The history of our bells

There were three bells at St. Mary, Whitkirk as long ago as 1654 (when the churchwardens’ records begin).

Among records of payments made to the ringers for ringing for special occasions is one for ringing on Friday 4th May 1660  – upon hearing the news of the agreement between ‘ye King and parliament’ when the monarchy was restored.

The bells were also rung regularly on 5th November to celebrate the King’s escape from the Gunpowder plot. This practise appears to have continued until at least 1759 (154 years afterwards).

In 1801 the Vestry decided to purchase four new bells and dispose of the old bells, (two of the bells are described as being ‘broken’) however, something must have happened to change their minds because in 1802 they set aside this decision and decided to purchase three bells instead.

The present bells were cast in 1803 by Thomas Mears of Whitechapel in London. The old bells were sold to the bellfounder for their metal. No one knows exactly how much the present bells weigh, but according to the founder, the total weight of the bells is 24 cwt 1 qtr 5 lbs (around 1.2 tonnes).

BellApprox. weightDiameterDatedFounderNote
16½ cwt (~330kg)32.5” (825mm)1803Thomas I MearsC#
27¾ cwt (~390kg)34.5” (876mm)1803Thomas I MearsB
39 cwt (~460kg)38” (965mm)1803Thomas I MearsA

On 6th July 1893, the bells were rung to celebrate the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of York (later to become King George V and Queen Mary) and the following year, on 4th October they were rung to celebrate their visit to Temple Newsam.

On 11th November 1918, the bells were rung to celebrate the Armistice of the First World War.

More recently, the bells and their fittings had become dilapidated with the wheels on bells 1 and 3 in a poor state of repair and no wheel at all on the 2nd bell. In 2016 it was decided to restore the bells so that they could be rung ‘full circle’ again, and this work was finally completed in early 2020.

This history compiled by Janine Jones of YACR, with acknowledgements to the following:

Can I learn to ring church bells?

  • Anyone from 10 or 11 years and upwards can learn to ring, you don’t have to be strong. There is no upper limit although you need to be able to climb the tower steps!
  • You don’t need to be musical, you just need to be able to count.
  • Couples and families can learn to ring together.
  • It provides gentle aerobic exercise and keeps you fit.
  • You can ring all year round, whatever the weather.
  • It costs very little, you need no special clothing, and sometimes you even get paid (weddings).
  • Once you have learnt to ring you can ring anywhere – other churches locally and you can visit towers when you are on holiday. Most towers welcome visitors.
  • It provides a service to the church (you don’t have to attend service).
  • You are continuing a centuries-old tradition.
  • It sounds glorious (after practice!).
  • Bells are the largest and loudest (when not amplified) musical instruments.

If you’re interested in learning please get in touch by emailing [email protected].

Our tower is listed with the Yorkshire Association of Bell Ringers.

If you’re interested in having the sound of our bells accompany your event, please mention it to us whilst planning.