Wem Tower and Bells Appeal 1964 - 1968

The First Year of the Appeal

At Evensong in early October 1964 the Rector, Preb Basil Morson, launched an appeal for £5,500 to restore the 14th century church tower (which had survived the Fire of Wem of 1677) and re-hang the tower’s eight bells which had not been rung since a large crack had appeared in the tower two years previously.  He told the congregation that the proposal was to grout the tower structure and to refill the walls with liquid cement – a similar treatment to that given to St Paul’s Cathedral some years earlier.  Preb Morson appealed to the townspeople of Wem to join with members of the congregation to help with this huge challenge and, as you will see from this article, there was a magnificent response.  

The first fund-raising event was a dinner dance held at the Hawkstone Hotel on the 5th November which raised £158.  This was organised by my parents. Jack and Hilda Edwards, and a committee consisting of Messrs D Rutter, E D Slynn, W C Edwards, Mrs B Parker and Mrs J Randall.  Shortly afterwards a coffee evening was held at the home of Mr and Mrs E H Ikin, Grimstones, Soulton Road, which raised over £30 and a fur and feather whist drive in the Market Hall and Corn Exchange, organised by Mr and Mrs W C Edwards, which raised nearly £70.  Although I have no report of the event, I see that a Christmas Fayre at Tilley raised a wonderful £153  4s. 10d. for the appeal fund.

January 1965 saw a rummage sale at the Grammar School which raised over £28 (the pupils being praised for their efforts by Mrs Slynn, the headmaster’s wife), and a coffee evening held at Fernlea, Mill Street, the home of Mr and Mrs Pegler, which raised about £27.  During February that year a further £72 was raised from a coffee evening and bring-and-buy sale in the church hall organised jointly by the Mothers’ Union and the Churchwomen’s Guild.  In addition, £20 was realised by a draw for a rug made and given by eighty three-year old Mothers’ Union member, Mrs E Watson.  It was won by her neighbour, Mrs J Astley.  Later that month the Church Youth Group, under the chairmanship of the Rev J Roger Williams, organised a dance in the White Horse Hotel attended by about a hundred people.  The event raised some £25, and this, together with many donations made by individuals and organisations, brought the total of the appeal fund up to more than £1,300.

During March the Whitchurch Male Voice Choir, conducted by Mr Harry Preston, gave a concert in the church which raised £50.  The arrangements were by a chorister, Mr E Smith.  The principal solo artiste was BBC soprano, Miss Gwen Davies, and other soloists were Mr Ivor Pugh (bass) and Mr Frank Higgins (tenor).  The accompanist was Miss Marion Groom.  A whist drive organised by the Women’s Institute, attended by about 120 players, raised over £35 and in April a coffee evening at the home of Mr and Mrs E Wilkinson, Wemsbrook Road, raised over £21.


The Rectory Garden Fete held on the 2nd June raised a wonderful £545 17s 1d for the appeal fund.  My father, a Churchwarden, was chairman of the fete sub-committee.  Serving with him were Messrs E D Slynn (Headmaster of the Grammar School), K J Bulmer (National Provincial Bank) who was the Treasurer, B Nicholls, A Turner and W D Rutter, Misses D Ward (secretary) and J Ashford

and Mesdames H V Edwards, M Strong and K Billingham.  The fete was opened by Mrs Violet Cholmondeley of Ellesmere who was the daughter of the former Rector, Preb Archibald Parker.  Five-year old twins, Christine and Caroline Williams of The Ditches, presented a basket of flowers to Mrs Cholmondeley and a buttonhole was presented by my father to Mr R J Ranford (secretary of the PCC) who was celebrating his 65th birthday that day.

By the end of July, the appeal fund stood at £2,536 following a coffee evening held at Rose Cottage, Wemsbrook Road, organised by Mr and Mrs H Gregory and Mr and Mrs C Hutchinson, and which raised £34.  This was followed in August by a wine and cheese party   held at Aston Grange by invitation of Brigadier and Mrs R S Streatfield, raising over £39.  In September a coffee evening was held at The Chestnuts, Aston Road, the home of Mr and Mrs G F Brisbourne, adding another £37 to the fund.

The total of the appeal fund at the end of the first year was £2,691 12s 9d.

The Second Year of the Appeal

“Halfway There”:  Less than twelve months after the first money-raising event (a similar dinner dance held during the previous November) the Tower and Bells Appeal passed the £3,000 mark when a dinner dance held at the Hawkstone Park Hotel raised £114.

A bonfire, barbecue and fireworks held by Tilley parishioners on Guy Fawkes night that year took place on a field belonging to Mr W D Rutter.   Attendance at its peak was in the region of one thousand.  There were stalls and competitions and the bonfire was lit by children of the parish, Tommy and Bobby Morris, Michael and Christopher France, Sandy Heath, Philip and Tim Rutter and Pam and Victoria Ward. The event raised £183  8s.  8d.

On the 8th December nearly 140 people attended a whist drive in the Market Hall.  Arrangements were by Mr and Mrs W C Edwards.  Mr W Jones was the M C and Mrs M Strong presented the prizes.  The sum of £56 was raised.

In January 1966 Preb and Mrs Morson held an evening party at The Rectory.  About a hundred guests contributed £81 to the Tower and Bells Appeal.

A further £90  8s.  0d. was raised for the appeal during February when the Churchwomen’s Guild and the Mothers’ Union held another joint coffee evening and bring-and-buy sale in the Church Hall.  Another concert by the Whitchurch Male Voice Choir held in April raised over £27.

On the 2nd June, Mr J E Johnson, Chairman of the Directors of Wem Motor Company, presented an 18-inch high silver challenge cup to Wem Parish Church.  He gave it to encourage youth participation in church social activities.  The first holder of the cup was Mr Barry Hawkins of Loppington, winner of a thirty-mile mobile treasure hunt in which twenty-one cars took part.  A clay pigeon shoot also took place which attracted some of the sport’s top marksmen, and a barbecue around army field stoves.

The 1966 Rectory Garden Fete took place on the 8th June and was opened by Mrs Parker Leighton of Oswestry, the wife of a former Member of Parliament.  After the opening she was presented with a bouquet by five-year old Joy Brisbourne.  The event raised £432 15s., bringing the total of the appeal fund to £4,200.

A coffee evening held at Aston Lodge, the home of Mr and Mrs R L Heath, in July raised £30 for the appeal and another coffee evening at the home of Mr and Mrs Pegler, Fernlea, Mill Street, raised £17 10s in September.  I see also that the sum of £36 was raised by Messrs  W T Smith and G Beaumont in respect of a tombola.


By the end of the second year, the total of the appeal fund had reached £4,391 11s.  6d.

The Third Year of the Appeal

A third dinner dance held at the Hawkstone Park Hotel raised over £81 for the appeal - the event once again being a “sell out”, with some 110 people attending.

A two-day bring-and-buy sale held in the Lower Church Hall on the 24th November and the 1st December, organised by Mrs H J Lowe, raised a total of £60 5s. for the appeal and a Christmas Whist Drive, organised by Mr and Mrs W C Edwards, raised £52 10s.

In view of steeply rising building costs, the sum needed for the repairs and the re-hanging of the bells had increased to £7,000, including the fees of the architect, Mr George Waters.  Although only about £4,500 had been raised it was felt right to go ahead and in December the eight bells left the belfry and were lowered 60 feet to ground level.  (This was the first “public appearance” for most of them in over 150 years.)  The bells were now ready to go to be tuned, turned and re-hung by John Taylor & Sons of Loughborough, an old-established firm of bell-founders.  The old oak beamed frame was also to be removed and replaced by one made of steel.  (According to Strong’s Wem Almanack of 1941 the bells ranged in weight from 4 cwts, 3 qrs, 18 lbs to 14 cwts for the tenor bell.)   The work on the tower was to be carried out by Townsend & Hodgkiss of Shrewsbury.

Fund-raising continued in February 1967 with another coffee evening and bring-and-buy sale organised jointly by the Mothers’ Union and the Churchwomen’s Guild which realised £109  1s  0d.


On the 3rd May a cocktail party at The Oaklands by invitation of Mrs D Pitt-Moore, and attended by over eighty guests, raised £50 15s 2d.

Two other events in aid of the appeal were held on the 31st May.  They were a clay pigeon shoot and a road safety car handling exercise. The former was organised by Mr W D Rutter and Mr M C Pate, and the prizes were presented by Miss Dorothy Ward.  The car tests were organised by Mr R G O Farmer assisted by Messrs P Smith, C Hill, H Tyler, Clive Jones, W Jones, Ian Edge, J Edwards and N Pegler. The prizes were presented by Mrs J Lane, daughter of Mr J E Johnson, donor of the cup awarded annually by the church for a competitive event.  A barbecue arranged by ladies of the church brought the event to a close and the sum of £19 10s  0d was raised.

The 1967 Rectory Garden Fete, held on the 7th June, was opened by Lady Bridgeman, wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire.  After the opening a bouquet was presented to Lady Bridgeman by Linda Pate.  The fete raised the sum of £400.

In September over three hundred people attended a fashion show in Wem Town Hall given by Jayne’s of Wem.  The show, which was organised by my father (Chairman of the Appeal Committee) together with my mother and Mrs M Strong, Miss Dorothy Ward, Mr W D Rutter and Mrs K Billingham, raised £73 15s.  6d. for the appeal.  Over one hundred garments were paraded by Miss Cynthia Reader, Mrs Carol Wainwright, Mrs Helen Hutchings, Mrs Teddie Hill, Mrs Linda Smith and Mrs Connie Davies.  Mr J S Hoyle was the compere.  My father and I produced the catwalk.

The Fourth Year of the Appeal

The fourth year of the appeal began with a Harvest Supper Dance which raised over £47.

Tilley Village held another event in aid of the appeal in November 1967.  It was to have been a bonfire, fireworks, barbecue and dancing in conjunction with a village fayre on farmland and premises of one of the organisers, Mr A G Ward of Tilley Manor, but it had to be drastically cut because of foot and mouth restrictions.  The events that could be salvaged were transferred to Wem Church Hall but there was still an excellent response from the public and over £143 was raised.


Christmas 1967 saw a draw and whist drive being held in the Church Hall which raised the sum of £41  5s.  6d.

In February 1968 another joint coffee evening and bring-and-buy sale was organised by the Churchwomen’s Guild and the Mothers’ Union, raising £104 17s.  6d.  Later that month a “Spring Fair” at Forncet, Soulton Road, the home of Mrs V R Bygott, raised £72.

In March, Mr Alec Turner and I organised a gift sale by auction in Wem Market Hall - articles coming under the hammer ranging from solid silver to Kilner jars.  The auctioneers and recorders were of the staff of Joseph Wright of Whitchurch.  We were assisted by Mr R G O Farmer, Mr W Edwards, Mr J Hall, Mr M C Pate and my parents.  The event raised £160 9s. 0d.

The following month an evening party arranged by The Rector and Mrs Morson raised the sum of £72 13s.  0d.

It was hoped by the organisers that the Rectory Garden Fete, held on the 29th May, would be the final fund-raising effort of the Tower and Bells Appeal.  The event was opened by the Deputy Mayor and Mayoress of Shrewsbury, Councillor and Mrs Pursell.  Following the opening, eight-year-old Caroline Edwards, daughter of Mr and Mrs Don Edwards of Aston Hall, presented a bouquet to Mrs Pursell.  Perfect weather helped to draw in a crowd of nearly eight hundred and the sum of £318 18s.6d. was raised.

Just four years after it was launched the appeal was closed after the target, which had risen to £7,500, had been reached

.A wonderful achievement!

Tom Edwards


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