Harrogate’s First Ring of Bells

Early History

In the early 19th Century, Harrogate was two separate villages; High Harrogate and Low Harrogate, neither of which was a parish in their own right. They were in separate parishes, and even separate dioceses until the Diocese of Ripon was established in 1836. Low Harrogate was in the parish of Pannal, in the Diocese of York; whereas High Harrogate was in the Parish of Knaresborough and in the Diocese of Chester!

Bells of St Mary’s Low Harrogate

Low Harrogate did not get its first chapel until 1825, St Mary’s Chapel. It stood in St Mary’s walk and was a plain building with a tower. The tower was of a similar style to that of St Robert’s, Pannal and also Beckwithshaw, whose parish was also carved out of Pannal. It originally had a single bell, cast by Thomas Mears of Whitechapel in 1824.

In the 1860s, the church was extended to accommodate the growing population of Low Harrogate. Five bells were added in 1866 to make a complete peal of six, with the original bell being the 5th of the new ring. The new bells were paid for by James England. The peal was augmented to eight in 1891, at the expense of Mrs James Courtney Haigh.

The details of the bells, all cast by the Whitechapel bell foundry, were as follows:


It is presumed that the bells were popular with bell-ringers visiting Harrogate. In Thorpes Illustrated Guide (published 1891) they get a mention

There is only one peal of bells in Harrogate, viz: St. Mary’s; though the outlaying village of Beckwithshaw has a few that are nicely toned. The Ringers at St Mary’s belong to the Yorkshire Association of Church Bell Ringers, and are also fairly successful amateurs with the hand-bells

The first peal was rung on the bells in 1902. A surviving peal board (currently in storage at St Peter’s) records this great achievement. The weight of the tenor was overestimated!

Perseverance is crowned with success
The Yorkshire Association of Change Ringers

On Thursday April 10th 1902 in 3 hours and 20 minutes
was rung in this tower
A peal of Treble Bob Major, 5088 Changes
in the Kent Variation. Tenor 15cwt
by the following members:

John Benson Treble               Alfred W Brighton 5th
Frederick Durdy (Jun) 2nd         John Nelson (of Otley) 6th
T Herbert Dickinson 3rd       Frederick Durdy 7th
Henry Robinson 4th              William Turner Tenor

Composed by H Dains of London
and conducted by Alfred W. Brighton of London
Rev J. I. Cohen M.A. Vicar
Rev E. A.Chard M.A. Curate
J. J. Kayall, A. H. Allan, Churchwardens
This is the first peal rung on these bells

This was to be the last peal on the bells; the church being declared too small and structurally unsafe in 1903 and closed in the years following. The stones from the original St Mary’s were used to build the chapel of Harrogate Ladies College.

Old St Mary’s in St Mary’s Walk

After the demise of the first St Mary’s church, full circle change ringing was entirely absent from Harrogate (with the exception of Beckwithshaw) until new bells were installed in St Peter’s, in 1963.

The new St Mary’s

St Mary’s was rebuilt by Walter Tapper on a new site in 1916. This was a cruciform building in the decorated gothic style with a central tower. There was the intention of hanging the old bells in this church, but soon after its completion, problems with stonework erosion was discovered.

The bells were therefore recast into a chime by John Taylor of Loughborough and were rung by a baton clavier. The details of the recast bells were as follows


Inscriptions on each bell were as follows:

BellInscription BandWaist
1Bell and Pomegranate Border19 [TAYLOR LOUGHBORO] 15
2Bell and Pomegranate Border19 [TAYLOR LOUGHBORO] 15
3Bell and Pomegranate Border19 [TAYLOR LOUGHBORO] 15
4Bell and Pomegranate Border19 [TAYLOR LOUGHBORO] 15
5Floral Border19 [TAYLOR LOUGHBORO] 15
6Floral Border19 [TAYLOR LOUGHBORO] 15

The significance of the bells and pomegranates in the border was that they were on the hem of Aaron’s robe in the Old Testament (Exodus 28:34). Pomegranates are said to contain 613 seeds which coincide with the 613 commandments of the Torah.

St Mary's Church, West Cliffe Grove
St Mary’s Church, West Cliffe Grove

The structural problems were never satisfactorily resolved and this church finally closed in 2006 and St Mary’s ceased to be a parish. The congregation re-established itself as Kairos Church, based in West Cliffe Hall but meeting in different places in Harrogate.

What became of the bells?

There was a proposal to use the St Mary’s bells as a chime at Ripon Cathedral but the plans never materialised. New homes for the bells were therefore found by the Keltek Trust. Although separated, all the bells now are hung for full-circle change ringing in their new homes.

The treble now serves as the second in the recently augmented ring of 6 at St Lawrence, Steppingley in Bedfordshire

Both the 2nd and 3rd are to be used in augmenting the 3 bells to 6 at All Saints Littleton Drew in Wiltshire

The 4th was reused in the new ring of bells in SS Peter and Leonard’s Horbury, near Wakefield (2019). Its weight following retuning is now 5 cwt, 1 qtr, 5 lbs.

SS Peter and Leonard, Horbury

The 5th, 6th, 7th and tenor are being used as the back four of a new ring of ten at Grote Kerk in Dordrecht in the Netherlands. Grote Kerk has the distinction of being the first Dutch church to have a set of bells hung for change ringing in a country where carillons have an established tradition (this church also has a 67 bell carillon).