In the village of East Bergholt the building of a bell tower for the church of St Mary the Virgin was started in 1525 with assistance promised by Cardinal Wolsey.
Thomas Wolsey was born in nearby Ipswich and became chaplain to the archbishop of Canterbury. When Henry VIII became king in 1509, Wolsey’s rapid rise began. In 1514, he was created archbishop of York and a year later the pope made him a cardinal. From 1515 to 1529, Wolsey’s rule was undisputed with Henry VIII delegating more and more state business to him, including near-complete control of England’s foreign policy.
Henry VIII asked Wolsey to use his influence in Rome to get a papal annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could remarry. Wolsey’s failure to arrange an annulment for Henry was quickly followed by his downfall. Wolsey was arrested near York in November 1530 and accused of treason. He died on 29th November of the same year at Leicester on his journey south to face trial.
With Cardinal Wolsey dead, work ceased on the Bell Tower at St Mary the Virgin and a ‘temporary’ Bell Cage was erected as in 1531. Since then the bells have been in regular use ever since and are still rung to this day.
Although other Bell Cages exist in England, the one in East Bergholt is the only place where the bells are swung by pure force of hand applied directly to a wooden headstock and not by rope and wheel.
What makes this more remarkable is that they are the heaviest set of five bells that are currently being rung in England, with a total weight of 4.25 tons or 4,318 kilos.
The 1530 inscription on the Bell Cage reads:
Bells ring for joy and eke for sadness
For solemn requiem
Or in the marriage peal of gladness
Do thou like them
Fitly employ thy voice
The scripture precept keep
Rejoice with them that do rejoice
And weep with them that weep.
You can watch a clip on the bells being rung here: