Silenced: Anger and upset as York Minster axes bell ringers – and no more peals until next year

Silenced: York Minster. Photograph: YorkMix
12 Oct 2016 @ 5.54 pm
| News

Anger, shock and bewilderment has greeted the decision by York Minster to axe its award-winning team of bell ringers and silence the bells for months.

The historic peals of bells to mark Remembrance Sunday, Christmas and midnight on New Year’s Eve will not be heard this year because of the changes.

The Minster’s governing body, the Dean and Chapter, summoned the 30-strong group of volunteer bell ringers to a meeting in Church House on Tuesday night (October 11) and told them that their ringing would cease immediately.

They were also told that they were no longer allowed into the bell tower. YorkMix has been told that the locks have already been changed.

The volunteers, some of whom have been ringing at the Minster for 30 years, only learned of the meeting on Sunday. The news came as a complete shock.

One bell ringer told us that they had been told not to talk to the media about the situation. This was reaffirmed in an email seen by YorkMix sent out to relevant parties from the Chapter Steward which states:

Please refrain from discussion about individuals and avoid speculation that could compromise the confidentiality of those involved.

Please note that this also applies to all forms of social media: breaching confidence on social media is the same as doing so face-to-face. Any breach of confidence will be taken very seriously.

‘An emotional thing’

The biggest bell at York Minster. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr
The biggest bell at York Minster. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr

A spokeswoman for York Minster says it is making changes to the bell ringing team as part of its process to “professionalise” the way it recruits and manages its volunteers.

Other groups have also gone through this process, including the volunteer flower arrangers and the brodery team who do embroidery at the cathedral.

The present group of bell ringers was being disbanded. All bell ringing would cease until a new head bell ringer is recruited next year, who would oversee the recruitment of a new team.

Previous ringers would be welcome to apply for the new posts. But one ringer told us: “If the Minster think we’re going to go back… I really doubt any of us will after all this.”

The Minster spokeswoman said: “We have had to take some tough decisions. We have thanked them many times for the work they have done, and we recognise this is quite an emotional thing.

“We know we need to get past this difficult stage. We want to be known as a cathedral that’s trying something a bit different, but we have to go through this stage before we can get there.”

She said she hoped it would encourage new people to come forward to be part of the bell ringing team.

Access to the bell tower was being denied to ringers as a health and safety measure, she added.

She said the ringing of the Minster’s carillon bells – a sequence of bells played via a keyboard – would continue.

‘Whole thing stinks’

However, one of the carillon team, John Ridgeway-Wood, told YorkMix that he was “seriously considering” resigning because of the actions of the Minster – and so were others.

John Ridgeway-Wood
John Ridgeway-Wood
John, who is director of music at St Wilfrid’s Church on Duncombe Place, has played the organ at the Minster many times – but he cannot believe what is happening there.

“I just think the whole thing stinks,” he said.

John said the Minster bells are the fourth heaviest peal in the country. The tenor bell – the largest of the peal of 12 – weighs four tons; “it’s like swinging four Mini Coopers on a rope”.

“You can’t just get people in to ring a peal of bells like that because it’s dangerous,” he said.

“If the Minster think they’re just going to be able to appoint a new tower captain in the new year, and get some of the bell ringers back, well they’re one-offs.”

John added:

I just think it’s outrageous that this happens to one of the finest bell ringing teams, not just in the country but in the world.

York Minster’s team of bell ringers is up in the top ten. They have won many bell ringing competitions over the years.

I’m utterly shocked that this has happened. It’s just incredible. And the bells are going to be silent for who knows how long?