St Mary's Richmond

North Yorkshire


The Tower of St Mary's Richmond was started in the 12th Century and completed over a period of time, being restored by Gilbert G. Scott in 1858-59. The best description of the tower is on the Historic England website where the church is listed as Grade II*. The survey was carried out in 1952 and nothing of note has changed since then. Below is an edited version to show references to the tower.

681/3/53 CHURCH WYND 01-AUG-52 Parish Church of St Mary

II* Parish church of C12 to early C15, rebuilt and restored 1858-59 by G.G. Scott.

MATERIALS: Rubble sandstone with freestone dressings, graded slate roofs, except for leaded north aisle roof and stone-slab roof of north porch.

PLAN: Nave with lower chancel, aisles (incorporating a chapel at the east end of the south aisle), north and south porches, west tower, north vestry.

EXTERIOR: The Perpendicular 3-stage tower has diagonal buttresses with gabled offsets, and embattled parapet. In the lower stage is a 4-light west window. The 2nd stage has a small narrow west window and clock on the north face. Two-light belfry openings have transoms and louvres... 

HISTORY: Parish church begun in the late C12, evidence for which is the arcading in the nave. The church was much enlarged in the C13, of which the north-aisle doorway remains, and was the principal parish church of the town, although it stood outside the town walls when they were constructed in the C14. The north porch is C14, as are the sedilia and piscina in the south chapel. In 1399 the tower was begun by the Earl of Westmorland, and the font is part of the same programme of works. It was evidently a substantial town church but its pre-C19 appearance is now difficult to ascertain after the substantial restoration and rebuilding in 1858-59. This was by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78), the most successful church architect of the C19 who was responsible for many church restorations; he is best known for his Foreign Office in Whitehall (1863-69), and for the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station (1869-72). SOURCES: Pevsner, N., The Buildings of England: Yorkshire, The North Riding (1966), 290-91. Church Guide...

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The church of St Mary, Church Wynd, is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * The church retains significant late C12 fabric in the first bay of the nave. * It also has significant later medieval fabric, including the C14 vaulted north porch and the tower of 1399 * Fixtures of special interest include 1399 font, C15 wall painting fragment, fine early C16 choir stalls and misericords from Easby Abbey, and C17 wall monument * The involvement of Sir George Gilbert Scott in the restoration is also of note

One aspect of the tower not mentioned in the Historic England listing is the presence of two gargoyles on the inside of  the tower at the junction between the beams supporting the roof of the ringing chamber. These would not have been visible to the Heritage England surveyors of 1952 as they were hidden by a ceiling to the ringing chamber of 1904 to which no access was possible. They are at the junction of the West and North walls (the one shown) and the East and  North walls. The latter Gargoyle was damaged badly when work was done in the past and is almost completely removed.




Report on the frame and bells by W Snowdon, 1892


The report of William Snowdon of October 22nd 1892 allows us a glimpse into how the tower looked from the inside, from a bell ringers perspective and from the perspective of the task facing the ringers and the church when considering the obvious problems they were experiencing with the 'go' of the bells. From direct experience of trying to ring bells that are almost un-ringable because of a deteriorating frame, it would have been a herculean task to ring the bells of the late 19th century as the movement of the frame would have been considerable. We know this mainly because of the very full report in the NYCRO done at the request of the Rector of Richmond by William Snowdon. William survived his brother, Jasper, and continued the family firm of Structural Surveyors, based in Leeds. They were both ardent bell ringers, as well as engineers, so their reports cover much more than usually found in a bell hangers' or founders' report. We are fortunate in having the full text of William's report on the bells and frame and the discussion below is based on William's observations. A page of the report is reproduced below of especial relevance to the frame and the bells of 1892.



The first point to note from Snowdon's report is in his table of the six bells then in the tower he states that the tenor bell and the Treble are not worth preserving as they have serious defects. The Tenor has a ratio of thickness to diameter of only 0.65, whereas Snowdon states that in a 'good tenor' this should be 0.77. The Warner Tenor of 1863 is a large bell in relation to its weight and note (f sharp). This did give it a 'thin' sound with little of the reverbrance one would expect.

The second point to note from the report is that Snowdon recommends hanging the bells in two tiers. This did happen and Mallarby installed a two tier frame for Warners to hang the bells in, but with a crucial difference from the arrangement of the tiers recommended by Snowdon.

Snowdon recommended that 'This, therefore, at once, necessitates hanging the bells in two tiers, a common place in small towers...'.

He goes on the say 'The two tiers should each rest on their own set of corbals and be independent one of the other'.

It is this latter recommendation that Mallarby and Warners ignored when designing and installing the frame for the extant ring of six, completed in 1894.

This can be clearly seen in the image below, taken after the bells, fittings and the side frames had been removed, leaving the core superstructure upon which everything hung.



The frame is only supported on corbals at the bottom layer. The much lighter built upper tier is part of the lower framework and not a separate tier on its own corbals. This allowed the top tier of bells to have too great an influence on the whole frame as the bells were rung and the bells became difficult to ring once again only some 27 years after the installation of the frame. In 1921 when inspecting the bells and frame at the request of the Church, Taylor's recommended the replacement of the frame with one made of steel  and cast iron but this was not followed.

They did however install large Xs of steel straps, bolted together in the middle, to connect the upper tier to the lower tier more effectively. This stiffened the frame sufficiently to allow ringing to continue, which it did until 2016.

Snowdon reports the view he had from the ringing chamber floor looking upwards. An image taken during the present works of what he might have seen is below.



Snowdon recommended supporting the floor under the new frame on the lower set of corbals one can see in the image. The new lower tier would then be supported on the upper four corbals. This would have brought the ceiling of the ringing chamber down to within two feet of its current position. This doesn't sound a lot but it would have increased the 'draught' (the length) of the bell ropes quite a bit and may have made the bells difficult to rng without intermediate rope guides. Given the weakness of the 1904 ringing chamber ceiling a reasonable interpretation would be that it was in fact installed as a set of rope guides.

The Gargoyles mentioned earlier are right up against the roof you can see in the image. The lighter coloured planks in the ceiling is the new trap door inserted to allow the bells and frames to be winched up and down. You can just see the scalloped edges of the two beams eitehr side of the trap door. This is to provide room for the larger bells to pass through.

What Snowdon allows us to see is that, probably since 1665, the view the ringers would have had was that of this set of corbals and beams.


Snowdon's recommendation

The failure to follow the advice of the well qualified structural engineer and bell ringer, William Snowdon, in his report of 1892 led directly to a period where the bells once again became very hard to ring and serious work had to be done to keep them going.

It is speculation, but it is entirely possible, that had Mallarby and Warners followed the advice of Snowdon we would still be ringing in a Mallarby Oak frame with bells hung on two separate tiers, independently supported on their own set of corbals.