The theft of an historic bell, stolen this week from St Brides Anglican church in Otorohanga, has stunned the Rev Christine Scott.

"I'm absolutely devastated," she told NZPA today.

Police theorise the 150kg bell, thought to be made of brass and hanging at the entrance of the church for about 50 years, was stolen for scrap.

All the church now has is the bell's brass clapper which was under lock and key.

The clapper was only installed and used when the bell was rung because members of the congregation were worried it might be pinched.

"We never thought the bell itself would be stolen," Rev Scott said.

The "Pembroke Bell" was donated to the church in 1960 in memory of a local parishioner.

It hung just above head level on the outside of the church and was clearly visible from the street.

Rev Scott spotted its disappearance yesterday morning. It had last chimed out on Sunday.

The bell was apparently cast originally for HMS Pembroke, a 60-gun ship of the Royal Navy, launched in 1694.

The ship was sold to Spain in 1714 and sank five years later.

The bell would have been retained by England before the ship's sale but Rev Scott said she was uncertain of its history between then and its arrival in New Zealand about 1960.

Otorohanga police constable Brian Higgins said today it would cost at least $5000 to replace the bell.

He added he hoped the theft of the bell would be widely reported so anyone approached by the thieves trying to sell it for scrap would alert police.

"Given the historic significance of the bell and its value to the wider Otorohanga community we are very keen for information leading to its recovery."