The Priory Church of ST. Mary

Built in Nineteenth Century: Opened in 1866


1113AD - Bridlington Priory was founded by Walter de Gant, Lord of the Manor of Hunmanby, for Augustinian Canons Regular. Built on the site of a Saxon church, the monastery was one of the earliest and largest Augustinian houses in the country. When complete, the building was over 400ft long and 75ft wide, with transepts 150ft long. Above the central crossing stood a magnificent tower, slightly taller than the present south-west tower, surmounted by a corona not unlike that at Newcastle Cathedral. Evidence suggests that it was planned in the 15th century to extend the west towers. It is unfortunate that this work was never carried out.

A very wealthy monastery (at the time of the dissolution, it had an annual revenue of 547) it owned a large amount of land. This wealth was no doubt helped by the number of pilgrims who travelled to Bridlington to visit the shrine of St. John, a former Prior who had been canonised in 1401. William Wood, the last Prior, was one of the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and eventually tried and executed at Tyburn in 1537. The Priory was dissolved on May 23rd 1537, and in the space of a few short years most of the great building had been destroyed; only the nave survived to serve as the Parish Church, together with the Bayle or gatehouse which housed a school. Much of the stonework was used to repair local houses and the harbour.

Before the dissolution, Richard Pollard surveyed the monastery in some detail for the King. His writings provide documentary evidence of bells: The Steple beying Towre ffashyon ys highe & dangerously in decaye. There be in the same Steple seven Bells mete to be rongen all at one tyme yff yt so happen.

It is evident that the tower was in some danger of collapse, as huge buttresses were built on the north side of the nave in the 15th century to stop it leaning.

The history of the bells from this time until the eighteenth century is scarce. It is known that there were at least two bells, and that these were rung regularly. An extract from a churchwardens account of 1669 reads:

Disburst by the Church Warddains of the p'ish of Bridftngton for the yeare 1669. Ringeres for the king 29th May Matth. Harrisonfor 2 belles mend 1/6 November the fift day 1669 paid ringers 13/6

By the early eighteenth century, the remains of the Priory were in a ruinous state. The great West Window had been blocked in, and was partially obscured by the low roof. A small brick cupola had been added to the south-west tower to house a clock. James Harrison, a bellfounder from Barton-on-Humber, added three bells in this tower, two were dated 1763 and one 1782. Their weights and inscriptions were as follows: (weights in hundredweight)

Bell Note Weight Diameter Inscription
Treble approx. B 8-1-24 3'0" For light restor'd is heard my silver sound, To songs of Praise to wake ye village round.
Second approx. A 9-2-12 3'2" Nor joy nor grief employs my peaceful voice; Mine 'tis in consort only to rejoice.
Tenor Very flat G 10-2-18 3'5" To Speak a Parting Soul is giv'n to ME: Be trimmed thy LAMP, as if I toll'd for THEE. Cors. Rickaby, Minister; Henry Booth, Willm. Simpson, Rob't Hardy, Churchwardens. 1763

The Harrisons of Barton and Barrow were prolific bellfounders, and many churches in the area (particularly on the banks of the Humber) still have their bells. They were not considered great belfounders, however; it is said that the tenor bell at St. Mary's, Cottingham is the best bell Harrison ever cast -- most local bellringers know that is not the compliment it first seems!

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the first of a number of restorations to the Priory began, culminating in the major remodelling a hundred years later by Sir George Gilbert-Scott. He redesigned the roof, opened up the West Window, and built up the west towers to their present height. The clock was replaced, and the three bells retained.

In 1897, John Taylor Jr. of the famous Loughborough bell-foundry visited the Priory, and after discussion with the Rector, the Revd. J. Allan Pride, quoted for a ring of ten bells in a wooden frame, tenor 31cwts, at a cost of 985. Several other quotes were prepared with different weights of tenor, but nothing came of the ten bell idea, probably just as well as there is very little spare space in the belfry and the smaller bells would have been mounted above the larger ones making handling difficult.

In early 1902,Mr. William Jameson contracted John Taylor to supply a ring of eight bells, in memory of his father Alfred. The old bells were rung for the last time on April 16th 1902 for a wedding, dismantled and stood in the church for some time. They were eventually taken to the foundry at Loughborough and melted down in 1902 where the metal was used for a chime of eight bells for Christ Church, Fulwood, Sheffield.

The new bells were cast at Loughborough during the last fortnight of April 1902, and were fitted during the last week of May, over 100ft up the south-west tower. Mounted on a massive cast iron H-frame, the installation included Hastings stays and self-lubricating plain bearings. The bells hang on hollow box cast iron headstocks, and have a ope-draft of nearly eighty feet. A Cambridge chiming mechanism for the clock was also donated; sadly, this part of the clock was disconnected some years ago and is now derelict. The total cost of the installation was 886; as a comparison this is rather less than a set of eight bell-ropes would now cost.

The bells were dedicated by the Archbishop of York on Saturday June 7th, (dreadful weather did not stop hundreds of people gathering on Church Green to hear them) and were rung to a quarter peal of GrandSire Triples the next day. The weights of the bells and inscriptions: (all weights in hundredweights)

Bell Note Weight Diameter Inscription
Treble D 6-1-21 2'7"  
Second C# 7-0-3 2'8"  
Third B 7-0-25 2'10"  
Fourth A 8-1-1 3'0"  
Fifth G 11-1-20 3'4" William B. Jameson Donor
Sixth F# 13-1-2 3'6", Robert Medforth JP Church warden 32nd Year Inspector * Reflector * Detector
Seventh E 17-3-9 3'9" J Allan Pride MA LLB DCL Rector * Corrector * Director
Tenor D 25-2-14 4'5" J Alfred Jameson JP Pro Memoria

All are additionally inscribed John Taylor & Co Loughborough 1902 and on each bell except the tenor, just below the crown, are attached two 1902 pennies.

The first peal on the bells was one of 5024 Kent Treble Bob Major, rung in 3hrs 18mins on Saturday 2nd August 1902 by a band from as far afield as Newcastle and London. The first all-local peal did not take place until 1949 and in fact very few peals have been rung due to the Priory's close proximity to housing.

The bells are famous among bellringers as being one of the finest rings of eight bells in the country. They have, however, also been infamous for being very difficult to ring well, due to the state of the fittings, the weight of the bells, and the long ropes.

As part of the Priory's extensive Restoration Appeal, attention turned in 1991 to the belfry. As a result, the three heaviest bells were re-hung on new bearings, and provided with new clappers in early 1992, and the remaining five in 1993. Generous grants towards this work were biven by the Beverley & District Ringing Society and the Yorkshire Association of Change Ringers.

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