The tower of St. Mary's Church, where the bells hang, is Norman at the base and is rare, being solid in
the lower part. From the outside the tower appears no different from any other church tower. But in Norman times it was built for defensive purposes and so the lower stage is essentially solid masonry.
After demolition of the old steeple in 1760, an upper storey complete with elegant pinnacles, was added for the insertion of three bell which date from 1762. These were cast in the Whitchapel Bell Foundry with the largest weighing around 8cwt. They hang side by side in a well preserved oak frame installed by Mallaby of Masham in 1887.
In nearly all other bell towers the robes hang straight down inside the tower. Because this tower is solid, the resourceful bellhangers passed the ropes through the roof space of the nave to fall in a straight line no more than nine inches from the tower wall. This ringing position is "very unusual if not unique".
The bells were re-hung in 1887 when the clock was installed.
Extract from Church Records
In the late 1990's an appeal to restore the bells was launched and a great deal of work was undertaken to research the task and identify suitable funding. Removing the bells for restoration is more difficult than in an open tower as the bells would need to be craned out through the tower wall or roof.
This project was put on hold for various reasons and was finally resurrected in 2008 as part of a wider
Local Heritage Project for the village which obtained a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
With the Heritage Lottery Grant of £19,980 for the Bells Restoration confirmed in June 2008, work on the bells could begin in December with the hope to have our bells ringing out once again by Easter 2009.
Generous help from Long Preston Parish Council, and other donations including Heather's sponsored walk, The Yorkshire Association of Change Ringers, and the tour around Hellifield Peel, had by then raised £10,000. When this was added to the Lottery grant, the Parochial Church Council had enough money to
pay for the bells work.
The bells have been a part of village life since the 18th Century. As well as local occasions such as weddings and funerals, and to mark Sunday Services, the bells have been rung to proclaim significant national events - Coronations, the end of World wars, the Millennium Festivites. Before pocket or wrist
Watches were common local people in the lanes and fields of the village would have relied on the bells to tell the time via the sounding mechanism operated by the clock.
Two of the three bells were silenced in September 2006 after the Bellfounders discovered short hairline cracks in them, caused by the 18th Century founding techniques and excessive movement of the beams that support the bell frame. The lightest bell of the three could be sounded for Church Services only.
The hour bell could no longer be struck to sound the hours and the characteristic 'peal' of bells was no longer heard.
Drawing by D. Greenwood, showing damage to Tenor Bell.