Famous Bell Tower could become flats

The Bell Tower in Brackley has been sold.'110414M-C317
The Bell Tower in Brackley has been sold.'110414M-C317

A LANDMARK building at the heart of Brackley has been sold.

Over the last few weeks a sold banner has appeared on the hoarding advertising the Bell Tower in High Street.

Although the purchaser was unavailable to comment on the building’s future planning permission to convert it into 14 flats was granted by South Northants Council in 2009.

The building is known locally by a new testament inscription above the doorway – Feed my Lambs – and began its life in 1871 as a Church of England School designed by Shropshire architect Charles Bather.

John Clarke, professor of history at the University of Buckingham said many people in their 50s or older will remember the Bell Tower as a school.

He attended the school himself as a boy, as did his father, and his mother, who studied there and went on to teach at the school.

Mr Clarke said: “I do have strong feelings about it, apart from anything else it is one of the most distinctive buildings in Brackley and really the whole character of the High Street would be very different if it wasn’t there.”

The school was originally divided into a boys and girls school under one roof and was initially under the control of the charismatic Reverend Francis Thicknesse.

Mr Clarke said national legislation in the 1870s that opened the door to non-denominational schools paved the way for the school being built.

He said that at the time the Methodist Church was prominent in the town and the school as an effort to reassert the presence of the CofE.

Mr Clarke said: “Thicknesse was very close to the Lord of the Manor, Earl of Ellesmere and they were trying to turn Brackley into a model community in which the church and the Lord of the Manor were very much in charge.

“Ellesmere had a huge fortune from coal mining and canals in the north, which he’d recently come into and perhaps decided Manchester was a bit too squalid for him.”

He added: “The other thing which is interesting about the school is the way it was designed to be rather impressive, arguably unnecessarily so. There had been a kind of rivalry at the time.

“The church of England had been at a low ebb, with all the running being made by the Methodists, and I think there is no doubt Thicknesse and Ellesmere were thinking about trumping the Methodists with a really extravagant building.