Stockbridge church bell silenced after complaints

Dr James Simpson of the St Stephen's Playfair Trust believes the sound of the clock is important in the community and says it should be started once more. Picture: PHIL WILKINSON
Dr James Simpson of the St Stephen's Playfair Trust believes the sound of the clock is important in the community and says it should be started once more. Picture: PHIL WILKINSON
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IT has chimed every hour for nearly 190 years – but now one of the Capital’s most historic church bells has been silenced amid complaints it was too loud.

The 186-year-old St Stephen’s Church bell in Stockbridge has been temporarily stopped from ringing by environmental health officers after four objections were made over decibel levels at night.

It is believed to be the first time since St Stephen’s was built in 1828 that the bell has been deliberately muted, with furious locals blasting the “jobsworth” decision and accusing city leaders of breaching the spirit of noise control regulations.

The row comes just weeks after the church was bought by video games “godfather” Leslie Benzies, boss of Grand Theft Auto firm Rockstar North, in a deal thought to be well in excess of £500,000.

Leaders at the Benzies Foundation, which was founded by the entrepreneur, said the bell and clock stopped working during purchase negotiations and were repaired prior to settlement.

But the bell has once again been silenced after a series of complaints – thought to have come from residents who are new to the area and not accustomed to it chiming throughout the night.

Dr James Simpson, of the St Stephen’s Playfair Trust, which filed a bid for the church but is now set to be wound up following Mr Benzies’ deal, has slammed the move.

He said: “I wish to object to the stopping of the St Stephen’s clock under environmental health regulations. This is not what these regulations were designed to achieve.

“The clock is, even today, a service to the community.

“The sound of the clock is a much valued part of the local environment and has been since 1828.”

He added: “The same argument could, of course, be brought against Big Ben and against cathedral and church bells and town clocks all over the country. I trust that this complaint will be firmly rejected and the clock re-started very soon.”

Designed by “Athens of the North” architect William Henry Playfair, St Stephen’s has been hailed as one of the most important Georgian buildings in the New Town.

The church, which includes a 160ft tower, the longest clock pendulum in Europe and a terrace boasting spectacular views across the Lothians and Fife, is divided into three levels, including an 800-capacity venue suitable for live music, dance and theatre.

It has effectively been run as a local community centre for the past two decades, but its use has declined in recent years.

Mr Benzies’ purchase has been described by his representatives as “entirely philanthropic” and aimed at preserving the building for community use.

The Benzies Foundation also stressed it was not involved in any decision to silence the bell.

Spokesman Philip Johnston said: “During the process of acquiring the church, we were made aware that the clock and bell had stopped working.

“Prior to the deal completing the clock had started working again and continues to work. However, in recent days, the bell has been turned off.

“As the existing owners of the centre, we have had no communication from the council regarding these matters. The Benzies Foundation has had no input into turning off the clock bell.”

City council environment officers said they had decided to mute the bell for the time being so a solution could be found to any disturbance caused.

A spokeswoman said: “The bell has been temporarily silenced so that we can investigate concerns about noise.”