re really looking forward to opening our new nursery in April. We already have lots of children registered for next year and urge families to get in touch if they would like to reserve a space.”

Naturally Learning can be contacted via their website.

The team at Nansledan would love to find out more about the history of the Robert Pennington bell. If you can shed any light on where it might have been hung in the county, please contact The Duchy of Cornwall by emailing nansledan@duchyofcornwall.org


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