The 1755 ringing contest between the Wye Company and Leeds Youths

At the time of the altercations between the Leeds Youths and Wye Company, the Leeds Youths had only been extant for four years, under their 29 year-old Master James Barham, whereas the Wye Ringers had been peal ringing since at least the 1730's.

It is clear that, probably due to the poor standards of ringing by the Wye Company, the Leeds Youths were deeply unimpressed by them, and viewed them with all the disdain which a young and dedicated band striving for excellence may have for an older group of ringers with lower standards of striking, who believe that they have a divine right to 'lord it' over all other ringers, leaving a facade of respectability, when in fact these supposedly 'older statesman' were nothing but a bunch of what we might now term as 'slashers' or 'hackers'.  The present day Leeds Youths have every reason to empathise with their brethren of olden time, as they are now holding their own, not against the company of Wye ringers, (who nowadays are a very amiable band of souls - generally uninterested in changeringing, but very keen and dedicated Sunday service ringers in a church with an excellent choral tradition, and which boasts an electoral roll of over 300, many of whom would probably attend the Parish Church in Ashford were it not for the terrible modernising of the main Sunday service there, and divers 'politicking') but against certain members of the Kent County Association of Change Ringers, who simply cannot bear the idea of a band of Youths who will not be brought to heel by them, as those KCACR members of whom we speak think they have a divine right to 'lord it' over our Society, and to try to crush it as they perceive a threat, where none originally existed - save against the modernisation or removal of traditional church furnishings, bell frames and fittings, or modernisation of Church of England doctrine and liturgy into meaningless tripe.

Returning to our story, it is probable that the Leeds ringers first encountered the Wye Company in 1749 when the Leeds Youths were still called the Lenham Youths, and  had their Headquarters at Harrietsham.  Both the Lenham Youths and Wye Company were invited to open the Faversham bells - the Lenham Youths scoring a peal but, according to James Barham "Wye ringers were here at the same time, but rang nothing to speak of at all".

It came to pass in November 1754, that both bands (the Lenham Youths now being the Leeds Youths) attempted peals on the bells of Wrotham Parish Church on separate dates.  The Wye attempt failed, but the Leeds Youths were triumphant.  

In The Kentish Post (Canterbury Newsletter) [which was published bi-weekly - on Wednesday and Saturday] for Saturday 30th November 1754 James Barham inserted a notice in the Advertisement column:

On Wednesday November 20th in the evening at St Nicholas Leeds, the Youths of Leeds rang 5040 Double Bob Major in 3 hours and 16 minutes; and the Friday following the same Youths rang at Wrotham on that celebrated new peal of bells a compleat Peal of 5040 Bob Major in 3 hours and 18 minutes although a famous antient Company of Ringers in Kent attempted at Grandsire Triples and Bob Major, but their peals were short; their complaint was that the bells went badly but we could see no foundation for such complaint.

A response was forthcoming from the Wye ringers on Wednesday 11th December:

Whereas a paragraph was inserted in a late Canterbury Newspaper, reflecting on an ancient and famous Company of Ringers in Kent for not going thro' a 5040 at Wrotham, and as there are a great many ancient and famous Companies of Ringers in this County, every one may not know who is meant thereby; but as the Wye Company were at Wrotham about that Time, and had not their usual Success, it is probable they may be the Company that is meant; if not they beg Pardon; but if they be, this is their Answer:
        To the LEEDS  Youths.
Gentlemen: THIS is to acquaint you that notwithstanding the shortness of our Peals at Wrotham, we are ready to ring with you whenever you please.  We are not ancient, neither do we esteem our selves famous, yet we have rung more whole Peals in Kent and Sussex, than ever you will do if you live to the age of the Antediluvians.
At half of which Places
Tho' you're just in your Prime
Whene'er you beat us
We'll leave off - 'twill be Time.

Then from the Leeds Youths on Saturday 28th December:

To the Company of Ringers at Wye:
 GENTLEMEN, YOU have very good Reason to suppose that a late Advertisement in this paper might probably be levelled at you. - We the Leeds Youths very readily acknowledge our Fault in speaking of you in a Language that you don't deserve; for whereas we stiled you an antient and famous Company of Ringers we are forced now to agree with you that, although you may be antient, you certainly are not famous, but rather, infamous Ringers, whatever your other accomplishments may be.

As we can gain no Honour by engaging with you so soon after your miserable Performance at Wrotham, we recommend to your practice, Bob Major, which was never executed but by us; and when you have made some tolerable progress in that, we shall then be ready to accept of any Challenge from you - But fear you will never be able to accomplish it, were you to live to the days of Methuselah.

We can note from these two communications that both Barham and the Wye author were keen to present themselves as well educated in Classic Literature.

Wed 1st January 1755:

To the Leeds Ringers, alias Pretenders to Ringing, alias Blunderers:

You have great Reason to boast of your Ringing, when you have never a Man in your Place could ring a Course of Cators.  As to your Billingsgate Stuff in the paper, it corresponds with your Scandalous Behaviour at Wrotham; your ringing there was the worst that ever was heard; and since, you perform'd most wretchedly.  That you are sensible to your Insufficiency to ring with us is plain, by your equivocating and ridiculous Answer, consisting of nothing but Impertinence.  But what could we expect from a Parcel of conceited Fools, who never heard any Ringers but themselves, and consequently never heard a good Peal? O! poor Bob Major!  You have used him cruelly at Leeds; you finally condemned him at Wrotham; and you have executed him at Lenham.
Whilst the sentiments of the Wye letter are entirely to be deprecated, it has to be conceded that the author had a very fluent grasp of literature, much  more so than Barham.  In these modern times, it is the current Master of the Leeds Youths who puts his antagonisers to shame in the literary stakes, due mainly to the appalling standards of education in England from the 1960's onwards.

Wed 15th January 1755:

To the Wye Ringers:

    We are surpriz'd you should say we have never a Man that can ring a Course of Cators; for Dec. 12th, 1751 we rung 6480 Cators and Jan. 25th, 1752 we rung 7200 Ten-in.
    We don't pretend to equal you in Scurrility; we profess Ringing and not Scolding.  If you really intend any Thing besides Words, we are ready to
give you a meeting and ingage in such Peal, and for such a Sum as shall be agreed upon.  But if you only love to hear yourselves talk, we shall not trouble ourselves to answer you.

Saturday 25th Jan 1755:

To the Leeds Ringers:
    Retrospecting upon the whole Affair, we think you exceeded us in Scurrility - we are sorry we attempted to imitate you, and do with pleasure drop it. - With regard to Cators you charge us with Mendaciloquence, when your Men confess'd they had never rung it. - We take no delight in Loquacity, neither are we fond of Altercations.  We will therefore, if you please, meet you at the Swan in Charing on Saturday the first day of February next, at Two of the Clock, and end the Dispute by ringing with you, at Wye and Leeds; agree upon a Peal or Peals, and stake the Money to be rung for.
From your humble Servants,
Wye Ringers.

Monday 27th January the Wye Company, as practice for the contest which they were expecting rang 5040 Double Bob Major at Wye and published their success in the 'Kentish Post'.

The Leeds Youths and Wye Company met at the Swan, Charing on Saturday February 1st and resolved: that they should meet at Leeds on Monday 24th February and at Wye on Monday 24th March.  The test-piece would be 5040 Bob Major for each band, and that each band would put half a Guinea on each man.  Half a Guinea would have been about 2 weeks wages to James Barham, who was Head Gardener to Lord Fairfax at Leeds Castle; so a considerable amount of money was at stake, as well as the Honour of the Leeds Youths.

The Leeds Youths took the competition with greater seriousness than the Wye Company, and rang two practice peals of 5040 Bob Major - one on Monday10th February, and the other on Saturday 22nd February, but unlike the Wye Youths, they did not feel the need to boast about these peals in the columns of the Paper, rather contenting themselves to wait until the competition piece.

Saturday 15th February 1755, the Landlord of the George Inn at Leeds had the following notice inserted in the 'Kentish Post':

As the Leeds Youths and Wye Company of Ringers have come to an Agreement to ring at Leeds and Wye; this is to inform the Publick, that they will ring the first Time at Leeds on Monday the 24th of this instant February for a considerable Sum of Money.  N.B. There will be a good Twelve-penny Ordinary on the Table at one o'Clock at the Sign of the George.

And so it was that on Monday 24th February 1755, the Leeds Youths rang a peal of 5040 Bob Major in 3hours and 10 minutes on their bells, but the Wye Company fired their peal out a little before the half-way.  Many folk came to listen to the contest, and it was clear that the Wye Company were not nearly as competent as the Leeds Youths.

The 'return leg' of the competition was in fact postponed until Monday 26th May 1755, and the following account inserted by Robert Quested of the Kings Head, Wye in the 'Kentish Post' explains this and outlines the revised date for the contest:

Wednesday May 7th 1755 :

 This is to acquaint the Publick, That the Small-Pox is intirely out of Wye, and hath been so for a Month past; And that the Ringing Match between Wye and Leeds that hath been delayed upon the aforesaid Account, will be rung on Monday the 26th of this Instant.
N.B. There will be a good Ordinary at One of the Clock the same day at Robert Quested's at the King's Head in Wye.

And finally on Saturday 24th May the 'Kentish Post' announced:

Notwithstanding all Reports to the contrary the Ringing Match will be at Wye on Monday next as appointed.

The final report in the 'Kentish Post' for Wednesday 28th May tells us:

That the Youths of Leeds did ring their peal of 5040 Bob Major at Wye, and thus beat the Wye Company both at Home and Abroad, to the great Dishonour of that Company.

The Wye ringers, as good as their word, never rang another peal; the Leeds Youths were victorious, and their great achievements continued for over 60 years more.