Council for the Conservation of Bellfoundries (CCB)

Andrew Wilby andrew at w...
Tue Apr 27 01:14:14 BST 2004

DB <And apart from two they had all disappeared by the middle of the C20.
Why? Yes, I know there are individual reasons, but surely the overall one
must be that the amount of work available could no longer support so many,
coupled with the increasing ease of transporting bells around the country.>

I think the answer to this requires a look at the development of the foundry
business processes, the inevitable tendency of any market to consolidate
into a few major players and then fragment again with the advent of new
technology etc. Bellfounding seems no different to other businesses in this

The dangerous practice of casting in a churchyard will have given way to the
advantages of setting up a permanent foundry site.
This will have concentrated the casting to a reducing number of foundries
and the itinerants would have concentrated on bell-hanging, buying their
bells and building the frames themselves.
Then along comes the metal frame and an engineering technology is required
of a different nature. At this point the foundries become their own main
bell-hangers because of the new skills involved and the number of
independent bell-hangers reduces.
Gradually metal frame making becomes the bell-hangers skill and we see a
growth of bell-hanging firms buying bells from the foundries again to put in
their own frames.

Consolidation will tend to happen because the modern foundry operation
requires a wider range of skills, staff, space and equipment than pure
bell-hanging. In consequence it carries a larger overhead which in turn
requires a larger turnover to service its costs.... and one way to increase
turnover is to increase market share buy taking your competitors business by
competition or acquisition.

That large overhead is also going to be quite sensitive to any fall in
demand. (Indeed if both foundries would indicate their costs directly
attributable to casting as opposed to bell-hanging we could calculate how
much casting needs to be done each year to pay for the facilities and work
out whether the CCC proposals are threatening or not!)

So it is not necessarily only about the work available, other factors are at

We saw the number of foundries consolidate to three then two in the 50's
with only a couple of bell-hanging outfits hanging onto their shirt-tails.
Then as the engineering capability to build modern frames etc became
available the consolidated market starts to fragment and become increasingly
competitive again.

What happens next in these cycles? Hmmm...

If casting capacity continues to exceed demand drastically for a period then
you could expect one foundry to go out of business or at least the casting
business. Which one would depend on a number of factors but most likely it
would be the one with the weakest management, not the worst founder or the
one with the smallest capacity.
The survivor would then be able to exploit the monopoly position for a while
and would probably want to see a reduction in the number of bell-hanging
At this point an alternative or resurrected second foundry could be expected
to re-enter the fray or several bell-hangers would seek to access to
alternative casting technology of one sort or another. If these are high
tech entrants, drawing on modern skills and knowledge they might well have a
significantly lower cost base and wipe the floor with the old survivor who
will commonly be suffering from process inertia and reluctance to invest.
I'm not sure that either of the two current foundries have the ability to
deal with the consequences of winning a predatory battle between them!!

And so it goes round, consolidation followed by a shift in available
technical abilities and a fragmentation of the market. As an extension of
this I would not be surprised to see a new entrant to the casting business
in the next few years. I think the technology is there an only requires
something to provoke the investment.

However I suspect it is in the fundamental interests of ringing to retain a
stable bell market and in that respect keeping two foundries in business
seems to be an essential.

I was going to add that interfering bureaucracies that don't understand the
effect they can have are part of everyday business life... but I won't.


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