Architectural History of the Tower, Bells and Frame


 The Tower


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 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. This Gargoyle was damaged badly when work was done in the past and is almost completely removed.




The Bells and Frames


The Bells of 1904 


Bell Founder Date Cwt-Qtr-Lb Diameter Note
1 J Warner 1904 4.2.10 27.25" F#
2 J Warner 1904 4.2.26 28" E#
3 E Seller 1739 5.0.9 28.875" D#
4 Samuel I Smith 1697 4.1.22 29.375" C#
5 Samuel I Smith 1697 5.1.23 32.25" B
6 Selioks of Nottingham c1500 7.0.22 34.375" A#
7 Samuel I Smith 1697 8.0.3 37" G#
8 J Warner 1862 11.0.0 40.5" F#
Small John Taylor of Loughborough 1919 0.2.9 14" D -44 cents


The eight bells, hung in the Mallarby Frame of 1894, by J Warner & Co London in 1904, consisted of bells from a mixture of founders and dates. The treble, cast in 1904 by J Warner & Co, was donated by the Marquess of Zetland and the second by public subscription. 

The tenor replaced a cracked Samuel Smith bell of 1697;the Seliok bell was cast sometime between 1499 and 1533; the Darcy Bell was cast by E Sellers of York in 1739  and the rest were by Samuel Smith of York, cast in 1697.

They were difficult to tune properly although both Warners (in 1904) and Taylors (in 1923) tried to correct some of the worst defects. Although technically in the key of f# some of the bells were far from being close to the notes they should have been.

An audio clip of the 1904 bells is below. It is of part of a peal of Richmond Surprise Major in which many local ringers took part. The image is of the old eight waiting to be transported to the foundry in Loughborough. 

The eight bells of St Mary's Richmond, replaced during this project, can be heard ringing Richmond Surprise Major in the audio clip below.


The five old bells


More recordings of the 1904 bells can be found on this page.



We know from the report by William Snowdon that the Harrison frame of 1739 was almost certainly hung diagonally across the window sills in the bell chamber. This was used as a way of squeezing more space out of a small tower. The only physical evidence we have from this era though is a part of the Harrison frame containing the inscription.



Apart from this piece of frame we know very little about how the bells were arranged in the Tower, where the ropes fell and any other details. Current research is going on to try and identify the rope holes throgh which the ropes left the bell chamber and passed through the floor under the bells. This gives us a chance of identifying, coupled with Snowdon's report, where each of the 1739 bells was hung and hence an idea of the shape and extent of the Harrison frame of 1739. Of the many reports written in 1892, by far the most useful of the reports we have is that of W. Snowdon.

Report on the frame and bells by W Snowdon, 1892

The project of 1892 to replace the bellframe which had been installed some 150 years previously in 1739 was extensive and involved many reports from the various local and national firms of bell founders, hangers and frame makers. By far the mosr informative is that of William Snowdon, Structural Engineer of Leeds, who also happened to be awell know bellringer.

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 installing a new bellframe. 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 completed by William Snowdon at the request of the Rector of Richmond. 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 Snowdon's report (see here for the full report) on the bells  and frame and the discussion below is based on his first hand 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 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 in his report 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 that 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 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 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 of Loughborough recommended the replacement of the frame with one made of steel  and cast iron, but this was not done.

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's recommendation for a two tier frame

In his report Snowdon makes many observations on the design and installalation of a new frame. He 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 possible 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 ring 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 in 2017 to allow the bells and frames to be winched up and down. You can just see the scalloped edges of the two beams either 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, looking up to the ceiling of the ringing chamber, was that of this set of corbals and beams.

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 quickly 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 recommendations 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.


Report on the Mallarby 1864 frame by Chris Pickford FSA

As part of our project we commissioned an experienced archivist, Chris Pickford, to document the Mallarby frame. Pickford surveyed the frame and produced a report and drawings, together with photographs of the frame. The full report can be found HERE.

The images below display the drawings and photographs accompanying Pickford's report.