Medieval to Present Day


Five eras of our bells and their frames

Select from the five links below or just scroll through the document.


1399 - 1697 The three bells of the 1650's and their augmentation to five in 1697

1697 - 1739 The five bells from 1697 the augmentation to six and the Harrison frame

1739 - 1892 The sixth bell and 155 years of ringing on six in the Harrison frame

1892 - 1904 A frame for eight bells (1894) and augmentation to eight (1904)

2016 - 2017 A new eight in a single level frame and preservation of the five ancient bells





1399 - 1697 The three bells of the 1650's and their augmentation to five in 1697 


The story of bells in Richmond may go back to the Norman start not only of the secular churches and chapels - St Mary's, Trinity, St James, St Edmund, St Anthony, St Nicholas - and possibly even including the three chapels in the Castle - but also the local monastic foundations - St Martin's, St Agatha's at Easby and Greyfriars.

The bell history of St Mary's would certainly take on new impetus c.1400 with the building of the handsome tower which has stood almost unaltered to the present day. Ralph Nevill, 1st Earl of Westmorland, was granted the prestigious Honour of Richmond in 1399, and proved a generous benefactor. His coat of arms - a saltire cross - can be seen on the north parapet of the tower.

An integral part of the tower structure is the ribbed vault formed with a central circular opening to allow bells to be raised and lowered through it.

Richmond as a chartered medieval borough was a very important town - only Scarborough had a similar status in the North Riding. The town, and thus its associated religious institutions, grew further in importance later in the medieval period.

There are still a number of surviving medieval bells in the Richmond area - the three Seliok bells now in St Mary's, Trinity Chapel and Kirkby Hill Church, plus evidence of other bells from the chantry chapels of St James and St Nicholas Hospital, demonstrate a considerable investment in bells in the area.

Accessible evidence for the disposal of assets of the dissolved religious houses is patchy, but does provide some documentary material about their bells. St Agatha's in 1536 had 5 bells assessed at £16 13s 4d and Greyfriars in 1538-9 had 3 bells providing 2000 pounds of metal. To give some context to this figure, as the Seliok bell in St Mary's weighs 780lb, it would seem that the three in Greyfriars Tower averaged a similar size.

The early Stuarts kept the country Protestant, but times were still unsettled, with the English Civil Wars occurring in the middle of the 17th century. It took some time after the 1660 Restoration for things to settle down. Records relating to our church bells reflect how their use had come to include secular events. From shortly after the Restoration, the Borough of Richmond was paying for the ringing of the bells to mark significant anniversaries. The Chamberlains Accounts record the payment of 2s 2d to Duke [presumably Marmaduke] Stappleton for ringing the bells to celebrate the public holiday of King Charles II's return - Royal Oak Day, 29 May, and again on Gunpowder Plot Day - 5 Nov, in 1663. [NYCRO DC/RMB 6/2/1].


Contract from 1665 to augment the three bells to five

A contract [NYCRO DC/RMB] between the Borough of Richmond and Thomas Wood, a Thirsk bellfounder, in 1665 provides some information about this period. It was intended to acquire two new bells, to add to three which already existed in the 'steeple', at a cost of £29, and using the metal from a bell in the Borough's possession. All five bells were to be re-hung, and maintained by Wood. 



A transcript of this original contract was prepared by Dr Elizabeth Foster.

Contract with Thirsk Bellfounder 8 August 1665
[North Yorkshire County Record Office reference DC/RMB]

'ARTICLES of Agrement Covenanted Concluded and agreed upon By and Betwene John Bincks the younger of Richmond in the name of the whole Comonalltye of Richmond aforesaid on thone [the one] parte And Thomas Wood of Thirske in the Countye of Yorke Bellfounder on thother [the other] parte made the Eighte daye of August in the yeare of our Lord one thousand Sixe hundredd Sixtye and Five
IMPRIMIS it is Covenanted Concluded and agreed upon and the said Thomas [Wood] for himselfe his heires Executors and Administrators and every on them doth Covenante promise and grannte to and with the said John Bincks his Executors and assignes by these presents in manner and forme Followinge
That is to Saye That he the said Thomas Wood Shall att or before the last Daye of August next comeinge after the date of these present Caste Two new bells for the towne and Borough of Richmond aforesaid and putt all the Mettall of the old bell which he has from the said Burrough towards the Castinge of the Said two new bells
And what more shall require to make a First and Second Timable as persons of Judgment Shall adiudge [adjudge] to the thre bells allreadye hunge in the Steeple of the parish Church of Richmond aforesaid
And the old Bells as well as the new Bells which is to Castle Shall be hunge all anew with round wheeles of well Seasoned Timber as shall be approved of by any Carpenter or Wrighte that Shall be appointed for that purpose
And that the said Thomas Wood shall finde all Materiialls whatsoever for that purpose Exceptinge one Dormant which must be placed over the Steeple att the Cost and Charges of the parish aforesaid
And the said Thomas Wood is to keepe all the Five Bells aforesaid in good repaire fore one Whole Yeare nexte ensueinge the Compleate hanginge thereof
ITEM the said John Bincks on the behalfe of the Inhabitants of the said Burrough, upon the true and iust [just] performance of all and every the promises before mentioned doth by these presents promise to paye unto the said Thomas Wood his Executors or Assignes the Summe of Twenty ˄nine˄ pounds of lawfull money of England upon demannd
IN WITNESS whereof the partyes above named to these present Articles interchangeablye have sett theire hands and Seales the Daye and yeare above written.
Thomas Wood his 'W' marke
Signed Sealed and delivered in the presnce of use and Memorandum that the word nine was interlined before the Sealinge and Deliveringe of these present
James Hanman, John Wilkinson, timbale = mould, dormant = crossbeam'

It is not clear whether this contract was carried out, but it is interesting that the borough was the client, and also that they had a 'spare' bell. This contract pre-dates by three years the important work on change-ringing by Rev Fabian Stedman published as Tintinnalogia in 1668. The document also suggests that the three bells were hung for ringing as they had quarter or possibly half wheels. This would have required three trained bellringers, not a parish priest or sexton chming single bells.



1697 - 1739 The five bells from 1697 the augmentation to six and the Harrison frame

In 1697 St Mary's acquired four bells made by the distinguished bell founder Samuel Smith of York. This represents a major expenditure. It was towards the end of the incumbency of Richard Godsalve, rector of Richmond from 1664 and vicar of Great Smeaton from 1668. He died 6 March 1699/1700.

These five old bells are preserved in the permanent exhibition(with the exception of the tenor which was replaced in 1862), their principle inscriptions were:

3 rd : 1739 SS Ebor (E Sellers York) ‘The gift of the Right Honourable Conyers D’Arcy, Knight of the Bath, Member of Parliament for Richmond, Lieutenant of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Comptroller of His majesty’s Household and one of his Privy Council’ With D’Arch arms. 3 lines of inscription.

4 th 1697 Samuel 1 Smith York Venite exultemus Domino ( Come let us praise the Lord)

5 th 1697 Samuel 1 Smith Novum Cantate Domino Canticum (Sing unto the Lord a new song)

6 th No date circa 1500 Seliok Nottingham ( John 1470-1507; Richard 1 Seliok 1507-1523) ‘Easby’ bell. Unus Deus sca Trinitas ( One God Holy Trinity)

7 th 1697 Samuel Smith York Gloria in Excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the highest)

National Ringing context


Fabian Stedman 1640-1713 is known as 'The Father of bellringing'. Born in Yarkhill Herefordshire (father vicar). Apprenticed in London to a printer. Stedman published and wrote the first books on change ringing. In 1662 he was ringing at Cheapside; in 1664 he joined the Ancient Society of College Youths (ASCY), established 1637 and described in 2016 as the premier change ringing society in the City of London, with a national and international membership that promotes excellence in ringing around the world.

The ASCY is one of 2 ‘ancient societies of bellringers’ who between them ring most of the London Churches – the other is The Society of Royal Cumberland Youths (founded 1747).

We have two members of our local band who are members of these societies, one a ‘Cumberland’ and one a ‘College Youth’.

In 1668 Stedman published Tintinnalogia (with Richard Duckworth who did most of the writing) 'Wherein is laid down plain and easie rules for ringing all sorts of plain changes'. This described ringing by the change one pair. In 1677, Campanalogia, (written by Stedman) included compositions from outside London and developed cross-changes – changing more than one pair at the same time. This led to much longer pieces of ringing and eventually to ‘peals’ - 5040 changes as the extent of the permutations possible without repeats on 7 bells.

In 1697 – 20 years after the publication of Campanologia, the bells were augmented by the addition of four bells from Samuel Smith of York (Inscription SS Ebor)  The makers of the bells in order of note were Treble - SS Ebor, 2nd SS Ebor, 3rd Seliok, 4th SS Ebor, Tenor SS Ebor. (The tenor became cracked and was replaced in 1862 by a bell from Warners of London).

The augmentation to five bells of 1697 provided sufficient bells to ring many of the common bell ringing methods of the period, including Stedman’s principle, invented by Fabian Stedman in 1676, a method rung on odd numbers of bells from 5 upwards. the complete plain course of this method is in the diagram below. If one looks at the five columns one can see that they form a continuous set of rows that follow on from one another. The sequence starts in ‘rounds’, that is the bells rung in order of note, highest to lowest, (1,2,3,4,5) and following the columns in turn one ends up with ‘rounds’ again.






1739 - 1892 The sixth bell and 155 years of ringing on six in the Harrison frame

In 1739 a sixth bell was given to St Mary's by Sir Conyers D'Arcy[1685-1758], who was one of Richmond's two M.P.s for many years. He was the younger brother of Robert D'Arcy, 3rd Earl of Holderness whose seat was Hornby Castle near Catterick. After a short spell in the Life Guards, he entered Parliament and sat for various seats between 1707 and his death. He was M.P. for Richmond 1722-47, later sitting for York. He bought the Aske estate in 1727 and made many improvements to the house and grounds.

At the same time as the sixth bell was installed a new frame made by James Harrison of Barton on Humber was also fitted to accommodate them. This Harrison was the brother of the John Harrison who invented the first marine chronometer to be used to calculate the longitude of ships at sea, thereby improving nautical navigation. In 1714, the British government offered a longitude prize for a method of determining longitude at sea, with the awards ranging from £10,000 to £20,000 (£2 million to £4 million in 2021 terms) depending on accuracy. After years of wrangling John Harrison did eventually receive a series of payments totaling £23,065 for being the first to invent such a robust and accurate clock, suitable for service at sea.

The impact of 6 bells as compared to 5 is significant. The total number of possible rows of 5 numbers, or bells, is 120. This limits the number of unique ‘changes’, a change is all 5 bells ringing in sequence in some order. When we add a 6th bell this increases to 720 possible rows. As well as having a much larger number of possible changes the complexity of how the rows are arranged increases too, thus allowing more complicated ways of arranging the bells and giving more variety. Stedman can be rung on 6 bells, we merely let the last bell, the tenor, go last in each row, much like a metronome's regular movement this allows for a smoother sound.

To give an idea of the rapid expansion of the number of changes possible as the number of bells increase the following table summarises the numbers with an estimate of how long it would take to ring all of the possible changes on the indicated number of bells.

      Number of bells Number of possible changes Time to ring
        3 bells  3 x 2 x 1 = 6  10 seconds
        4 bells 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 24  40 seconds
        5 bells 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 120  3 minutes
        6 bells 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 720 20 minutes
        7 bells 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 5040 3 hours
        8 bells 8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 40320  24 hours


The arrival of Sir Conyers D'Arcy's new bell in 1739 resulted in carriage charges from York, and the ringers' salary going up to £4 4s per quarter. Alterations also had to be made to the frame to accommodate an extra bell, and a delegation went to York to see new methods of bell hanging. A one-off event occurred in 1740 when the ringers were paid 7s 6d 'for rejoyceing when Carthagena was taken'. Different churchwardens provide us with differing details in the accounts. In 1741 the ringers were paid 17s 6d 'for ringing whilst the Bishop held his Visitation here', and we learn that someone was paid 6d for tolling the bell for a funeral. Several amounts were paid for repairs to and replacing of the bell 'tongues' (we call them clappers now). The town's loyalty to the anti-Jacobite cause appears in the accounts in 1745, not only were the bells rung for the Duke of Cumberland's birthday, but also 'when he was expected at Richmond', and again in 1750 for ringing 'eight days and a half and when the King landed £ 3 3s'.

Further details on issues with the bellringers are given in the records of the church's vestry meetings [NYCRO PR/RM 2/1].

"At a meeting in the Vestry on the 17th of June 1800 pursuant to notice it was agreed that the salary of the ringers shall be increased, namely, each ringer to receive 2 guineas a year for the ordinary duty of the church and 2s. 6d. a day for each public ringing day namely King's Birthday, half a day for the 4th November, whole day the 5th (November) and the King's Coronation Day unless any public ringing should be ordered by the Mayor, Rector and Churchwardens upon some particular occasion subject nevertheless to such restitutions as shall after wards be made by the Mayor and Rector."

And again from 6 December 1820 -

"It was resolved by the inhabitants present that (the late ringers having been discharged from their office for irregularity in their duty as it is said) It is the request of this meeting that the churchwardens do reinstate them on their promise of future good behaviour."

There were many references to ringers and the maintenance of the bells in the Church Warden's accounts in the years from 1739 to 1802. A full extract from the records in the County Record Office can be seen HERE.

The tenor (Samuel Smith 1697) of the ring of six  became cracked, and was replaced in 1862 by one cast by bell founder John Warner and Sons, and major repairs were carried out on the tower. The headstock of the Warner bell remains in the permanent exhibition in the tower. Until this point, entry to the belfry staircase was an outside door in the churchyard, the old doorway was blocked up [its outline can just be detected] and a new belfry door made inside the church.

By 1892 it had become clear that the Harrison frame of 1739 was no longer capable of supporting the six bells and was endangering the tower by moving around as the bells were being rung. Several bell founders and hangers were asked to conduct surveys and all called for different solutions to the various problems identified. One report however became the most influential one and that was by a specialist firm of structural engineers based in Leeds, whose princpals also happened to be bell ringers. The report by William and Jasper Snowdon, condemned the frame as unsuitable and also commented on the general state of everything in the tower. The report was accepted by the Church Authorities and a contract placed with Warners of London for a new frame for eight bells, on two levels and the re-hanging of the existing 6 bells into the new frame with new fittings. The frame was in fact commissioned from Mallarby and Sons of Masham. The spaces for the two additional bells to make a full octave were left unoccupied for 10 years until 1904, when the fourth era of the evolution of the bells in Richmond began.





1892 - 1904 A  frame for eight bells (1894) and augmentation to eight (1904)

 We do not know what the five bells installed in 1697 or the six augmented by the Darcy bell in 1739 sounded like. Unfortunately the loss of the Samuel Smith tenor bell of 1697 and its replacement by the Warner bell in 1863 leaves us with a tantalising view of the bells as they may have been but the tenor is different from that installed in 1697. In addition the Warner tenor was a poor bell. Every founder who looked at the bells in 1892 with a view to tendering for the contract to re-hang the bells commented that it was a 'thin' bell for its size and that it did not have a 'good' sound. It was a large bell physically, if not in weight, and must have been difficult to fit in to the tower. This contributed to its rather 'dull' sound.

One artefact that survives from this time is the headstock of the 1863 Warner replacement bell. The inscription on the side of the headstock summarises what happened and who paid for the replacement.



The inscription on the Headstock seen displayed in the permanent exhibition space above the new bells states,


AD 1863



The new frame installed 1894 accommodated the bells on two layers; third, fourth, fifth and the tenor on the lower layer and the treble andsecond on the top layer. In addition there were two un-occupied 'pits' on the top layer to take two more bells to make the full octave, when funds allowed.

There are many letters and reports in the archive section of this website pertaining to the period 1892 to 1904 during which time the bells were re-hung in a new frame and the octave completed with the addition of two new bells, again provided by J Warner of London.

Times had changed by 1904 though and the costs associated with two new bells and the re-hanging were not to be defrayed by 'parochial rate'. The new second bell being donated by the Marquess of Zetland and the treble paid for by public subscription.

The Subscription book survives in the County Record Office and provides an insight into 'who was who' in Richmond in the early 20th Century. The two new bells filled the places provided for them in 1894 leaving a ring of eight bells with the four heaviest on the lower tier and the four lighter bells on the top tier. An unfortunate consequence of the two tiers being designed and installed as one frame, supported only under the bottom tier, was to lead to the necessity of strengthening the frame in 1923 and directly to the need to replace the frame in 2016.

The subscription Book


As stated previously the frame was of poor design, resting only on a single set of corbals under the bottom tier. It was only 16 years after the augmentation to eight in 1904 and 27 years after the Mallarby Frame was installed, designed to take eight bells, that Taylors of Lounghboruigh were commissioned by the church to look into the state of the bells. They recommended that a new frame be installed as the Mallarby frame of 1894 was unsuitable for the eight bells installed. This didn't happen but they did strengthen the frame by adding cross braces between the upper and lower tiesr and re-hung the bells in metal headstocks with new bearings.

The image below was taken in 1923 outside the West wall of the tower. The now faded chalk writing on the blackboard reads as follows:

Parish Church of St Mary's Richmond Yorkshire. Peal of eight bells cleaned, re-clappered,

re-tuned, fitted with new head stocks, and re-hung in ball bearings 

October 1923

John Taylor and Co. Loughborough






2016 - 2017 A new eight in a single level frame and preservation of the five ancient bells 



During the spring of 2017 the old frame, the bells and all the fittings were removed from the tower and taken to the foundry in Loughborough. The five ancient bells were cleaned up and had new tops added to allow them to return to Richmond and hang in a special frame above the new bells. They form the centre piece of the permanent exhibition. These bells are of such an age that they must be preserved and cannot be melted down and used to make new bells, a fate that befalls many bells of lesser importance.






Each of the 8 bells was removed and lowered to the floor of the church and then all of the wooden frame was removed and lowered to the floor, preparing the way for the new frame and bells to be lifted up the tower and installed.

The 1904 ring of eight bells on the church floor





The new bells were cast in late 2016 in two batches. Many members of the church attended the casting and observed at first hand the medieval process of bell casting still practised at bell founders in England.


The five ancient bells awaiting lifting up the tower