The original Clifton Handbell Ringers were formed around 1890. The band was composed of male members of Clifton Parish Church. Under the guidance of Mr James Fearnley, a Clifton joiner, they began by playing a few simple tunes with about two dozen bells belonging to Clifton Parish Church, St. Johns. Their efforts were popular and their membership grew, as did their fame. The picture on the right shows the Clifton team in 1895. Around this time the team began to enter local and national Handbell Competitions.
A larger set of bells was bought by public subscription and there were enough members to make two teams of around twelve ringers each. Eventually they had about two hundred bells.
The Bell Vue contest, with a first prize of £20, was the most important annual competition and for many years, around the turn of the century, Clifton entered one, sometimes two teams. They came second once and third twice, however, first prize eluded them. In the early 1900s the team entered but they were unplaced; the adjudicator commenting that the bells were out of tune. Fund raising was carried out across the village and in 1907 a brand new five and a half octave set of bells was ordered from Mears and Stainbank of Whitechapel. Receipts show that the band paid £120.10s.0d for the set of 195 bells. They were despatched by goods train, from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London to Brighouse Station on 14 May 1908 with a note saying,
“We have done our best to make an exceedingly good set of bells and are confident that all the members of the band will be pleased with them”.
The picture below was taken in 1909 and shows the team with this new set of bells. The Yorkshire ‘off-table’ teams around this era preferred fewer ringers in a team, it helped make the band more exciting to watch and melody lines were shared between as few ringers as possible to help with the interpretation of musical passages and to make the overall effect more fluent. A lot of the music that they played still survives today and shows us that the team were of a highly proficient standard.
The start of the Great War in 1914 brought about the demise of the original Clifton Handbell Ringers and the team disbanded on the 21st of February 1915 and the bells were put into storage at a local mill. The bells remained there for 60 years until rediscovered by Mr. Peter Fawcett who was researching the history of the original team. He realised that there were 50 bells missing, however he cleaned and repaired what bells he could and gathered together a small group of enthusiasts The present Clifton Handbell Ringers was re-established in 1975 and shortly afterwards a junior team was formed.
In 1978 a junior team was formed. This team is still in existence but it is now called Clifton Village Handbell Ringers.
The adult team formed in 1975 became known as the senior team.
A third team, mainly consisting of senior citizens, was formed in 1986.
In 1980 the full set of 155 bells, covering 5 octaves, was returned to Whitechapel for full refurbishment. A third team, mainly consisting of senior citizens, was formed in 1986. To ensure the future of the organisation, funds were raised and, combined with help from various funding bodies, enough money was raised to ensure delivery of 140 new handbells in March 2001 and June 2004 replacing the set dating from 1908.