The current peal of 13 bells hung in the south west tower of the cathedral form a magnificent musical instrument of which we are very proud. While they are relatively young, 10 being cast in 1932, 2 in 2007 and 1 in 2008, it is possible that bells were hung in the west towers of the minster from their completion in about 1224.
The earliest reference to bells in Ripon dates from 1354 when records show that Laurence Wright mended the clappers. Major work was carried out in 1379 when “Diverse expenses” were incurred conveying a bell from York to Ripon. This bell was obtained from Fountains Abbey and transferred from Ripon to Boroughbridge by sledge, then from Boroughbridge to York via the rivers Ure and Ouse. It was recast in York using additional metal and returned to Ripon to be hung in the north west tower. The accounts of the time refer to payments for buying poles for the bell frame, paying men to work the windlass and the smith to make the clapper. The final cost was £11 10s. 0d. with an additional 12d. paid to Will Fallan for supplying a bell wheel. The bell was dedicated to The Virgin Mary and is believed to have survived intact in the north west tower until 1762
In 1391 a new hearth was made in the hall of the prebend of Thorpe, in compensation for one which had been broken up for the purpose of casting a bell in the said hall. By 1396 there were at least 3 bells in the towers. William Wright hung 2 bells and repaired the defects in those of others at a cost of 27s. 9d. New brass bolsters and pypes were fitted, presumably to carry the ropes through the ceilings. In 1448 Thomas Morton, Canon of York, left 40s. in his will for repairing of the great bell-tower of Ripon. The third bell was recast by George Heathcott of Chesterfield in 1540 at a cost of £8. An initial payment was made by the President and Chapter of the collegiate church of Ripon on 2nd July 1540 followed by a final payment on 15th August that year.
By 1663 the number of bells had increased to 6, believed to be 5 hung in the south west tower and the ‘Mary Bell’ in the north west tower. James Smith of York was commissioned to recast the fourth and fifth bells and Matthew Townley rehung all the bells on new frames in November 1663. The treble was recast in 1673 but the name of the founder is not known.
Thomas Gent, in his ‘History of Ripon’ of 1733 noted that the number of bells had increased to 7, stating that 5 bells were hung in the south west tower for service ringing, 1 in the north west tower and 1 in the turret on top of the central tower. He confirms that the bell in the north west tower was reputed to have come from Fountains Abbey and was referred to as the ‘Mary Bell’.
The Lester & Pack Peal of 8 – 1762
The 5 bells in the south west tower and the ‘Mary Bell’ in the north west tower were sold in 1762 for £355, used as part payment for a new ring of 8 bells. These, cast by Lester & Pack of London, were installed in the south west tower in the same year and hung in a new wooden frame by James Harrison of Raisen, Lincolnshire, at a cost of £557 11s. 11d. They were tuned to the key of E and the tenor (largest) bell weighed 19-3-8 (19 cwt – 3 quarters – 8 pounds). The north west tower was now empty of bells and remains so today.
During work to the tower roof in 1865 the second and fifth bells were cracked by falling scaffolding, and were re-cast in 1866 by John Warner and Sons of London. The replacement bells weighed 6-1-9 and 10-1-16 respectively.
In 1868 the remaining Lester & Pack bells were quarter turned and re-hung in the 1762 wooden frame by Thomas Mallaby of Masham. The frame was later replaced but a portion of it is preserved in the ringing room and is inscribed:
Francis Wanley D.D., Dean; James Harrison of Raisen in Lincolnshire, Bell Hanger; John Hutchinson, Matthew Beckwith, and Thos Fothergill, Agitators. 1762
Augmentation to 10 Bells – 1891
By 1890 the framework installed in 1762 had become unsafe. The Dean and Chapter instructed J Shaw & Co. of Bradford to rehang the existing 8 bells in a new iron frame, which was designed to hold 10 bells. Two new bells were added, comprising a treble, donated by Messrs R Kearsley & Co to the memory of John Kearsley, and a second bell given in memory of Miss Anne Cross of Coney Garth by her brother and sisters. Both these bells were cast by Shaw’s of Bradford.
Shaw’s were also commissioned to supply a chiming mechanism for the clock set to sound the Cambridge Chimes (the clock chime at the Houses of Parliament and better known as the Westminster Chimes). The clock chime mechanism was paid for by public subscription, and the restored bells, clock and chimes were dedicated at a special service on Tuesday 14th April 1891.
The Taylor 10 – 1932
It seems the 1891 augmentation was not a great success; whilst a report in ‘Bell News’ describes the bells as splendid, other reports in this journal were less kind:
the bells came in for a good deal of adverse criticism. The tone is poor and one cannot hear the trebles in the ringing chamber … sound of that clanging peal … the ring was of very mediocre tone.
Canon George Garrod, in a report believed to date from the late 1920s, highlighted a number of defects. He had consulted Mr. Fred Tingle, President of the Ripon Cathedral Bell Ringers, and Rev C Marshall, Vicar of St Chad’s Far Headingly and President of the Yorkshire Association of Change Ringers. The report revealed that Shaw’s iron frame of 1891 had been built on the old oak foundation beams, possibly those installed to support the 1762 frame, and these had become infested and weakened by death watch beetle. Consequently the bell frame dipped considerably making the bells difficult and unpredictable to ring. He reported that the fittings were very worn, and suggested the sound of the ring would be much improved by recasting the 2 Shaw treble bells and retuning the older 8. In the event, in 1932, the oak foundation beams were replaced with steel girders, and the entire ring was recast and hung in a new metal frame by the John Taylor Bell Foundry of Loughborough.
During recasting all the inscriptions and decorations on the previous 1761 and 1891 bells were copied and reproduced on the new bells, with the exception of the 4 and 7 which had been recast by Warners in 1866. These reproductions included a fine set of seals, coats of arms and other decorative features on the ninth (now the eleventh) and tenor.
The first public performance on the bells was whilst they were still at Taylor’s foundry. On 1st March 1933 they featured in a radio broadcast on church bells, given by E. Dennison Taylor, to illustrate the art of change ringing.
All the bells were returned to Ripon on 14th March 1933 and were officially rung for the first time following a dedication service on Saturday 8th April that year. Julia White of Ripon covered the cost as a memorial to her family as a tablet in the ringing room and inscription on the tenor records:
To the glory of God and in memory of her parents, brothers and sisters, the bells of this Cathedral were re-cast and the belfry restored by Julia White of Highfield, Ripon. 1932 -1933.
This generous gift laid the foundations for the fine ring of 13 bells we have today.
Augmentation to 12 – 2008
In recent years the number of ringers at the cathedral has increased and 10 bell ringing for Sunday services has become established. For the first time in many years the cathedral band was strong enough to consider ringing on a full peal of 12 bells, and the provision of two additional bells at Ripon was frequently discussed. The number of youngsters and trainee ringers also increased and it became apparent that improvements to the bell installation were required to facilitate teaching them.
In January 2005 the ‘Ring out Ripon Bells’ appeal was launched to raise £42,000 to install 3 new bells, thus augmenting the existing 10 to a full peal of 12 plus 1. To provide a diatonic ring of 12 in the key of Eb major, 2 smaller treble bells were to be added. The thirteenth was to be a Flat 6th semitone bell to furnish a lightweight ring of 8 in Ab major, when used in conjunction with bells 2 – 5 and 7 – 9 of the 12. The light ring would be easier to handle than the alternative heavy 8 (bells 5 – 12) previously used. This modification would help in teaching new ringers and ease the progress of those more experienced. It was also planned to install a new rope guide in the high-ceilinged ringing room to make the bells more predictable to handle and straightforward to ring. The appeal aimed to secure the future of traditional change ringing at Ripon and the surrounding area, by increasing the flexibility of the existing ring to benefit both trainee and experienced ringers, and make the cathedral better equipped for attracting new recruits.
By early 2007 the necessary funds were raised thanks to the generosity of the local community, and especially the Kiker and Pitts-Tucker families who gave the new bells. The late Dr David Bowen donated new bell frames, and generous financial support was forthcoming from the Foundation for Sports and the Arts, the Yorkshire Association of Change Ringers and the Ripon Cathedral Development Campaign. In August 2007 Hayward Mills Associates, Bell Hangers of Nottingham, were engaged as the main contractor to redesign the existing 10 bell framework to accommodate 13 bells, and carry out all the work required in the tower. The casting and tuning of the three new bells was entrusted to Taylors, Eyre & Smith Bell Foundry of Loughborough (formerly the John Taylors Bell Foundry which cast the 10 bells in 1932), and David Town of Northallerton supplied the new bell wheels. The cathedral ringers, donors and members of the chapter and congregation visited Loughborough on 15th November 2007 to observe the casting of the two new treble bells and view the flat 6th semitone bell cast on 8th November. Unfortunately these castings were unsuccessful; the trebles were successfully cast on 13th December 2007 and the flat 6th in March 2008 following another failed casting on 3rd January 2008
The framework was adapted to hold the 13 bells during February 2008 and the new bells were installed in April 2008
Central Tower (also known as St Wilfrid’s Steeple)
In 1733 Gent reported that the turret on top of the central tower contained a single bell. Later, probably in 1768, this bell was removed and broken up to provide metal for the new ring of 8 being cast for the south west tower. A fragment of this bell is known to have remained in the cathedral until the late 19th century and bore the date (1)710.
Prior to the Second World War the bell turret had fallen into disrepair and was removed. In June 1964 the turret was replaced and a bell, purchased from John Taylor & Co Loughborough, was hung in it.. The bell was fitted with a trigger action clapper and is in regular use as a service bell. It was refurbished in 2006 by David Town of Northallerton as part of the major restoration of the central tower roof.