And so it came to pass at length that Great Tom of Lincoln, and Great Tom of York, and Great Tom of Christchurch, and Great Tom of Kentsham, were all founded at the same time, and all embarked on board the same vessel, and carried safely to the shore of dear old England. Then they set about landing them, and this was anxious work, but little by little it was done, and Tom of Lincoln, Tom of York, Tom of Christchurch, were safely laid on English ground.
And then came the turn of Tom of Kentsham, which was the greatest Tom of all. Little by little they raised him, and prepared to draw him to the shore; but just in the midst of the work the captain grew so anxious and excited that he swore an oath. That very moment the ropes which held the bell snapped in two, and Great Tom of Kentsham slid over the ship's side into the water, and rolled away to the bottom of the sea.
Then the people went to the cunning man and asked him what they should do. And he said, "Take six yoke of white milch-kine, which have never borne the yoke, and take fresh withy bands which have never been used before, and let no man speak a word either good or bad till the bell is at the top of the hill."
So they took six yoke of white milch-kine, which had never borne the yoke, and harnessed them with fresh withy-bands which had never been used, and bound these to the bell as it lay in the shallow water, and long it was ere they could move it. But still the kine struggled and pulled, and the withy-bands held firm, and at last the bell was on dry ground. Slowly, slowly they drew it up the hill, moaning and groaning with unearthly sounds as it went; slowly, slowly, and no one spoke, and they nearly reached the top of the hill.
Now the captain had been wild with grief when he saw that he had caused his precious freight to be lost in the waters just as they had reached the shore; and, when he beheld it recovered again and so nearly placed in safety, he could not contain his joy, but sang out merrily:
In spite of all the devils in hellInstantly the withy bands broke in the midst, and the bell bounded back again down the sloping hillside, rolling over and over, faster and faster, with unearthly clanging, till it sank far away in the very depths of the sea. And no man has ever seen it since, but many have heard it tolling beneath the waves, and if you go there you may hear it too.
We have got to land old Kentsham Bell.
The bells were cast; the bells were blessed; and the bells were shipped for Forrabury. Few voyages were more favourable; and the ship glided, with a fair wind, along the northern shores of Cornwall, waiting for the tide to carry her safely into the harbour of Bottreaux.
The vesper bells rang out at Tintagel; and the pilot, when he heard the blessed sound, devoutly crossed himself, and bending his knee, thanked God for the safe and quick voyage which they had made.
The captain laughed at the superstition of the pilot, as he called it, and swore that they had only to thank themselves for the speedy voyage, and that, with his arm at the helm, and his judgment to guide them, they should soon have a happy landing. The pilot checked this profane speech; but the wicked captain -- and he swore more impiously than ever that all was due to himself and his men -- laughed to scorn the pilot's prayer.
"May God forgive you!" was the pilot's reply.
Those who are familiar with the northern shores of Cornwall will know that sometimes a huge wave, generated by some mysterious power in the wide Atlantic, will roll on, overpowering everything by its weight and force.
While yet the captain's oaths were heard, and while the inhabitants on the shore were looking out from the cliffs, expecting, within an hour, to see the vessel, charged with their bells, safe in their harbour, one of these vast swellings of the ocean was seen. Onward came the grand billow in all the terror of its might. The ship rose not upon the waters as it came onward. She was overwhelmed, and sank in an instant close to the land.
As the vessel sank, the bells were heard tolling with a muffled sound, as if ringing the death-knell of the ship and sailors, of whom the good pilot alone escaped with life.
When storms are coming, and only then, the bells of Forrabury, with their dull, muffled sound, are heard from, beneath the heaving sea, a warning to the wicked; and the tower has remained to this day silent.
It is still the belief of the good folk of Bosham that though the bell is deep down in the water, it has not lost its power of resonance, and that whenever a sturdy peal is rung out from the church tower, the lost tenor chimes in with her sister bells, and those standing at the brink of the "Bell Hole " can distinctly hear the whole octave peal.
As a fitting conclusion to this we are told that he who dares, on Halloween, to spend some time on the rock, and call his sweetheart's name, will hear it echoed by the breeze, accompanied with the ringing of marriage bells from the sunken chime.
Under the cliffs at Whitby, when the great tides landward flow,
Under the cliffs at Whitby, when the great winds landward blow,
When the long billows heavily roll o'er the harbour bar,
And the blue waves flash to silver 'mid the seaweeds on the Scar,
When the low thunder of the surf calls down the hollow shore,
And 'mid the caves at Kettleness the baffled breakers roar;
Under the cliffs at Whitby, whoso will stand alone,
Where, in the shadow of the Nab, the eddies swirl and moan,
When, to the pulses of the deep, the flood-tide rising swells,
Will hear, amid its monotone, the clash of hidden bells.
Up from the heart of ocean the mellow music peals,
Where the sunlight makes his golden path, and the sea-mew flits and wheels.
For many a chequered century, untired by flying time,
The bells, no human fingers touch, have rung their hidden chime,
Since the gallant ship that brought them, for the abbey on the height,
Struck and foundered in the offing, with her sacred goal in sight.
And the man who dares on Hallowe'en on the Black Nab to watch,
Till the rose-light on St. Hilda's shrine the midnight moonbeams catch,
And calls his sweetheart by her name, as, o'er the sleeping seas,
The echo of the buried bells comes floating on the breeze,
'Ere another moon on Hallowe'en her eerie rays has shed,
Will hear his wedding peal ring out from the church-tower on the Head.
Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.
Revised February 23, 2013.