Stimulating interest in bells and bellringing:

Community engagement and first hand experiences

Alongside retaining the heritage of bellringing at St Mary’s Richmond, the Heritage Lottery funded project sought to stimulate interest in bells and bell ringing in the community, provide increased opportunity for community engagement with bellringing activities, and engage members of the public through first hand experiences.

Ringers and non-ringers combined to research and archive the tower’s history, and engage the public though mounting exhibitions and hosting events. A team of professional performancemakers and creative facilitators delivered workshops based on the ancient art of church bellringing to people of all ages, in particular to school groups. The practitioners worked first with the ringing community, to learn about the town, the bells and bellringing, and to devise the school workshops.

images of community & practitioners working

Schools Workshops

Bells have had a place in community life for centuries, so we wanted to explore what bells mean to society today, and what contribution they can make to the lives and learning of young people.

Over 11 days four professional practitioners worked with 688 students from four schools, and created a temporary exhibition of student work.

image of the exhibition

The broad focus of each school workshop centred on an aspect of bells and their heritage as a stimulus to promote learning and social development through the mediums of spatial and visual design, spoken word, writing, sound, and movement.

The workshop team engaged students with four heritage themes, each explored through a creative medium:

Bells and their Buildings: Space, atmosphere, materials Led by performance designer and researcher Ele Slade, these workshops used images and films of the tower and bells as impulses for visual and spatial design.

Bells in Society: The social and cultural heritage of bellringing Led by writer, director and dramaturg Stewart Melton, these workshops incorporated old documents from the tower, parish and town as stimulus material for text and spoken word performance.

Scientific Bellringing: The traditional art of English bellringing Led by dancer and choreographer Rachel Drazek, these workshops explored method ringing and bell movements as impulse for solo and group choreography and movement.

Bells as Musical Instruments: Musicality, sound and shape Led by sound designer Bob Birch, these workshops used recordings of the bells to create sound designs using digital and physical instruments.

The film/photography and audio elements of the HLF project provided stimulus material for the workshops

images of some photos used

Year 3 at the Church of England Primary School (now Trinity Academy) explored sound and design together, creating an atmospheric soundscape inspired by the materials, texture and atmosphere of bells and their buildings.

sound recording embedded

All students at the Methodist Primary school took part in workshops, with older age groups exploring subjects using cross-disciplinary processes. Ele & Stewart’s groups created 3D ‘landscape poetry’ through analysing images of specific places and objects in the bell tower, and exploring their visual and textural properties and imagined atmospheres. The students developed responses through creative word play, making concrete poetry, and finally they developed their piece into a design for a 3D, life sized performance area.

images of work from the exhibition quotes from students, parents and teachers

At Moorside Primary school in Ripon, pupils worked with Bob and Ele to improvise soundscapes live. They explored the atmosphere of the bell chamber through images, translating that into creating soundscapes. A student live-directs their peers to play Wii remotes loaded with distorted field recordings, made by Bob, of Richmond’s old bells.

embedded sound

Year 5 pupils improvise using Wii remotes, a dancemat and a keyboard with distorted field recordings of the old bells.

embedded sound

George Fest

Celebrating Richmond’s Georgian heritage, the yearly George Fest welcomes visitors and locals to free events. For George Fest 2017, the Richmond Bells Project opened the tower to the public for tours, and our creative practitioners ran drop-in workshops for all ages, to introduce visitors to aspects of bellringing.

Stewart Melton welcomed members of the public to co-create an installation of collaborative poems, featuring language of bellringing and language gleaned from personal stories written by local bellringers. Text was cut up and adorned the pillars, walls and other features of the church’s Green Howard’s Chapel.


Ele Slade created a illustrated pamphlet as a guided tour of the tower and church ending on the roof overlooking Richmond. People were encouraged to explore the materials, textures and spaces of the Church and tower; to complete a poem, take stonework rubbings, and identify a texture or feature to photograph.


Rachel Drazek invited visitors to move physically and spatially as they communally ‘danced’ a bell ringing method.

Bob Birch, using a dance mat and Wii controllers, encouraged people to engage physically with sound design using recordings of the bells and creative adaptions of the bells ringing.

Bell Foundry Visits

Major local community events towards the start of the project included two John Taylor bell foundry visits in November and December 2016, during which we watched the casting of Richmond’s new bells. The casting processes were explained to visitors, and we were able to view the finishing processes close up after casting.

These were highly informative and evocative visits. The impact of the moment of casting for those assembled in the smoke and steam of the manufacturing process, the immediacy and vibrancy of the different processes, and the impact of the experiences of this day overall were reflected in the evaluative feedback provided by visitors.

Excerpts from feedback of ringers and non-ringing members of the local community and church:

“I found the bell foundry fascinating. I loved the building itself - its age and the ambience. It gave me a sense of permanence which seemed the right atmosphere in which to create bells which are in themselves such permanent structures. A place unchanging and uncontaminated with the modern world. Not so of course when we saw the use of computers to define the notes of the bells.”

“It was exciting to see the Richmond bell in the process of its construction and to see the molton metal poured into the mould. The men working in the foundry were timeless, and I was very reassured to find that there are people still wanting to pursue such a special and worthwhile craft.”


“Born and bred in Richmond I was raised at the lower end of Frenchgate, looking across to the church and the ringing bells have always been part of my life. Indeed, as a small boy I used to help the Verger, Aaron Morton to sweep out and clean the bell tower…. I was delighted when I was given the opportunity of seeing the casting of 2 new bells, thus creating a piece of Richmond history.”

“Having spent a few years in the steel industry the look and sounds of the foundry were exactly what I expected. The workers of various ages and skills carrying out their ageless tasks in creating the bell components in the different sections within the building was fascinating.”

“… a marvellous experience culminating when bells 3 and 5 were poured. The pure joy of that moment was deeply emotional and overwhelming. I cannot wait for the next stage of this once in a lifetime journey…”


“It was like going back in time - craftsmen using the same type of tools and methods for hundreds of years. Well nearly! Computers are now used! The largest bell ever made was by Taylor's. It took 11 days to reach St Pauls Cathedral. How long would it have taken to reach Richmond? Which way would it travel?”

“… I look forward to hearing the bells on a Tuesday evening and other occasions as have the people of Richmond in the past, present and now the future.”


Sights and sounds

The blue smoke and acrid smell in the foundry

The background rumble and roar of the furnace, heard everywhere

The mess in the foundry, heaps and drifts of black dust, dust covered bells, moulds, scrap metal, tools Figures quietly moving in the blue haze, not speaking, like actors playing well rehearsed roles, Dickensian figures in protective clothing carrying out age old procedures, faces illuminated by the glowing molten metal

New, burnished bells, waiting to leave the foundry and struck by us visitors including two and a half year old Sebastian

The different sounds made by bells of different metals

The rather tinkley sound of the ring of 12 bells in the little belfry Constant sound of bells in the background, mainly due to a carillion which seemed to chime every 15 mins

The beautiful woodwork of the wheels – more craftsmanship

The Victorian red brickwork of the buildings

The sight and sound of molten metal, quite volcanic in appearance, with a slaggy, wrinkled surface. A very unusual sight these days with the closure of so many metal works.

It cooled slowly, that surprised me.

Exhibitions and Events

Six temporary exhibitions in the church focussed on the bells, the history and heritage of bells and ringing at Richmond, the progress of the HLF project, the community engagement activities, and the school workshops.

The bells themselves were displayed in church enabling the local populace and church community to view them. The old eight were displayed following their removal, and once the five historic bells were refurbished and returned to the church they were displayed with the new balls prior to a service of dedication and rededication. An extensive exhibition was mounted in the Church for the dedication service on 25th April 2017.

In March 2018 a temporary exhibition relating to the bells was installed in the foyer of Richmondshire museum to introduce the new summer season. Drawing from the work undertaken to date and including the short promotional project film, this small exhibition linked the bells and bell ringers of the past to the museum foci.

Open days for people to visit the tower’s ringing and bell chambers enabled church members to see the progress of the dismantling and re-installation of the bells during the project, and to share key moments, for example to hear and see the ‘old’ bells on the final occasions on which they were rung prior to dismantling.

‘Try-out bellringing’ experiences for the local community involved using a mechanism that simulates the swinging action and ringing strokes of a tower bell (‘Wombell’), and a mini-ring of eight portable small bells hung in a frame for ringing. We installed the mini-ring in the Church over Richmond’s May 2017 weekend bank holiday celebrations of the Tour de France bicycle race, which left from Richmond Market and cycled past the church to its next staging post. A ringers’ flower display on the festival theme of Wheels within Wheels drew from our records and artefacts to celebrate and remember the Richmond ringers of World War I. Placed by the tower door, beneath the memorial bell to two WWI ringers killed in action, it featured a wheel from the 1904 augmentation, a bell rope, and a photograph of the ringers in 1904. With assistance from ringers and non-ringers Richmond ringer Glenys, built a themed display, drawing-on the dry-stone walling talents of her bellringing husband Graham!

The Local History Group provided public lectures, presentations and publications, to reinforce the centuries-old inter-relationship between bells, bellringers and bellringing in the life of Richmond town and its people.

Organisation Date Presentation Length Presenter
Richmond Rotary Club 23/08/2016 Richmond Bells 1 hour Peter Trewby
The Station Richmond 12/09/2016 The Art of Bellringing 2 hours Andrew Slade
Richmondshire Museum 18/07/2017

St Mary's bells

Ringing into the Future

1.5 hours

Elizabeth Foster

Graham Rogers

Sheila Harrison

Georgefest August 2016

Richmond's Georgian Bell (introductory piece to Jane Hatcher's presentation)

15 minutes   Peter Trewby
Georgefest August 2016

Richmond's Georgian Bell (introductory piece to Jane Hatcher's presentation)

15 minutes  Peter Trewby
North Yorkshire County Record Office February 2018  For whom the bells toll: the bells of St Mary's, Richmond - a social history 1650-1914  1.5 hours  Graham Rogers
Masham Local History Society March 2018  For whom the bells toll: the bells of St Mary's, Richmond - a social history 1650-1914  1.5 hours  Graham Rogers
Richmond Civic Society November 2019  For whom the bells toll: the bells of St Mary's, Richmond - a social history 1650-1914 1.5 hours   Graham Rogers

In addition to website and newspaper articles, two articles were published in The Ringing World, a weekly journal that is read by almost all active bellringers in the UK and USA:

•  One of our local history group members published his findings from our research. His papers are available on our website. He disseminated more widely in two presentations at North Yorkshire Record Office lunchtime talks; was published in two parts over a two week period commencing 1st. September 2017 in the national bellringing journal, ‘The Ringing World’. The editor was delighted to have such an article, which he finds to be rarely available and which he believes adds greatly to the interest value of the paper.

•  A third article published in The Ringing World describing the 1862 bell and its journey to its new home in Chemmalamatom, India.

A further paper by Graham Rogers is expected to be published in the national journal Local Historian. This paper has been submitted by the journal to independent referees for review and we currently await the outcome. This journal reaches a very wide audience of professional and amateur historians, libraries, local history societies both national and international.

Local History Group

Establish and run a history and heritage group; commence archiving and recording; extend the cultural heritage information base e.g undertake research (for example: research archives at Richmondshire Museum (RM), undertake oral history interviews with bellringers, catalogue and index historic artefacts, papers and photographs, produce a permanent archive); re-inforce the centuries old interrelationship between bells, bellringers and bellringing n the life of Richmond town and its people;

Richmond Bell Restoration Project’s Bells Local History group (LHG) was established in September 2016, meeting regularly until summer 2018. A regular membership of nine people was sustained through the year and additional people attended from time to time. The group met in the museum with the Museum Officer and a Richmond local historian, Jane Hatcher, (both in a volunteer capacity), from who provided valuable knowledge, advice and guidance, enabling work on the records to be conducted to professional museum standards, and offering insights and access to additional relevant records, including transcripts of Church records in the North Yorkshire County record Office (made, often, many years previously, by the Local Historian and a deceased colleague), together with advice on potential further sources.

Pleasingly and significantly, the bells Local History Group (LHG) and its leader (HLF Project Manager, Elizabeth Foster) provided new insights, knowledge, understanding and information to both of our experienced, professionals who were advising us. Neither the Museum Officer nor the local historian had much knowledge of the history of bells and ringing in Richmond, and both were able to inform their professional work and research as a consequence of working with us. As the local historian wrote in December 2016, following a period participating in our meetings from September to December: ‘The Project has provided amazing insight into an aspect of Richmond history completely new to me, and incredibly it has shown that the history of the bells reflects the history of the town generally over 600 years’. This comment reflects the fact that there was significant development of the bells in the late 1600s, increasing the number of ringing bells in the tower to 5, followed by a new 6th. bell in 1739, installed in a new bell frame designed to the latest model by James Harrison of Barton-on-Humber. The development of the bells and their hardware at this time facilitated much more complex ringing by the ringers (at a time in the 1600 and 1700s when bell ringing was increasing in popularity amongst the upper classes as an aristocratic ‘sport’) and would have significantly enhanced the quality and volume of sound spreading from the tower across the developing and increasingly prosperous Georgian town.

Across the two years, all of the documents, photographs, performance records and newspaper clippings in the ringing chamber along with other artefacts displayed on the ringing chamber walls, including large wooden peal boards, a wooden engraved headstock of 1862 and two wooden planks inscribed in 1739 to commemorate the installation of the new wooden frame by James Harrison of Barrow on Humber, were removed, checked for condition, conserved, accessioned, catalogued, re-displayed or wrapped and stored to museum standards. Some were in a perilous state and saved from irretrievable decay; most needed to be more effectively stored.

As no catalogue or other record of these many items had ever been produced, this work represented a very significant step in the effective management, condition, identification, recording and interpretation of records about bells and ringing in Richmond, enabling these to be shared and made available to people now and in the future. Prior to the project our artefacts were scattered, not shared, and we did not know how many items, photographs, documents or other records. we actually owned. Having catalogued them, we have identified 96 individual items dating from 1811 to 1992. The majority emanate from the late 1800s when a formal St Mary’s Society of Change Ringers was established and run through to the early to mid 20thC.

The archives and artefacts have been digitally recorded, in situ and otherwise, and are now available on the project website enabling them to be both known-about and accessed widely. Three oral interviews were recorded to collect memories from bellringers of the 1950s. In the future we aim to add to the records we have by collecting reminiscences from a current local ringer who was the Tower Captain during the period 1979 to 2007, and collating further records of the tower’s activities since that date. These will be undertaken after the project end.

The group has transcribed material relating to the bells and ringers and a range of wider source material including the Parish Magazines from 1883 to 1945; materials relating to the bells and ringers held in the Richmondshire museum, the NYCRO and Richmond Library; published books and journals, newspapers and other items. These have been collated, indexed, digitised, and made publicly accessible on the project website that was built entirely by a project volunteer. A volume of the above materials has been placed in the belfry library.

In addition all aspects of the project activity including sound and audio recordings of the old and new bells have been created and uploaded to the project website (

The project has identified artefacts and papers hitherto unknown to the current community. These include:

          • The ‘scrap-book’ of a previous ringer, Albert Morton, who was significant in the history of the growth of bellringing at Richmond in the period 1896 to 1946. This was identified and photographed for us by a member of the Local History group who lives in the Upper Dales and is a great- niece of Albert Morton’s.
          • The personal peal records of a previous Richmond bellringer and tower Captain, Doris Killingley, who rang at Richmond from the mid 1940’s to the 1980s, the sale of which was identified and made known to us by Jane Hatcher who had worked with the Local History group. This document was generously purchased for us by one of the bellringers, who had also been part of the Local History group, and who donated it to the tower as an addition to our documentary sources.
          • Two ‘lost’ grotesques carved at the interface of the north side of the tower with the ceiling of the sound chamber above the bell ringing chamber. In this position it has been hidden from view since at least 1894 when a ceiling was installed in the bellringing chamber (at the time of the Malllaby bellframe installation when a clock linkage mechanism was also across the ringing room) to divide the ringing room from a sound chamber between the bells and the ringing room. Consequently these medieval grotesques have not been known to the current local community. The carvings may predate the current tower which is noted by English Heritage in the church listing as having been built in 1399. The grotesques have been professionally photographed and disseminated to others. We have asked York Archaelogical group is assist us in dating these.

Findings of the Local History group have been disseminated in articles, exhibitions, school and community workshops, and presentations/lectures, and publications as well as on the website.