When Stella Simmons comes to the Devonshire village of Burracombe to start her teaching career, she is alone in the world. Orphaned as child and brought up in a children's home, she was separated from her sister Muriel and has never been able to trace her.
Stella is soon caught up in the life of the village, and especially in the plans for celebrating the Festival of Britain. As headmistress Miss Kemp and vicar Basil Harvey try to keep the peace between villagers who all have their own ideas for the proposed pageant and fair, Stella tries, with the help of artist Luke Ferris, to find her sister.
But Luke has his own troubles - notably the relationship he once had with Val Tozer, daughter of a local farmer. Val, in turn, is concerned for her friend Hilary Napier, daughter of the local Squire, who has a difficult decision to make.
The Bells of Burracombe begins the story of life in a Devonshire village in the 1950s and shows us a picture of Britain coming to terms with the aftermath of the Second World War and entering a new decade.