Bells of Selby Abbey

Church bells in the United Kingdom are rung with the bell swinging through a 360° controlled and continuous alternating arc. This style is almost unique in the world apart mainly from churches scattered across the old British Empire and the USA.

Bells have been rung in churches for hundreds of years. Most importantly to call the congregation to service, but also as a warning and for special occasions. The earliest recorded presence of bells at the abbey were four bells, hung in 1614 with an additional one hung five years later. However it seems highly unlikely that a monastery of such magnitude would not have bells prior to Henry VIII and the dissolution.

These five bells were rung over the next 71 years until they were destroyed when the central tower collapsed, in 1690. Following the rebuilding of the tower, new bells were cast using the old bell metal, and hung in 1710. In 1733 a treble was added giving a ring of six. This situation was to last 130 years when in 1863 two new bells were added, to give an octave.

The well-documented fire in October 1906 again resulted in the abbey’s bells crashing to the ground. It was decided that Selby should have a new ring of ten bells. Donations poured in and the cost was soon raised. John Taylor & Co. (Bellfounders) Ltd. were awarded the contract to design, supply and install the frame, bells and all associated fittings. The bells were cast in 1908. Neither the bell foundry nor the abbey records show when the new bells were first rung but a peal is recorded as being rung on 21st July 1910.

No further major work was required until 1965 when the ‘plain bearings’ on which the bells swung, were replaced with ball bearings. Plain bearings are literally metal turning on metal. Despite regular oiling this type can become very difficult to ring.

In the late 1990’s and to celebrate the birth of the new century, 50% grants were being offered for ‘Ringing in the Millennium’ projects. The Selby ringers decided that to they would like two additional trebles plus a flat 6th. The latter to give a lighter octave, to compliment the existing heavier one. John Taylor’s were contacted and they told us that their archives showed that the bell frame which they provided in 1909 had been designed to accommodate additional bells, if the occasion ever arose. Permission to augment the bells was sought and given. Fund raising and donations realized the £20,000.00 half cost, which was required to qualify for the grant. The two trebles were cast in 1997 and the flat 6th in 1999. The installation was completed later in 1999 and the bells were rung as a ‘twelve’ to celebrate the new Millennium on 1st January 2000.

Thus what was envisaged and started by the bell founders in the early part of the 20th century, was completed at its end.