For more than 150 years the bells at St Bartholomew's Church in Westhoughton have sounded at times of joy and sadness and remembrance as the tradition is kept alive by Westhoughton Tower Bellringers.

Their history and work is showcased in a new exhibition which has opened at Bolton Museum.

The ‘Why We Ring’ exhibition has been put together by photographer Marge Bradshaw.

Westhoughton is determined to hold on to the art of bellringing as is slowly fades in other areas of the country.

The exhibition charts the history of bellringing and also reveals spaces inside St Bartholomew’s Church that are never usually seen by the public.

Marge said: “I am a portrait and social documentary photographer, so I do a lot of social documentary work with communities to share stories that we usually don’t hear about.

The Bolton News: The exhibition spaceThe exhibition space (Image: NQ)“And I live in Westhoughton, I moved here about 10 years ago and every Tuesday night I hear the bellringers, I can see the tower from my house, and I just thought it would be interesting to find out who these people are, why they do it and I like preserving history.

“Over a period in 2022 and 2023 I went down to the tower; got to know the bellringers and I took my cameras down to document exactly what life in the tower is like.

“In the exhibition space there are three sections.

"The first one is about what is change ringing so what is the type of bell ringing they do in Westhoughton, the second section is about the camaraderie and community, and the third section is all about the behind the scenes at the tower.

“On one of the walls there are eight portrait images of some of the bellringers from Westhoughton.

“There is an important message with the exhibition that the tower does need investment, you can see on the images the state that it is in so anyone who comes to the exhibition will see a QR code that they can use to donate to the tower to support that fund, so it is kept to a good standard.

“This exhibition isn’t about me, this isn’t about my work, this is about the bellringers and as much as it is lovely for my work to be on display in the community where it was made, it is more joyful to see the bellringers’ reactions and for them to share their stories.”

Ryan Battersby, Tower Captain at St Bartholomew’s Church said: “I think the exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to highlight bellringing, and it is also a fantastic opportunity for us to work with Marge to show the positives of bellringing that takes place up and down the country.

“Through Marge’s wonderful work she has put together a story that records in history as current custodians of the town.

The Bolton News: Imogen Robb-Leigh, 12, and Ryan BattersbyImogen Robb-Leigh, 12, and Ryan Battersby (Image: NQ)“It is important that people learn of the history because at one time or another it might not be here anymore, and we have got archives going back 150 years and nothing added to those in recent times so it’s an up-to-date record thanks to Marge of our life in the tower in the 21st century.”

Deputy Mayor of Westhoughton, Cllr Neil Maher, spoke to the Bolton News at the special opening event of the exhibition, he said: “I think the exhibition is great, I feel really proud of it because I represent Westhoughton, but this represents Westhoughton as well because it is part of our social history.

“The fact that we can have bellringing in the town when many towns don’t have that, and it has such a history, and this exhibition shows the history and the passion that is involved.

“I am a fan of social history, but I think it is important people understand the history, particularly the local history because it can get glossed over.

“Having an exhibition like this shows the detail, I’ve never been in the tower but looking at those pictures I’ve seen something I’ve never seen before.”

Imogen Robb-Leigh, 12, a pupil at Canon Slade School, spoke at the opening of the exhibition sharing what bellringing means to her.

She said: “I have been bellringing for two years and started hearing the bells ring on a Sunday morning.

“Bellringing makes me happy and confident; it makes me step outside of my comfort zone by learning new things every time I go up in the tower.

“I enjoy helping out in the community and bellringing let’s me do this, I have made some great friends, and we often get together for our tower socials I would tell anybody to take up bellringing, it is a great way to meet new people.”

Not only is the exhibition being displayed but the portrait of Nathan from the Westhoughton Tower Bellringers and the Why We Ring series has been shortlisted for The British Journal of Photography Portrait of Britain volume 6.

The photograph will be one of 200 published in the sixth edition of the Portrait of Britain book published by Bluecoat Press and sponsored by JCDecaux.

The ‘Why We Ring’ exhibition will be showcased in Bolton Museum until March 3.

To see a wider selection of the photographs that are not on display, go to:  

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