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Tiverton Gazette 22nd February 1955

Ravages of the death-watch beetle in the belfry flooring timbers of Witheridge Parish Church were revealed when workmen, who yesterday completed the dismantling of the peal of eight bells, had to enlarge a trapdoor. The discovery was made when Mr J Walker, a bell-hanger employed by the well-known firm of Taylors of Loughborough, began to cut a hole in the belfry flooring to lower the bells through to the floor of the church below.

As the hole was enlarged, Mr Walker, assisted by Mr Jack Leach, of 10 Pullens Row, Witheridge, found that the timbers of two of the joists supporting the floor crumbled to dust at a touch. They reported the matter to the Vicar (the Rev J A S Castlehow) who immediately inspected the decayed woodwork.

"No one can say what has been holding the beams up", Mr Walker told a Gazette reporter. "The ringers have been certainly risking their necks". So, in addition to the £1,540 cost of dismantling, renovating and re-hanging the bells, parishioners are now faced with a bill for repairs to the timbers. A fund, started two years ago, for renovating the bells and renewing the framework stands at £1,100, the Vicar said.

The last of the six tons of bells to be moved was the 25cwt tenor, dated 1754. The others, four dated 1754, and one of 1800, and the remaining two of 1889, were taken out of their wooden framework during the week. They are all on their way to Loughborough for cleaning, the addition of new ringing fittings, and a new Ellacombe chiming apparatus. They will be away for about six months and will be re-housed in a new steel framework. The old one was so worn, that no competition ringing could be done owing to the strain on the ringers in overcoming the inertia of the bells, caused by sinking in their grooves. The bells were removed by means of block and pulley tackle, then stacked side by side in the churchyard to await collection.

"The Death Watch Beetle is a native of these islands, and naturally inhabits the dead wood of several hardwood species found in the United Kingdom. For the larvae to flourish, the heartwood is usually required to have been modified by fungal decay, thereby making the timber more palatable. The vast majority of structural oak used in historic buildings was converted and assembled green, when the moisture content was still very high, and it is likely that some timbers used had already suffered minor fungal attack before felling. In larger section timbers, the moisture content would have remained high enough to sustain fungal attack for many years, and so a suitable environment for long term Death Watch Beetle infestation would have been present in the building from the outset, and the beetle larvae themselves were probably introduced into the buildings in the timber used in their construction."

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