York Minster now recruiting for new bell ringers after safeguarding row

16 June 2017

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THE York Minster Chapter has set in motion the restoration of bell-ringing at the Minster by appointing a “Head of Bell Tower”, and is beginning the process of interviewing applicants to join the new band.

The bells have been almost entirely silent since last October, when the Dean and Chapter summarily dismissed the existing band en bloc, with only a few moments’ notice (News, 19 October 2016).

The new Head of Bell Tower — possibly the only Master or Captain of any cathedral ringers in the UK to be so designated — is Angela Mitchell, a primary-school head teacher in York. Her appointment to the post at the Minster, which carries a salary of £7000 per annum for a ten-hour working week, starts this month for an initial 12 months only.

Last autumn, the Minster declared that its abrupt action against the ringers was in answer to the ringers’ “repeated disregard of the Chapter’s attempts to fully implement the Church’s national policies for safeguarding, health and safety, and security”, and was necessary to bring the ringers under the Chapter’s control.

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, in a statement at the time, linked the dismissal of the band to the fact that a “member of the group” was regarded as a safeguarding risk. This was a reference to a York Minster ringer of long standing, David Potter, against whom alleg­­a­tions of child sexual assault had been made, in 1999 and 2015. The police investigated these, but no charges were brought. Mr Potter was banned from the Minster in July 2016.

The dismissal of the ringers caused a furore, and was widely reported. Ringers strongly denied the charges, and accused the Dean, the Very Revd Vivienne Faull, and the Chapter of “unchristian” behaviour; 17,000 people signed a petition on their behalf. Apart from a little ringing before Christmas and at Easter by ringers invited from beyond York, the Minster’s bells have been silent for the past nine months. Mrs Mitchell’s appointment is a sign that the stalemate may now be resolved.

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Mrs Mitchell has been a ringer at York Minster for more than 20 years, having first learned to ring at the age of 11, in Manchester, and is part of a bell-ringing family. She is a member of the congregation at the Minster.

As a primary-school head teacher, she is well acquainted with the need for safeguarding, risk assessments, and “safer recruitment”, according to the York Minster press release, put out last Friday.

Mrs Mitchell has said that her chief aim is to get the bells of York Minster ringing regularly as soon as possible. This will not be for several months, however, because of the Chapter’s decision to interview all the applicant ringers — 42, so far, many of them former ringers at York Minster. Mrs Mitchell told the bell-ringers’ weekly journal, The Ringing World, that the Chapter also wanted to get “various routines and training” in place before the new band would be allowed to start ringing for services.

It is widely believed among ringers that five members of the former band, all of them supporters of Mr Potter, have been told that their applications will not be considered. A spokeswoman for the Chapter refused this week to confirm or deny this.

Whether ringing will flourish at the Minster while it is so closely controlled by the Dean and Chapter remains to be seen. It is almost unheard of, since Victorian times, for a church’s authorities to keep such control of its ringers.

The editor of The Ringing World, Robert Lewis, said on Monday: “I can’t imagine that this way of organising bell-ringing is going to catch on.”

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