Farewell to the bell

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professor_duff287A RATHER heavy piece of local history left Helensburgh almost unnoticed early in 2008.

The original St Columba Church bell was sold and then removed from its resting place near the front door of the kirk.

A note to the congregation stated: “The managers are pleased to announce that our bell, removed from the church tower 12 years ago when Orange installed their equipment in the bell chamber and which has since lain the Sinclair Street access gate, latterly on unsafe supports, has now been acquired by Barratt Housing for use as a ‘feature’ in a new residential development — St John’s, Tullis Street, Bridgeton.”

The note said that the bell will be displayed there without its bellframe, hanging yolk or clapper, and added the comment: “The sound of the bell was regarded by many as being quite doleful and not very uplifting!”

church-bell286The bell carries the foundry marking ‘James Duff & Sons, Greenock 1861’ and so it was in the bell tower when the church was opened that year, the congregation having worshipped from 1845 in what is now the church hall.

There was a family connection involved. The minister from 1856 to 1876 was the Rev David Duff MA LLD, who just happened to be a the son of James Duff (1795-1880) who was brought up on Fencewood Farm on the outskirts of Greenock, became a brass founder, and established James Duff and Sons.

It was clearly a successful venture as by the 1870s it employed 90 men and boys. Meanwhile Dr Duff was just as successful in his field, ultimately becoming professor of church history in Edinburgh.

St-Columba-bells-new-homeAccording to ‘The Story of Helensburgh’, the reason for building the new church was because the congregation grew so quickly under his ministry.

It continues: “Many who at first were indifferent to the change became enthusiastically attached to him. Eminent as a scholar, he had also a deep knowledge of human nature and how to touch the inner secrets of life, and his preaching was with power to heart and conscience, abounding often in thrilling appeals to inconsistent Christians.”

A picture of Dr Duff (seen above) hangs at the foot of the stairs leading to the church balcony. The other pictures, by Donald Fullarton and Michael Foulds respectively, show part of the bell when it lay outside the church, and the bell in its new position in Bridgeton.