St. Gregory’s sturdy tower, with walls up to 4 and 5 feet thick, is a rare and excellent example of a fortified tower, built by the Fitzalans ca. 1300 for protection against the Scots. It contained living quarters on two levels and, guarding the staircase, a portcullis, the existence of which had been forgotten until it crashed down during a storm in 1803. A fourth stage, the belfry, was added about a century later, bringing the height of the tower to 98 feet.
The belfry now houses a ring of eight bells, with a 21cwt. tenor, cast ca. 1360 by Johannes de Stafford of Leicester and being one of only three pre-Reformation bells in Wensleydale. It is reputed (with some reason) to have come from Jervaulx Abbey at the dissolution. Bells 4 – 7 are from various 17th century dates, bell 3 from 1755 and the two trebles from 1873, when the whole installation was rather poorly refurbished, including a new wooden frame, which has never adequately served its purpose. The ring as a whole is not very tuneful and plans are in hand for a further complete overhaul, one possibility being the purchase of a fine second-hand peal complete with metal frame. There is also a small sanctus, or prayer, bell, which is currently out of commission, prior to refurbishment and rehanging. We have an active team of ringers, with a modest change-ringing repertoire. Visitors are always welcome and anyone interested in learning to ring is invited to contact the tower captain, Robin Brown: e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 01677 425483.
There has been a clock in the tower since at least 1716. The original had a nine-foot wooden dial with fifteen-inch figures and only an hour hand. It was repaired in 1809 and 1818. In 1840, the mechanism was either adapted or replaced. A new copper-covered iron dial was erected and a minute hand added. The current mechanism, by Dent of London, dates from 1873 and was presented to the Rector and town by C. Grace Beresford Peirse and “ladies of the Bedale Working Society for the restoration of their parish church”. At the same time, Lady Beresford Peirse also donated our splendid set of 21 handbells, which were completely refurbished in 2009.
A leaflet with much more detail about the tower, bells and clock is available at the back of the church.