History of the Leeds Youths
In 1751 the Lenham Youths opened the bells of St. Nicholas, Leeds by ringing the first peal on the ten bells. The peal was of Bob Quators on November 2nd, and was followed by an 8100 of Bob Royal on November 30th. All members of the Lenham Youths were so impressed with Leeds' newly augmented ring of ten that the decision was made to remove their headquarters from Harrietsham to this magnificent tower. To complete the transition, the Society was also renamed, The Leeds Youths on or about 12th December, when 6480 Bob Quators was rung as the first peal by The Leeds Youths.
96 peals of over 5000 changes were rung for the Leeds Youths between 1751 and 1840 (though many of the Trebble Bob compositions had internal falseness). In 1753 they rang 20,160 changes of Plain Bob Major and over Tuesday 7th April 1761 and Wednesday 8th April 1761, the company rang 40,320 changes - the entire extent - of Plain Bob Major in 27 hours.
Away from home, the Leeds Youths also rang peals on other fine peals of Kent bells. This included peals at Harrietsham (the previous headquarters, where they returned for a number of peals), Dover (where, incidentally the very first peal ever rung in Kent was performed by the Dover company in 1729 - the back seven bells still presently retaining their original sound), Cranbrook, Goudhurst and Chiddingstone. Their services were called upon to open the bells with the first peals at Ashford (augmented from a Hatch 6 to an eight with two Lester & Pack trebles) in 1763, at Elham in 1764, at Maidstone in 1784 (a new Chapman & Mears 10, where the second ever peal of Kent Treble Bob Royal was rung - though the company also rang two peals on the previous ring of 8 here too-) at Eltham where they scored the first peal on the bells subsequent to the Society of College Youths failed attempt, and at Borden in 1803, where they lost the peal after 4000-and-some changes, though they went back the following year and scored the first peal; Oxford T.B. Major. They obviously held these bells in high regard (as we do presently) as they returned on several subsequent occasions for peals here.
The Leeds Youths - possibly James Barham himself - also invented a new Treble Bob variation, known to us today as Kent. They named it New Treble Bob, and although generally rubbished by the 'establishment' today (generally because of peoples inability to concentrate on such a pure Treble Bob Method), it was very highly regarded by all worthy ringing societies in the 19th century, taking its place as the zenith of methods for some considerable period, and with a far more obvious coursing order than Oxford T.B, though Oxford is obviously also a fine method. The esteem in which Kent was held by the greatest ringers of all time is evident in the fact that the first peal of Maximus at St Paul's Cathedral London was in the Kent variation, with Messrs W.T. Cockerill and W. Prime on the Tenor and rung for Ancient Society of College Youths. Not until 1925 was any Maximus method other than Kent pealed on those bells. At St Matthew Bethnal Green, too, a 15,840 of Kent was rung in 1861 by Ancient Society of College Youths - the longest peal at that time by one set of men - 9h 48 min. The current day membership wonder how many could achieve such a long length of Kent today without falling off the line. As for the history of Kent, both the first peals of Major and Royal were rung by The Leeds Youths at Leeds respectively on June 5th 1774, and January 5th 1778.
The tale of the competition between the Leeds Youths and Wye Youths is also of great historical interest, and can be found as a separate article.
Other notable achievements by the Company consisted of a peal in 1788, noted in the peal book as "rung by eight young hands". The youngest performer was 63 and the tenor man was 82 - the method: Bob Major! In 1813, James Barham rang his last peal, Bob Major on the Treble, at the age of 88, and passed away in 1819 aged 94. Only a few weeks before his death he had rung about 800 Bob Major on the Treble! After Barham's death, there were various attempts to keep the Leeds Youths active, but it inevitably declined, and the last peal for the Leeds Youths was in 1830, Kent Treble Bob Royal. Between 1830 and about 1890, the bells were seldom rung (except by visiting Ancient Society of College Youths bands for peals - one of which rung in the 1850's is a good example of the considerable effort that ringers put into the art in those days, and can be found in a separate article) Usually two men were required for the Tenor; the bells having had so many peals rung on them and no major restoration since their installation in 1751. We are led to believe that there may have been an unsatisfactory rehang in 1898, but not until 1911 was the re-hanging exercise bestowed upon that genius of bellhanging, Mr Alfred Bowell of Ipswich. The fact that 90 years on, the bells are still in a very satisfactory ringing condition is testimony to the quality of his workmanship. He would also retain as much of the original installation as possible - thus the frame is original - Robert Catlin 1751, and only the seventh and ninth have been recast; the others were not tuned, and therefore sound as they did when the Leeds Youths performed their ringing upon them. Mr Bowell also gave the back eight new steel girder headstocks (having sadly removed the canons of the back 8) and new bearings, and adapted what look to be the original clappers (a very good idea, for the quality of wrought iron in the 18th century is far superior to the shameful 'SG' sound which has spoilt many a good installation)
It was with some amazement that when the Leeds Youths was re-established in 1999 as the Ancient Society of Esquire Leeds Youths, the members discovered that no previous attempts had been made to re-establish a bona-fide Society. Between mid-2000 Easter 2004, the bells wer rung almost every Sunday for morning service by the ASELY. The ASELY is restricted to male membership only, but makes no apology for this. The members believe that, particularly following the destruction of most other old ringing societies, it is important that there should be just one where members should be capable of ringing to a high standard, but also support the traditional Church (Male Ministers, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer) and conduct themselves with dignity. Membership is only open to persons who can fulfill these criteria, but as an added device against political correctness we should also like to state that all Sunday service ringing ASELY members are also members of the Leeds Society of Bell & Handbell Ringers, which is dedicated to ensuring that any local persons who wish to content themselves with handling a bell and ringing called-changes may do so, and which is also the group which rings the Parish Church Handbells sold by the Church upon erroneous advice in the late 1930's, and which were discovered in an Antique shop in Hungerford in 2003, and bought back by the Parochial Church Council, upon the recommendation of the then Vicar, supported by the Master of the Leeds Youths. Membership of this Society is open to Male and Female.