A HISTORIC church is set to join an elite group, as its bells undergo a major restoration project.

The bells at St Mary’s Church in Hitchin were removed last week, and will be restored as part of a �120,000 project.

Donations have come in the form of grants, reserves and donations, with plans to donate one bell to the town to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

The number of operational bells in the tower will increase from 10 to 12, and St Mary’s will become the only church in Herts with that many. St Albans Cathedral is the only other place in the county that matches it.

“To have a ring of 12 is quite a big thing, it doesn’t happen very often,” said tower captain David Kemp.

“The main reason for doing this is to create a ring which is made easier for new bell ringers for generations to come.

“We rang bells for the Queen’s visit, so it will remember her visit to the town.”

It took those involved in the project a week to remove the bells and framework. They were taken to the foundry on Tuesday, but the new bells have already been made.

It is hoped they will be in place by Easter, although that does mean there will be no ringing over Christmas.

“It’s just a sacrifice that has to be made,” said David.

“It has to be done some time. If it’s not Christmas, it would be the summer, our wedding season, when we ring for a lot of weddings. Something gets affected.”

Donations to fund the project are still being welcomed.

They can be made by cheque, payable to St Mary’s Hitchin District Church Council, and dropped in at Church House. Alternatively, email kemp_david@live.co.uk