GREAT TOM of Kentsham was the greatest bell ever brought to England, but it never reached Kentsham safely, nor hung in any English tower. Where Kentsham is I cannot tell you, but long, long ago the good folk of the place determined to have a larger and finer bell in their steeple than any other parish could boast. At that time there was a famous bell-foundry abroad, where all the greatest bells were cast, and thither too sent many others who wanted greater bells than could be cast in England. 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 Torn 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 be 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 hell,
We have got to land old Kentsham Bell."
Instantly 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.
1 Folk-Lore Journal vol. ii. p. 20.