Church bellringer pulls the rope once again – from her doorstep

Betty Sutton can’t get to church anymore to ring the bell for Sunday services at St Peter’s, so the bronze bell that’s usually cradled high up on its Bow St wall this week came to her – by tractor.   

And while the recently refurbished bell may’ve looked a little different, it had a familiar ring to it.

Betty knows its exact sound because she’s pulled the rope that rings the bell for the past 30-odd years, and she got to do it again last Monday simply by stepping out the door of her John St home.

After several hard pulls on the rope – the bell dangling from the front forks of a tractor which fellow parishioner Peter Williams had driven around from his Raglan Engineering workshop – Betty  declared her lengthy labour of love “done”.

The 100-year-old bell will be reinstalled in its steel carrier just as soon as earthquake-  strengthening work at the Anglican Church is complete.    

Parishioners had arranged the small neighbourhood gathering this week specially to honour Betty, their chief bell-ringer and a “stalwart of the church”, who is not in good health.

The octogenarian has lived in Raglan since arriving from Delhi, India, as a 13 year old with her parents and four siblings. The family settled in Point St, where she remained for 51 years.

Betty has had a long affiliation with St Peter’s. It’s where she was both confirmed and married, and also where she had her own five children – all born at the local maternity hospital – in turn baptised.

As well as becoming the town’s first postie – cycling the often hilly, gravel roads – she’s worked at the bakers, the pub and the hospital over the years.

“I knew everybody back then,” Betty reckons. “You didn’t have to say who you were.”

And she remembers how the church bell’s rope used to be on the outside of the building. But the temptation to pull that rope and set the bell pealing was too much for New Year’s Eve revellers, she laughs, so it got shifted inside the church.

Betty also recalls how she rang the bell one Saturday, showing it off to visitors, but everyone in town thought it was a tsunami warning so she never did that again.

Edith Symes