Giggleswick’s Church Bell Heritage

David S. Parry
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Giggleswick’s magnificent 15th century Parish Church is home to a very fine ring of eight bells, recently re-hung and re-furbished to the highest standards. In this article I intend to trace the history of bells at Giggleswick Church with information I have collected over the years, and some more recent details which have come to light as some very old wills have been located and investigations made during the recent restoration.

Five wills in the 1500s refer to parishioners bequeathing money towards buying a “great bell” as follows:
Will of Isabell Palay, 9th of January 1556: “Item if the parishioners of Giggleswick will buy a great bell I give them to it 20s”.
Will of Sir Richard Somerscall of Giggleswick, Priest, 30th of March 1557: “Item I bequeath 6s 8d toward buying of one great bell if the parish be content so to do”.
Will of Robert Gregson, 2nd of August 1557: “I give to the buying of a great bell 2s”.
Will of Anthony Knolles, 22nd of September 1557: Item I give and bequeath to the buying of a church bell 6s 8d”.
Will of Thomas Watkinson, 10th July 1558: “Item I give to the buying of a great bell 3s 4d”.

These were all in the reign of Mary (1553-1558) during a return to Catholic practices amid the Reformation.

So it is fairly safe to assume that there was at least one bell in the 1560s, although maybe there were other bells at this time and the reference to “buying a great bell” may have meant that there was a plan to augment the ring of one or two bells to three by adding a Tenor bell rather than mending the great bell or recasting a cracked bell. However, earliest known records show the following three bells:

Treble Bell (smallest) -

Voco Deum laudare populum
(I call the people to praise God)
(Cast by Edward Sellar 2nd at York. Weight approximately 5½ cwts)

Second Bell

Gloria in excelsis Deo
(Glory be to God on high)
V.A.L (?)
Churchwardens Silas Dawson Thomas Clapham
Robert Armisted Thomas Bankes
J  S
(Cast by Jeffrey Scott of Wigan. Weight approximately 7 cwts)

Tenor Bell (largest)

Ut turba sic sonitu Domini conduco cohortes
Churchwardens John Tunstil William Birket
(Again cast by Edward Sellar 2nd at York at the same time as the Treble bell. Weight approximately 9¼ cwts).

These details were recorded when the three bells were lowered to the ground on 21st August 1850 prior to being re-cast. The Latin text for the Tenor bell was recorded in manuscript as above but the word ‘turba’ (crowd) does not seem to make as much sense as ‘tuba’ meaning ‘trumpet’. The word could have been wrongly cast on the bell or incorrectly written down. If ‘tuba’ is assumed the inscription means
      ’Like a trumpet, thus with a sound I bring together the Lord’s attendants’
      (Translation and comment thanks to John Harrop).

It is more than possible that these two Edward Sellar bells were re-castings of earlier bells that had become cracked. This has perhaps been confirmed when the old wooden foundation beams of the lower bell frame were removed during the re-hanging of the present bells in 2003, as all three bell pits appeared to be of the same age, although carbon dating of the timbers at that time was inconclusive. Any information on earlier bells would be most welcome.

Following the removal of these three bells from the tower to the Whitechapel Foundry of C & G Mears in London in August 1850 (possibly by rail from Giggleswick Station, opened in 1847) the three bells weighed a total 21 cwts 3 qrs 2 lbs according to their records (2003). Of the ringers of these three bells not much is known, except that in the churchyard there is a stone memorial to “William Bank, chorister and ringer at this church for 30 years, who died on 8th January 1852 aged 50 years”. The three bells were broken up at the Whitechapel Foundry and together with additional metal were re-cast into a new ring of six bells during 1850 with the new Tenor bell weighing 12 cwts 0 qrs 26 lbs in the key of F sharp, with the old oak bell frame from the three bells of 1654 (or earlier) being modified to fit the new bells with additional wood, mainly pine.

The inscriptions of the six new bells and their details are as follows: >
No Name Diameter (ins) Weight
(cwts qrs lbs)
Treble Faith 28¾ 4 2 27 D flat
2 Hope 30¾ 5 2 1 C flat
3 Charity 33 6 2 22 B
4 Justice 34½ 7 2 1 A flat
5 Self Control 37½ 9 0 16 G flat
Tenor Fortitude 41½ 12 0 26 F sharp
Attached to the bell frame was a brass plate which read:

This Peal of Six Bells
Was given by
Mary Long Dawson and Elizabeth Hutton Dawson
Halton Gill and Marshfield
To the Parish Church of Giggleswick
AD 1850

This plate was removed and restored in 2003 and is now mounted in the ringing chamber.

These bells were described by the Rev. T.P. Brocklehurst M.A. in his booklet entitled “A walk around Giggleswick in Craven Church with the Parson” as a “peal of uncommonly mellow toned bells” although Virginia Woolf, in a letter from Giggleswick (whilst staying with her cousin William W. Vaughan, Headmaster of Giggleswick School, in 1904) referred to the church bells as those “tuneless bells of Giggleswick” (see The Dalesman, April 1986).

Following the installation of the new bells only “call changes” were rung by the local ringers until in 1872 John Parker was instrumental in encouraging the ringers to learn change ringing. He was very impressed with a visiting band of ringers from Burnsall, Kildwick and Skipton in June that year. “Why could not the Giggleswick ringers ring in such good style and according to the standard methods?” he wrote in his notes. For several years little progress was made as some of the old company did not relish new ideas, but eventually progress was made in the winter of 1886 when Charles Bell of Gargrave gave lessons to five members and in 1897 Mr. M.J. Mallaby, who was engaged in hanging the new bells at Settle Parish Church, also gave lessons.

Now follows the golden period for Giggleswick ringing when without the distractions of modern day life great progress was made. Rapid learning of many different methods followed, through Plain Bob and Grandsire to Treble Bob. This period coincided with the re-opening of the church following closure for restoration and the ringers rang from the ground floor for the first time (previously having rung from the gallery in the tower) on 11th May 1892. A complete peal of 720 changes of Kent Treble Bob was rung for the Evening Service, taken by Archdeacon Boyd to commemorate the re-ordering of the Church.

Old record books are packed with details of many occasions when the bells were rung for various reasons, a selection of which follows.

On 30th March 1856 the ringers received two shillings and sixpence each for ringing following the fall of Sebastopol. At the ringing for the induction of Rev. Addison Crofton 12th April 1893, Kent Oxford and College single were rung. On 12th March 1894 there was a ringing to commemorate the rescue of Thomas Ingham, a native of Giggleswick, from shipwreck on his way to Rockhampton, Australia (with more ringing upon his return on 16th October 1903), also for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee on 22nd June 1897 and a muffled peal following the death of the Rt. Hon. W.E. Gladstone on 22nd May 1898. On 1st March 1900 a ringing marked the relief of Ladysmith and on 1st August 1900 the induction of the Rev. T.P. Brocklehurst as Vicar of Giggleswick. Queen Victoria’s death on 21st January 1901 was marked by 720 changes of Oxford Treble Bob rung fully muffled with the Tenor half open at the back stroke, and bells were also rung on the day of her memorial service, 2nd February 1901. Further ringing was carried out for the declaration of peace at the end of the South African War on 2nd June 1902 and for the Coronation of King Edward VII on 9th August 1902, when 720 changes of Kent Treble Bob were rung.

During September 1901 William Slinger of Settle re-hung the Treble and Tenor bells.

A period of strife followed in 1903. Previously, when payment was an issue in 1749, the ringers went on strike for an increase of five shillings and fourpence per annum to make their pay up to one pound. This time, the Vicar had posted a notice in the belfry saying that as from Easter 1903 he expected the ringers to give their services as did the choir. However, it was also to do with church attendance on the Sabbath because, after ringing, several of the ringers used to slip out of the back door! Firstly the Vicar locked them in the Belfry, and on the following Sunday, locked them out and paid them off in the sum of two pounds ten shillings.

The Craven Herald for February 1903 reported: “The bell ringers of St. Alkelda’s Giggleswick have been paid off and their services dispensed with. Some of them have been engaged in the work of bell ringing for a very long period. Their dismissal was brought about by the action of the Vicar (the Revd Percy Theodore Brocklehurst) who maintains that as members of the Choir give their services the occupants of the Belfry should do the same. The ringers have declined to accept this view of the situation”.

In the following week a notice appeared on the church notice board requesting volunteers to become bell ringers. Some of the old company returned but several did not. The new team were to be known as “Ministers of the Belfry” and they were established under a proper constitution with the Vicar as president and seats in the church marked with an engraved brass plate “Change ringers”. These can still be seen today, on the back pew next to the choir vestry.

In 1928 Rev. Brocklehurst pursued the idea of increasing the bells from six to eight by the addition of two new bells and re-hanging the old six in a new frame. Messrs. Taylor of Loughborough, and Messrs.Gillett and Johnson of Croydon, bell foundries, were approached to inspect and to quote for the job. Two of the bells were found to be cracked in the crowns and in 1930 all six were removed from the tower, broken up and together with additional metal were re-cast into a fine ring of eight new bells being “Simpson tuned” by Gillett and Johnson, with a Tenor bell weighing 10 cwts 2 qrs 19 lbs tuned to the key of A flat.

Inscriptions and details of the eight new bells are:
No Name Diameter (ins) Weight
(cwts qrs lbs)
Treble Truth 24½ 3 2 2 A flat
2 Beauty 26½ 3 3 9 G
3 Faith 28 4 2 12 F
4 Hope 30 5 0 6 E flat
5 Charity 30 5 0 16 D flat
6 Justice 31½ 6 0 4 C
7 Self Control 34½ 7 2 5 B flat
Tenor Uprightness 38½ 10 2 19 A flat

It is interesting to note the change of name of the Tenor bell from Fortitude to Uprightness at re-casting! In order to accommodate the eight new bells in the tower it was necessary to install a cast iron frame for two bells above the old six bell frame. Money was at a premium so instead of replacing the old frame with a new cast iron one, the old frame was retained and strengthened. Funds for the re-casting and re-hanging of the bells initially came from money left in the will of Miss Eleanor Margaret Bryning, who left 250 to provide the two new smaller bells as a memorial to her uncle Mr. Thomas Edward Foster. The remainder of the money was found by donations, the total cost being 550. The re-dedication service for the bells and belfry work was on Saturday, 23rd August 1930, the service being taken by Canon C.C. Marshall M.A. of Leeds, President of the Yorkshire Association of Change Ringers, the Vicar and Rector Rev. T.P. Brocklehurst M.A. being indisposed. Churchwardens then were J.S. Hodgson, J. Clark, J.W. Butterworth and N. Parry.

As the years went by various repairs were carried out - refurbished clappers by Messrs.Taylors in 1960, re-rimming of the six larger bell wheels by the Whitechapel bell foundry in 1964, and the replacement of the headstock of the fourth bell by them in 1975. They also gave an estimate of 4,218 to re-hang the bells completely.

In the year 2000 a disabled toilet was fitted in the ground floor of the tower, and so a new ringers’ gallery was fitted at the same level as prior to 1892 - back again!

As in 1930, only essential work to fit the bells into the tower could be afforded and many of the 1850 fittings and the wooden six bell frame, some of which dated back to the 1600s, remained in 2002. In that year it became obvious that major work would be required if the bells were to continue to be rung. In places the old six bell frame was wedged to the walls exerting much strain on the tower and a full restoration was required. Four estimates were obtained for a new galvanized steel six bell frame, restoring the 1930’s cast iron two bell frame and a complete re-hanging of all eight bells with new fittings. Messrs. Hayward Mills of Radford, Nottingham, carried out the work to a very high standard, aided by the ringers and local volunteers, during the autumn of 2004, at a total cost of 42,000. A Service of Re-dedication was held on Saturday, 4th December 2004, taken by the Archdeacon of Craven, the Venerable Malcolm Grundy, assisted by the Rev. Peter Yorkstone, Giggleswick’s Priest in Charge. The churchwardens at the time were Mrs. J. Robinson, D.S. Parry, I. Smith and N. Mussett.

At the request of the Council for the Care of Churches and English Heritage the parish was asked to preserve the old south frameside (i.e. the wooden end frame dating from the 1600s which had survived all the re-hangings of the bells). This was preserved and mounted on the west wall higher up in the tower adjacent to the top bell frame.

No further attention should be required now for many years, so Giggleswick bells will ring out over the village for centuries to come. If anyone has information or photographs of the old bells the author would be very pleased to see such material. He can be contacted at Bark Head, Lawkland, LA2 8AB. A larger collection of photographs than shown here is in the care of D. Parry and Giggleswick Church and two others are on the website version of this article.


To Sheila Gordon and colleagues for the information regarding the wills and to John Harrop for the Latin translation.

St Alkend’s Church, Giggleswick. Wooden end frame of 1600s.
Giggleswick Parish Church, settle, Yorks. The recast ring of 6 bells with 2 trebles added. Weight of tenor 11-3-0
Gillet and Johnson, Croydon, england, 1930
(Note: true weight of tenor is 10 cwts 2 qtrs 19 lbs)

St Alkend’s Church, Giggleswick. Wooden end frame of 1600s.

Giggleswick Parish Church, settle, Yorks. The recast ring of 6 bells with 2 trebles added. Weight of tenor 11-3-0
Gillet and Johnson, Croydon, england, 1930
(Note: true weight of tenor is 10 cwts 2 qtrs 19 lbs)