St George's was built in 1912 at a time when the town was popular with British visitors who came to take the waters at the spa. The idea to install bells came from Jeff Ladd who, with his wife Catherine, bought a second home in Vernet-les-Bains 20 years ago.
Both started bell-ringing when they were teenagers and felt there was an opportunity to introduce bells into the empty tower of the church. Sadly, Catherine died In August 2014, just a short time before necessary renovations to the church were complete and installing bells became a realistic possibility.
With a tower almost exactly the same size as St George's, Ypres, Jeff felt that a ring of eight would be too similar to one of the two other rings on mainland Europe. He wanted the bells to be hung on one level so twelve was out of the question unless serious compromises were to be made. Ten bells, with a tenor a little lighter than Ypres seemed to be the way forward. The Mairie, which owns the building, was happy to agree to the new project, and gave substantial support throughout its inception and realisation.
It took around four years to plan and finance the project and eight months from placing our order for the bells to be cast and installed. Inspired by Andrew Mills and Mike Semken, all the work was entrusted to John Taylor & Co of Loughborough. Advice at the outset from Matthew Higby and the involvement of Dave Kelly of the Keltek Trust was also invaluable, and gave the project the early impetus that it needed. In the end, we decided not to use the two redundant bells from Pheasey and Gorran that Keltek had offered us but to go for a compelte new ring. Six bells were cast in memory of Catherine, paid for with donations from family and friends. Two are in memory of other ringers: Harry Winter of Oxford and Ripon and Roger Green of Ilkley. A further bell was given by David Barrington, also an Oxford ringer, in memory of his parents, Lancelot and Elizabeth. The final bell is dedicated to St Dunstan, the patron saint of ringers.
The bells were first rung on Palm Sunday 2019. Four days later, on Maundy Thursday, we rang the first quarter peal, in response to the appeal from the Archbishop of Canterbury for churches across England to ring their bells following the fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral.
We have made good progress in training enough ringers to ring for practices and services each week, helped considerably by the few ringers who already live or have holiday homes in the Department. We're particularly pleased that three of our ringers are French and see our bells as a great opportunity for local people to share in a fascinating English tradition.