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!

In High Harrogate a chapel of ease, St John’s, was built in 1749 and was subsequently enlarged in the late 18th century to accommodate the growing number of visitors to Harrogate. It was replaced in 1831 with a new church, Christchurch, by John Oates, to which a chancel and transepts were added by Lockwood and Mawson in 1862.

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.

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St Mary’s Church in a very rural Low Harrogate

The Bells of St Mary’s

St Mary’s 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 are as follows, all cast at the Whitechapel bell foundry:

Bell Weight
(cwt-qtr-lb)
Note Diameter Date
1 4-0-9 G 2614 1891
2 4-1-17 F 2612 1891
3 4-3-17 E 2812 1866
4 5-1-17 D 3014 1866
5 6-2-0 C 3212 1866
6 7-2-9 B 34″ 1866
7 9-3-9 A 38″ 1824
8 12-3-10 G 4134 1866

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.

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Old St Mary’s in St Mary’s Walk

St Mary’s was rebuilt by Walter Tapper on a new site in 1916. This was a cruciform building in the decorated gothic style. 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 (tenor now 16 cwt and 3 quarters) and were rung by a baton clavier.

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St Mary’s Church, Westcliff 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 Westcliffe Hall but meeting in different places in Harrogate.

The stones from the original St Mary’s were used to build the chapel of Harrogate Ladies College.

Bells in High Harrogate

The old St John’s chapel had one bell dated 1812. When the chapel was demolished, all the fittings were sold to the Congregationalist church. That bell was hung for full-circle ringing in West Park Chapel, where it remains to this day.

Today, Christchurch has three bells; two cast in 1831 by Thomas Mears (weighing 5cwt and 12cwt) for the new church and a 22cwt bell added in 1874 by John Taylor of Loughborough. In 1914 there was a scheme to add five more bells to make a ring of eight, but nothing materialised.

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Christchurch on the Stray, High Harrogate

Christchurch was not the only church to abandon plans for bells. St John the Evangelist in Bilton was consecrated in 1855 and it was originally planned to erect a spire on top of the tower and install a peal of six bells. The spire was never built and only the tenor (weighing 12 cwt, 2 qtr, 19 lbs) was installed.

Bell ringing in Harrogate today

Following the demise of the first St Mary’s ringing peal, change ringing was entirely absent in Harrogate for over 50 years, except of course at Beckwithshaw.

The long silence was broken in 1963 when a ringing peal was installed at St Peter’s, which was followed by new bells at St Wilfrid’s in 1973.

The story of bell ringing in Harrogate continues on the tower pages (see below).

Links

St Michael and All Angels, Beckwithshaw
St Peter, Harrogate
St Wilfrid, Harrogate

A more complete description of bells in Harrogate and the surrounding area may be found on the Ripon and Leeds Bells website, which is based on research by Ranald Clouston, George Dawson and Andrew Aspland.