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The Ancient Bell with Belfry
PROBABLY the most interesting and certainly the most intriguing possession of the Church is the old bell, which in 1893 was removed from the top of the west gable and which now rests, complete with belfry, on a raised stone base surrounded by an enclosing railing, near to the base of the gable which it once surmounted. A new bell was hung in the new tower. It was at the instance of the late Dr. Fleming, a keen antiquarian, that the old bell was preserved and its resting place suggested.
Tradition has it that this ancient bell was found over a century and a half ago in the bog of Baldinnie, about half a mile from the church, and gifted to the Church and Session by the finder, supposedly one, Ramsay, who claimed the right of burial inside the Church for his service. There is a monument in the west gable dated 1777 which bears the name of Ramsay, wright in the chapel of South Corston, which may have given rise to the idea of a gift under condition. The present writer, however, does not credit the theory and has traced the history of the bell from the records, which are intact from 1682.
Item 1697. -
Wm. Archer in fastening the bell upon the stock 14sh. 6p." This is the first mention in the Records of a big bell in the church.
Item 1702. -
Item 1724. -
Item 1727. -
David Ramsay was a wright.
An entry of June 1744 gives an inventory of church utensils etc., and finishes with, "an iron screw to the Big Bell in the Kirk Officer's hands." This iron screw has disappeared. Its discovery would be significant for the history of the bell.
These items, which need not be added to, confirm, I think, that the bell was upon the Church long before the "donor" Ramsay was born. In 1768, when the walls of the Church were heightened a new belfry or bell house was made and the bell placed therein. A pennant bearing the date 1768 can be seen on the old belfry.
The bell measures 17 ¼ inches in diameter across the lip, 8t inches in diameter at the top and is 13 inches high. It bears the following inscription:
MIARIA TROON ES MINEN NAEM. MEISTER HANS POPEN RUIDER
GAF MI. ANNO DOMINI MCCCCCXIX.
Which translated reads, "Marie Troon IS my name. Mr John (Hans) Popenruyder gave me. A.D. 1519."
The bell is of Flemish origin but how it came to Scotland remains a mystery. The name of the donor of the bell, Hans Popenruyder, appears in the Calendar of State Papers, Henry VIII, as a gun founder of Mechlin, whose services were
Invited by the second Tudor monarch with a view to improving the condition and equipment of the English Fleet, (1512). There is little reason to doubt that the bell was originally donated to the monastery of Maria Troon at Grobendonck, near Antwerp, but how it came to be associated with the Church of Kettins cannot be ascertained with any degree of authority.
Various theories have been advanced but none of these seem completely satisfactory. One theory suggests that it was used as a ship's bell but to my mind the bell is too large for such service. Another declares that the bell belonged to the Cistercian Abbey of Cupar (in Angus) which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, (Mary enthroned: hence Maria Troon) and that it was gifted by the Abbey to the Church of Kettins, the last surviving of six subordinate chapels of the Abbey, about the time of the Reformation. Again in the turmoil of the Reformation it may have been removed from Cupar Abbey and hidden away for safety at Baldinnie, which was Abbey property. This latter theory gives some credit to the story of Ramsay's discovery of the bell in the bog, but as has been shown above, the bell was in position on the Church before the presumed date of the find.
The most likely explanation of the presence of the bell in Scotland is that it was taken amongst other loot by the Dutch soldiers who in 1578 attacked and destroyed the Abbey of Maria Troon at Grobendonck, near Antwerp, and sold by them to English or Scottish traders. It may have fallen into the hands of the Hallyburton family, noted Scottish merchants of Dundee, who had a residence at Pitcur in the parish of Kettins and presented by or bought of them for the Church of Kettins.
At all events it is in a state of excellent preservation and when in use, summoned worshippers to the church, "with as clear a voice as if it had left the foundry but yesterday."