flat heads

David Cawley dcawley at w...
Wed Jan 14 22:52:52 GMT 2004

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Well, this topic should certainly keep JEC going, despite the little foray =
into links and hyperlinks.

As I understand it, the first flat-headed bell attached to a (solid) iron h=
eadstock produced by an English bell founder was one made for the 1851 Grea=
t Exhibition by Taylors. I wonder where (if anywhere) it is now ?

The earliest use I recall seeing of intentionally flat headed bells was I t=
hink the back four of the now long-lost ring of ten (originally eight) at S=
t Stephen, Hampstead, cast by Taylors in 1872. The back bells at St Mark's =
and at St Saviour's, Leicester, were also similarly arranged. In each case =
the front bells had Taylor's low, square section, angular canons.

Angular canons were a natural development from the low plain canons used by=
Thomas Mears II and his immediate predecessors and many of his contemporar=
ies. They dispensed with the argent altogether, leaving only the solid git =
to which the tops of the canons joined. Their form and shape allowed both c=
onventional 4 x 2 arrangement as well as the radial form much favoured by T=
aylors in the 1850's.

E. B. Denison designed the Doncaster head (or Doncaster canons as he called=
them) for the newly rebuilt Parish Church in that town in 1858. The bells =
had been cast by Warners, who used the pattern elsewhere in a manner not di=
ssimilar to Taylor's use of the flat crown. Thus the two largest of three (=
1859) at All Saints, Margaret Street, London, tenor 28-cwt, had Doncasters =
and the treble angular canons. The four largest at Star Street, 8, 19-cwt, =
Warner 1861, had Doncasters, and the four smaller angular canons.

All three arrangements, angular conventional, angular radial and Doncaster =
were ideal when used with an independent crown staple, also then coming int=
o general use. It did away with the need for a large staple "clump" at the =
base of the argent, or git, through which the staple passed. A cast-in stap=
le was not then recognised as a common source of bells becoming cracked, an=
d could be provided if preferred (as on Warner's earlier bells with angular=

The main objection to the flat head seems to have been the traditionally co=
nservative bellfounders' reluctance to drill bell heads to accept through b=
olts. Not surprisingly, Taylor's took the plunge and reaped the reward. The=
principal advantage of a flat head is that it makes the best engineering f=
it with a cast iron stock, which Taylors pioneered into general use in the =
early 1890's.

I don't seem to remember seeing many, if any, flat headed bells other than =
Taylor's dated prior to 1890. The late Mr Samuel Benjamin Goslin of the Bis=
hopsgate Foundry and Art Metal Works (and nephew of Robert Warner, who had =
left JW in 1888) invariably cast his bells with flat heads: the two earlies=
t are the 2nd and 3rd at St Alphege, Canterbury, 1893 and 1894. Both are at=
tached to conventional wooden fittings. Perhaps his none too melodious acti=
vities deterred Warners. The latter's Chatham ring (tenor 25-cwt) of 1897 h=
as Doncasters on the four trebles and flat heads on the tenors (wooden head=
stocks on all) - see the relevant page by Dickon on http://kent.lovesguide.=
com where a contemporary print of them in my possession is reproduced.

I really don't know about Gillett's, other than that they were using Doncas=
ters in the 1880's - with cast-in staples, I think. Llewellins and James po=
ssibly used flat crowns of some of their bells in the 1890's, and I have se=
en one small one with Doncasters. L&J more generally used traditional, smal=
l round shouldered square section canons until they totally abandoned them =

Finally Mears I am sure only commenced using Doncasters in the post-Stainba=
nk period (i.e. after Arthur Hughes joined the firm under Alfred Lawson) af=
ter 1884. Until then they used traditional canons. Cast-in staples usually =
featured earler on. I cannot recall a flat-headed 19th-century Mears bell; =
in fact the earliest that comes to memory is Southwark Cathedral tenor of 1=
911, with an iron stock; but there must be earlier ones of theirs than that=
. The use of Doncasters hung on as at Petham (with wooden stocks) and Cante=
rbury Cathedral two trebles in twelve, with iron stocks, of the same year 1=
923. No doubt the decision to use Doncaster canons there was reinforced by =
the fact the the 3rd, 4th and 5th of the augmented ring had traditional one=
s - the same general reason for the more recent case at Pebworth. By contra=
st, Wetminster Abbey four trebles in 8 (1919) also on iron stocks, had flat=
heads, the canons on the four largest bells being removed.

There may be too many if's and but's in the foregoing, but I hope it will g=
ive food for thought - or at least provide some good bedtime reading.=20

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