AN historic custom to announce the death of a member of a community has been resurrected at an 800 year old church.

Bellringers at St Gregory’s Church in Bedale, North Yorkshire, found the idea so appealing they decided to ring in the changes and bring back the custom of ringing the “death bell” or “passing bell” as it is known in some places.

Now the church’s one tonne tenor bell, which is 700-years-old and was brought to St Gregory’s from Jervaulx Abbey following the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, is being used as the death bell.

The idea was resurrected by bell ringer Chris Carruthers with the backing of Captain of the Tower Robin Brown.

Mr Brown said: “It was felt that it was an acknowledgement of a person’s life and people have appreciated it.

"Chris came up with the idea in November and we have done it five times now. It is a good way of announcing to the community the death of a local resident."

He added: “We ring it for regular church members, for well known people in the town and - by request - families can ask for it to be rung through undertakers."

The bell is rung in a strict order, depending on who has died. For a man the tenor bell is rung three times with three strokes and for a woman it is three times with two strokes.

This is followed by one strike a year to mark the age of the person who has passed, ending with the repeat of the three times three or three times two strokes.

Mr Brown said: “In some small communities in the past people would know who had died simply by the ringing of the bells. I remember it myself as a boy and my mother counting the number of strikes.

“We have had quite a few enquiries in the town, both from people who remember the death bell in the past and people who didn’t know, but say how nice it is to mark the passing of a life.

"The general reaction has been very favourable."

It’s not known exactly when the death bell was last sounded in Bedale, possibly 30 years ago. Mr Brown, a retired Chruch of England Minister, has been trying to trace the history of it across the country.

“I have found written evidence of it back to the 19th century, but I believe there is a reference to it in King Lear," he said.

"I think it is a very old custom. It would be nice to find out more."