A DELICATE operation to remove Romsey Abbey's eight bells went without a clanger being dropped.

A specialist team from Oxford-based Whites of Appleton removed the bells during Monday and Tuesday under the watchful eye of the region's media and intrigued parishioners.

The heaviest bell, the 24-hundredweight tenor, took some 17 minutes to reach the ground from the time it came out of the bell-ringing chamber hatch to the 106-foot drop below.

All the bells -five of them date back to 1791 - will be loaded onto a truck and taken to Oxford for servicing in a couple of weeks' time. And the bell-frame will be taken down and restored or replaced if it's in a bad state.

The work is part of a £170,000 repair project and while the bells and the bell-frame are being overhauled, the abbey clock's familiar chimes will be silenced.

Site foreman, Ken Crouch, from R Moulding Ltd, said on Tuesday: "Altogether, it's going to take about two weeks to release the bells and the bell-frame. If the bell clappers, bearings and pivots need attention, Whites will do the work.

"We took six hours to get three bells down yesterday and we may possibly get the rest down today. It's a very delicate and specialist operation. Removing the bell-frame is going to be a big job. It will be lowered and cleaned and put on view in the abbey before it's repaired."

The last time the bells were removed from Romsey Abbey was in 1932, when three were recast.

Mr Crouch, a qualified ecclesiastical joiner by trade, added: "Whites men are getting the bells down by hand, using a chain block and a winch. It's a the traditional and only way.

"The bells are hanging on pivots and wheels in an octagonal frame. It was a difficult operation to set up. I am overseeing the whole thing. Church services still have to keep going. When there's a funeral or a wedding, we have to close down our operations and set up again afterwards."

Bell captain, Martin Daniels, said the work was progressing well. "It's been an exciting operation and all going to plan. It's interesting seeing the bells down on the floor.

"A lot of parishioners have turned up to have a look. All precautions have been taken to protect the church while the work is done. It's the first time in living memory that anyone has seen the church bells come down through the tower.

"Six workmen are up in the tower and two down on the floor overseeing the bells being taken down. The bells are magnificent and this work should make them easier to ring."

Cash to do the work has been netted through grants, concerts in the abbey, donations and bequests. Romsey-based Hampshire Brewery launched a special beer - Wobbly Frame - in a bid to boost the Bell Tower Appeal fund.

If all goes well, the bells should be re-hung and ringing out across Romsey again during July or August.