Chris Pickford c.j.pickford at t...
Fri Apr 2 21:33:27 BST 2004

While I, too, am uneasy about the CCC's current initiative and have long-held reservations about "listing" - I believe that each case should be considered on its own merits, though such a view is regarded as untenable in today's highly regulated society! - I feel the need to spring to George's defence. I'm copying this to the CCC as my comments, and so I should explain to David Knight that this picks up on various points made so far on the Historian's "List". You ought to monitor this if you're not doing so already

Whatever the CCC may or may not be doing "officially" by way of consultation, George has been doing his bit to canvas the views of ringers and to make sure their voice is heard. I'm quite sure he's obtained opinions from many who would never dream of responding to an official consultation exercise. And - I agree with David Bryant - taking soundings like this is the most scientific way of gauging opinion in an area where there is so much room for subjectivity and bias

British bellfounding is under threat, and while the impact of the change in listing criteria may have been overstated in this week's RW coverage it needs to be seen in context. Operating margins are tight - nobody makes a fortune out of bell work! Increased regulation (jumping through the hoops of faculty procedures and scheme clearance) significantly adds to overheads. Any tightening of the criteria will reduce still further the scope for recasting existing bells. There is already said to be an EH policy document (anti, of course) on augmentations. The emergence of the Keltek Trust (and I'm not knocking it) has affected the market for new and recast bells. And - a key point that might easily be overlooked - there are a great many excellent bells that nobody would want to recast (i.e. a 3% increase in listed bells will represent a much greater % of the total stock actually eligible for recasting or improvement)

Over the years I've done quite a lot of work on bellfounders' output - numbers of bells cast etc. I have some pretty reliable data for some firms, but very little for others. I looked at my data yesterday to see if I could produce any reliable figures to show how output has changed over time, but concluded that there isn't yet enough info to do this. But I can offer some tentative figures:

In the 1840s there were really only two major founders - Whitechapel and Taylors. Between them they produced 1553 bells between 1840 and 1849

In the 1850s, Warners came on the scene - the combined output of the three firms was 1618 (though Whitechapel output was down from 1237 in the 1840s to 823 in the 1850s)

The 1887 jubilee year seems to have produced more new bells than any other, with 207 from Warners, 108 from Whitechapel, 51 from Llewellins & James, 14 from Barwell etc - plus those from Gilletts and Taylors for which I have no figures

I have a hunch that the combined output from the two British foundries in the 1990s for the UK market was well below 500 - and that the total tonnage (by weight of bells rather than by number) in that decade was substantially less than the single year of 1887 let alone whole decades in more prosperous times.

All these figures are highly provisional, but there are gaps at "both ends" (i.e. under-estimates in past and present outputs). They say you can predict the result of an election by the first results. I have a feeling that further work on production figures would only strengthen the basic conclusion that the founders are struggling to find work to keep the furnaces alight.

Many years ago, Alan Hughes told me that one year in the 1980s Whitechapel cast a greater tonnage of bells for places overseas (including clock bells the Arab Emirates) than for the Church of England!

All in all, the picture is pretty bleak for the bellfounders. I, for one, do believe that their position needs to be considered very carefully in any revision of the listing criteria and (taking up the point well made by Alan Hughes in his RW letter) the Code of Practice. I, for one, regard the bellfounding industry as an important part of the nation's industrial infrastructure and heritage.

In haste - but as an offering to the debate

Chris Pickford
Gorse Farm, Snitterfield Road, Bearley, Stratford on Avon, CV37 0EX
Tel: 01789 731296 or (mobile) 07811 453525
E-mail: c.j.pickford at t...

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