The bells of a Clay Country church are one step closer to ringing again after work started to replace their rusting frame. 

The peal of eight bells at St Denys church has remained largely silent since the pandemic, first due to social distancing, but then due to safety concerns.  

Work was due to start on Monday to remove both bells and frame, and it is hoped they will return in time for the wedding season in June.  

Churchwarden Jim Offord, who broke the moratorium briefly to toll the bell on the death of Prince Philip, said: “When we tried to ring them after lockdown, the bell ropes snapped so we went and had a good look at the bells and called in the foundry, who condemned them.”  

Bolts introduced during the last restoration in 1938 had rusted, so the whole cast-iron frame will be sandblasted and repainted, then refitted with rust-proof stainless steel bolts.  

Most of the bells will be placed in storage, including the tenor bell weighing in at over 600cwt. However, the oldest, which dates from 1430, will undergo much-needed restoration for the first time in almost 600 years. 

“The clanger has made indentations inside the bell, so it will undergo a quarter-turn so it hits the other side,” Mr Offord explained. 

In addition, the headgear for the ropes will be checked, repaired and replaced, and restorative work will be done to the infrastructure of the church tower.  

The project will cost £65,000, with sufficient funds being raised to start work. Local industry support has come from Imerys, Cornish Lithium and the St Dennis and Nanpean Community Trust, established by Cornwall Council and SUEZ following the establishment of the Cornwall Energy Recovery Centre. Other sources include the Cornwall Historic Churches Trust.  

Local fundraising events have included selling Coronation mugs, concerts by the Imerys Mid Cornwall Male Choir and St Dennis Band, a Boxing Day fun run, collection pots in local shops, coffee mornings, and donations from local businesses and individuals. A quiz is planned for next month, and a dog show for the summer. 

Steve Bradbury, chair of bellringers, said: “We are totally amazed by the generosity of the local community. Thanks to events in St Dennis we have almost reached our target, and we are confident that by the time the bells are ready to be rehung in June, we will have raised all funds needed.”  

The restoration will be photographed and documented,  and once the bells are back in situ, there will be a concerted effort to train the next generation of bellringers.  

“It will be absolutely superb to hear the bells again,” said Mr Offord. 

“They are quite a feature of the village, and prior to the pandemic, visiting ringers travelled for miles to ring such a good set of bells.”  

The Grade II* listed church enjoys a spectacular setting atop an Iron Age fort, 600ft above sea level and looking out towards Castle an Dinas and beyond to Newquay and the north coast.  

While the tower dates back to the 15th century, much of the church was rebuilt by the Victorians in 1847, and a devastating fire struck in 1985. Only the tower, walls and – miraculously - a cross above the high altar survived the blaze; the new roof trusses had to be lifted into place by a Sea King helicopter. 

Although St Denys is the patron saint of Paris, many believe the name comes from ‘dinas’, Cornish for “hill fort” – like its neighbouring Castle an Dinas.  

On the path leading to the church, a Cornish cross, dating to the 5th or 6th century, bears testament to how long Christianity has been practised at this site.