The bells of York Minster could ring out on Easter Sunday after it began the search for a replacement bellringing team following the controversial mass sacking.
The 15th-century cathedral, whose bells fell silent on Christmas Day for the first time in 600 years, has advertised for its first paid ‘head of bell tower’ to lead a new team of volunteer bellringers.
York Minster disbanded its 30-strong ringing group in October in the culmination of a bitter and long-running dispute over safeguarding.
The mass dismissal caused an outcry among campanologists around the country, with some refusing to ring York’s bells on Christmas Day in solidarity with their sacked colleagues. A petition for their reinstatement was signed by more than 18,000 people.
The famous bells may not be silent for long, however, as York Minster advertised online for a ‘head of bell tower’ to recruit and establish a new team of campanologists. The role, which was previously unpaid, will command an annual salary of £7,000 for 10 hours of work a week.
The advertisement said: “The ring of 12 bells in York Minster are widely regarded by experienced change ringers as some of the best sounding bells in the country.
“The head of bell tower will be responsible for the recruitment and development of a skilled band of York Minster bellringers to lead change ringing for Sunday services and for other special services and occasions in York.”
A York Minster spokeswoman told The York Press the head of tower was being paid at a level reflecting the significant time commitment needed to recruit and induct the new band and plan bellringing activities for the next 12 months.
Asked whether regular bellringing would resume by Easter Sunday, she said: “Whilst we won’t be rushing this process, we are very much looking forward to the resumption of regular ringing at the Minster.”
A spokeswoman confirmed to the Guardian that the sacked bellringers would be eligible to reapply for their roles.
The recruitment comes nearly five months after the mass dismissal, which the Minster initially said was due to “health and safety” issues. Six days after the dismissals, John Sentamu, the archbishop of York, disclosed that safeguarding concerns were at the centre of the dispute.
It emerged that the concerns dated back to 1999 when David Potter, a former ringing master at York, was subject to a police investigation over an alleged indecent assault. Potter – who was awarded an MBE in 2000 for services to bellringing – was not charged.
Last year, North Yorkshire police applied for a sexual risk order against Potter, which was initially granted on an interim basis but later refused by York magistrates court.
The Chapter at York Minster commissioned its own risk assessment, and eventually decided that Potter should be permanently excluded from the bellringing team. However, other bellringers “consistently challenged the chapter’s authority on this and other important matters”, according to Sentamu, leading to the entire team being dismissed.
Dave Taylor, the lord mayor of York, has described the sackings as “shocking and unreasonable” and York Central MP Rachael Maskell said the action had been “disproportionate”.
In October, Potter’s solicitor, Colin Byrne, said: “Mr Potter has no cautions or convictions or any civil findings ever made against him. Issues surrounding the bellringers and the minster is a private and confidential matter between those two parties but the process that he has been subject to has shown a disregard for due process and equally the treatment of his fellow bellringers.”