Donhead St Mary Bell-Ringers - October 2019 Report

To the older of us, the mention of Imber conjures up images of villagers being ejected from their homes by the Army, suitcase in one hand, with longing backward looks over the shoulder at the church and farmhouses they are leaving for ever. To the younger, it has been known as the “lost village of Imber”, a mysterious almost imaginary place in the middle of nowhere, a place of tumbledown houses and just the church still preserved.

In the last few years, the Army has opened the village more frequently. From just once a year for former villagers, it is now open to the public 2 or 3 times a year, each time for several days. In 2019, it was open for 9 days in August and will be again for 5 days over the New Year. The church dates back to the 13th century, with parts rebuilt by the Victorians. There are some pre-Reformation wall paintings in the north aisle, one being Avarice from the Seven Deadly Sins.

The original 5 bells were removed and one dating 1721 cast by Abraham Rudhall, a noted bell founder from Gloucester, is now part of the ring of 10 at Edington; the other 4 were scrapped in 1968. With the village being open more often, a light ring of 6, using redundant bells taken from other churches when theirs were renovated, was installed in 2010. When I say “light”, I mean very light: the heaviest bell is half the weight of the lightest one at St Mary’s! The lightest bell weighs just over 3/4 of a hundredweight (at 100 lbs), which means that a very delicate touch is required to ring it.

Why all this? Well, we ringers from Donhead organised a little trip there on Sunday 18 August, to have a ring and a picnic lunch. Not all of us could go, so we were joined by ringers from Shaftesbury St James. The place was packed, and the church full. We had to squeeze through to get to the base of the tower at the west end of the nave and close the little barrier before we could even think of ringing. So we had a lot of people watching and taking pictures. Outside, there were so many people that we drove away to find a quiet spot to sit for our lunch: on the village green in Chitterne. While we were there, four cars stopped and asked if we knew where Imber was. Not so much “the lost village of Imber” but the “lost drivers trying to find it”!

Christopher Sykes