Old Bells and an Old Frame

We had for some time been concerned about the state of our bell frame. The two tier frame, made of wood, has been commented upon by several bell founders over the years as a poorly designed frame with significant weaknesses. We were starting to think we needed to do something about it as it was moving and stressing the 14th century  Grade II* listed Church tower and making it difficult to ring the bells. This led us to conclude that at the very least we needed to replace the frame, ideally on a single level to aid maintenance and safe access. However the bells were too large for their weight to be re-hung in a new, single level frame. In addition reports from all the bell founders who had examined them indicated very clearly that each bell was neither in tune with itself nor each other. This led to a realisation that to continue change-ringing in Richmond we must install a new peal of bells in a purpose-made single storey frame.  This would provide a high quality, tuned musical instrument for the benefit of the people of Richmond now and into the next century.

However some of the bells are quite old, the oldest being made by Seliok of Nottingham in around 1499/1500, three cast by Samuel Smith of York in 1697 and one by Sellers of York in 1739. We needed to find a way of keeping these bells at the same time as installing a new set of bells.

In addition to the five historic bells our heritage included papers and artefacts in the tower dating from the early 1800s to the present day which we wanted to catalogue, interpret and conserve. We also needed to build awareness of the heritage activity of bell ringing and its importance in the life of communities both to ensure it was not lost and to create new ringers for the future.


The First Meeting

The project started in June 2013 with a meeting of the bell ringers of St Mary's Richmond to consider reports on the condition of the bells and frame and to make recommendations to the PCC on how best to proceed.

Following a lot of discussion it was agreed that, given the reports from the bell hangers and founders, we would embark upon a project to replace our bells with a new set on a single level in a new frame. This would ensure that the tower was not unduly stressed and maintenance and access to the bells and fittings would be considerably improved. The resulting improved ease of ringing would also allow us to greatly expand our training of new ringers of all ages.

At this first meeting the idea of hanging the old bells above the new bells and accessible to interested members of the public with the stamina to climb the tower and look at them was formed. This idea resulted in a successful application to the Heritage Lottery Fund to ensure that all of the heritage surrounding the bells, including books, peal boards, and the lives of past ringers could be researched and presented for viewing.


Subsequent Activities

After several other meetings and some initial discussions with bell founders and hangers the cost was estimated to be around £160,000, ex VAT, and after some discussion in the PCC the parish agreed that the project could go ahead - so long as the ringers raised the money!

We then engaged in a period of fundraising with many events and activities. We obtained many grants and donations, both small and large, from a variety of public and private donors. The ringers raised large sums themselves including around £10,000 through a sponsored ride; cycling from Richmond Surrey to Richmond North Yorkshire ringing at many churches on the way.

The Yorkshire Association Bell Fund had also allocated us a substantial grant from the Colin Ashworth memorial bell fund of £10,000 towards a bell and a further £11,000 towards the general work required to finish the project. The Local Authority Community Fund donated a sum to provide us with an excellent, modern, sound proofing system, operated from the ringing chamber by the touch of a button, giving us the ability to host many more events at Richmond Tower.

 

Heritage and Bell ringing in Richmond North Yorkshire


The project has benefited with a large grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for some aspects of its work (click the icon for more details of our application to HLF). In particular the Heritage Lottery Fund has enabled us to preserve the five ancient bells.

 

The grant has enabled us to provide a viewing platform in the Tower of St Mary's from which to appreciate the ancient bells close up, see the new bells in action and gain an understanding of the process of carrying out our project including the workshops we are holding in local schools, and the outcomes of the history group who have been studying the records and gathering memories from people in Richmond on anything related to the bells and bellringing in Richmond.

 

Our project aims to preserve and safeguard the physical heritage of Richmond’s five historically significant bells (1500-1739), promote the cultural heritage of bells and bellringing, and make a lasting difference to community engagement with the heritage of bells and bellringing. Our project seeks to

  • Conserve, and rehang five bells of historic significance (ca. 1500 to 1739) in a permanent exhibition sited in the 14th century tower, that will be unique in England. It is designed to attract tourists and ringers nationally; to bring visitors to the grade II* listed church as part of Richmond’s heritage offerings and to help beginner ringers understand the heritage of bellringing.
  • Create better access to heritage using modern media including webcams and monitors, creating film and sound recordings to highlight the role of bells in the soundscape of modern 
  • Richmond, cataloguing, storing and indexing historic artefacts, papers and photographs in the tower, creating a digital archive.
  • Involve the public in learning about heritage through: school workshops ;public lectures and demonstrations; researching written and oral sources; open days and two temporary exhibitions. 
  • Increase the numbers and skill levels of bellringers in Richmond and the Upper Dales 

After the fund raising comes what we are actually doing!

School Workshops

We are running workshops on the heritage of Richmond bells and bellringing with Richmond School, Richmond CofE primary school and with Richmond Methodist primary school. We are also extending our workshops to Moorside Infant and Junior Schools in Ripon. The workshops will be managed and led by Ele Slade who has recruited 3 other experienced workshop facilitators. Bellringers will be asked to support the facilitators in understanding ringing prior to them planning the workshops. The workshops are planned for July 2017.

Workshops will have four underpinning themes:

  • Bells and their Buildings (subject links: art, design, drama)
  • Bells in Society ( subject links: English, history, writing and speaking)
  • Scientific Ringing  (subject links: Mathematics, Dance & movement using the basis of Scientific ringing as an inspiration.
  • Bells as Musical Instruments (subject links: music, sound technology)

We shall produce support packs for teachers and design and mount temporary exhibitions of pupils’ work in The Station, schools, and Georgian Theatre Royal. 

Film and sound records of ‘Richmond Bells 2016’

Filming:

We shall generate various film footage for documentary and creative purposes. Several aspects of the project will be filmed including:

  • The old bells being rung
  • The removal of the old bells and the installation of the new
  • The Victorian bellfoundry in Loughborough and the manufacturing processes of casting, tuning, hanging, frame building and rope making
  • Phases and activities in the project e.g. workshops in schools, events and exhibitions, community engagement, oral history interviews.

We aim to produce a series of 30 second - 1 minute short films about all aspects of the project. The main purpose for these films is to be part of the online archive / learning resource, and to be used in exhibitions, though they may also be shared on social media and blogs. These would encompass subjects such as ‘ the rope making process in the foundry’, or ’the community engagement workshops’, ‘the belfry community’, ‘how a bell works’.

We shall also create an ‘art’ film of approximately 3 minutes that will be available on the website and for the permanent exhibition.

Sound Recording:

We aim to secure technically strong / accurate recordings, for documentation and demonstration purposes, of the old and new bells rung as a set of eight, individually, and in other arrangements. In particular we aim to create a lasting record of the old bells because they will never be rung together again. We will record the sound from a variety of locations and match these to films and photographs.

There are also many exciting sounds from the Foundry during the casting processes which we will record, with appropriate permissions from John Taylor bellfounders.

We aim to offer the 'raw material' produced to university and school staff and students to develop sound art that may be used in school workshops, in the physical exhibitions, and on our website /online exhibition of archival material and outputs. 

Exhibitions

We plan one permanent exhibition. This will be the installation of the ‘historic bells’ (dated ca.1500 to 1739) in the Bellchamber above the new ring of eight bells. It will include the installation of webcams to live-stream ringing on the new bells, and we hope also to have a computer-linked chiming apparatus on the new eight for which tunes may be composed by school students and others interested in composing for eight notes. These compositions may be sounded on the bells by arrangement.

The permanent installation will include interpretative boards. It will be publicly accessible (by arrangement). It will have links to secure on-line access so that visitors to the church can view it from a computer screen in the church or on the website.

We have temporary exhibitions planned for work arising from the school workshops and for the Richmondshire Museum in April 2018. They will incorporate materials from all project activities including the Local History workshops. 

Belfry open days, events to publicise ringing, ringer training.

We are providing a range of opportunities to enable non-ringers and ringers to engage with Richmond bells (old and new), to learn to ring, learn about ringing, and improve their ringing. Specific provisions are to:

  • Run 4 ‘Introduction to Ringing’ open days; use the ‘Wombell’ (or similar) twice for public to ‘try-out’ ringing
  • Contribute bellringing themes to young peoples’ church services (2 per year)
  • Create and distribute information on how people can participate in the project, or learn to ring.
  • Ring at least 4 quarter peals annually and publicise (Parish Magazine, Ringing World, local press?)
  • Host at least 1 Ringing Association day after the installation of the permanent exhibition to enable ringers across Yorkshire to visit
  • Invite learner ringers from nearby bands
  • Provide 12 specialised training days for new learners
  • Increase the number of available opportunities for visiting ringers to use the bells
  • Facilitate extended ringing for ringers to gain greater skill levels at recognised ‘performance’ levels such as peals and quarter peals.

In addition, because we intend that the permanent exhibition should be a significant (though always small) addition to St Mary’s and Richmond’s tourist attractions, we have planned to train church volunteer guides to interpret and demonstrate the historic bells exhibition.

Community outreach

  • Station and Civic Society talks.
  • Other talks as additional ‘extras’
  • 2 Visits to Loughborough bell foundry to view the casting of our new bells

 

Local History workshops

The Local History workshops will build on our existing artefacts and archive and encourage new research into Richmond bellringers and bellringing. Activities and objectives include:

  • Helping to secure the archive of materials related to Richmond ringing. 
  • Extending our knowledge of the people who rang at Richmond and their links to the town and community 
  • Undertaking oral history research 
  • Writing short articles for a range of different audiences
  • Recording and investigating history of bells and bellringing in St Mary's Church and Richmond more generally

 

The 17th century was a period of great expansion in bellringing and Richmond appears to be part of that growth. Our ancient bells were augmented to five by Samuel Smith of York in 1697 and our ringers of that time may well have looked like those in the woodcut below. Our research starts from the 17th century expansion in bellringing and goes through to the present day.

Photo: The Stapleton Collection/The Bridgeman Art Library

The mathematically exact art of English bell ringing was born when Richard Duckworth had a new bell-frame fitted in the church tower at St Martin Carfax, Oxford, in 1676. Duckworth was the author of Tintinnalogia, or, The Art of Ringing, published in 1668, the authorship of which is sometimes mistakenly attributed to its publisher, Fabian Stedman. 

William T. Cook, Librarian of the central Council of Church Bell Ringers states in his introduction to the facsimile of the first edition of Campanologia in 1677 published by Christopher Groome in 1990, that 'there is no doubt that Campanologia was written by Fabian Stedman'.

As Cook states in his introduction to the facsimile edition of 1990: 'a comparison of Campanologia with the Tintinnalogia of 1668 shows that rapid advances were being made in the art of change ringing, some of them due, as Stedman points out, to improvements in the hanging and fittings of the bells themselves ... The variety and complexity of methods too had greatly increased'.

Stedman's name is attached to a method of permuting the bells to produce all 120 different changes on five bells. This method, or to give it a modern label, principle, was rung in the late 17th century and published in Campanologia in 1677. The method of obtaining the full extent of 120 changes is different from that used today. In Campanologia Stedman uses two extremes to obtain the 120. An extreme is made by the bell making thirds before the last whole turn to make four blows in thirds, the two at the back dodging until they can go into the slow work. The frontispiece of Campanologia states:

 Campanologia

or the 

A r t 

of

R i n g i n g 

Improved

 With plain and easie Rules to

guide the Practitioner in the

Ringing all kinds of Changes.

 To

Which is added, great variety of

NEW PEALS

 LONDON

Printed by W. Godbid, for W.S. and are to

be sold by Langley Curtis in Goat-Court

on Ludgate-Hill. 1677.

As stated above bell ringing advanced as the technology of bell hanging advanced. In bringing to Richmond the very latest in bell hanging technology we aim to provide the platform for many more years of the successful practice of the art and science of bell ringing. Our local history group is researching the history of bell ringing in the town and their finding and writings will be available on this site as the project progresses.