Church towers and cellular phones

From the RW    Issue 4534, page 280

March 1998


  I refer to Peter Wenham’s letter published on page 155 (13th February). Embleton, Northumberland was subject to a similar approach many years ago. The then vicar, now Archdeacon, Peter Elliot and his PCC dealt with the application. I became involved since there was no active band at the time and Morpeth ringers used to ring for occasional services and weddings. I was not involved in the financial arrangements although I recall that the communications company was required to pay the church separately, at an enhanced rate, for electricity used. I am fairly certain there was not a separate metered supply.

  The vicar was concerned that the installation should not in any way interfere with the bells. The communications firm assured him repeatedly that they understood and had experience of bells and hence there would be no problems. The bells were not rung for a few weeks until the late afternoon of a Ringing Meeting prior to a Ceilidh Dance at Rothbury. At Embleton the Ringing Master invited six ringers to raise the bells in peal. The chimes were taken off and the raise started. Suddenly there was a loud bang and flash and the lights went out! Not just in the ringing room but across the village as well. The knowledgeable communications firm had threaded a power cable through the wheel of the third bell! The wheel was broken and had to be replaced!

  The bells were booked for a wedding two weeks later. Early Saturday evening the vicar contacted the firm and insisted that they meet him at the church to see the damage following a Sunday morning service. This they did, although they had to travel from East Anglia to do so. Acceptance of liability was immediate. Ringers from Morpeth and Rothbury got together, a new wheel was ordered, made and fitted in time for the wedding. To their credit the communications firm paid up promptly and in full.

  Lessons learnt include the need for a ringer to give installation advice and supervise/approve the installation work - whatever assurances the company gives.

  On a personal note, I am aware of the growing competitive nature or the telecommunications market in the UK at present. This is likely to continue and consequently I would recommend a short (2-3 year) contract period. It is likely that within that time others may wish to use your tower. This is also a good reason to ensure that the initial installation, if agreed, does not preclude a second installation either by the nature of installation or by a restrictive contract clause or condition. Having described the pitfalls and possible commercial points to be considered I confess to being generally in favour. A discreet tower aerial system is clearly preferable to the ugly stand above aerials we are beginning to see around the country, in my opinion.


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