G&J's first Simpson bells

CHRIS PICKFORD c.j.pickford.t21 at b...
Thu Jun 3 18:13:23 BST 2004

It is generally reckoned that the clock chime for Elstree School was the first G&J foray into true-harmonic tuning. The following information may save DRL another trip to Croydon and answer RCO's query:
Extract from paper written by Cyril Johnston in 1948 in. He said, "My firm had installed some clock bells...at a famous school at Elstree and the owners complained of the tone, whereupon Dr. William Wooding Starmer...was called in and recommended that the bells should be sent to a competitor firm tobe recast. In my youthful enthusiasm, this seemed to be a bit hard and I persuaded my father to allow me to experiment and at the same time to stop production of bells which were in progress at the Foundry. It so happened that I was very fortunate and hit upon the principal cause of trouble within a matter of weeks and also how to correct these faults, so that the bells might comply with the late Canon Simpson's theory..." The "competitor firm" was obviously Taylor's, given Starmer's close association with them. (per Jill Johnston, May 2002)

Pevsner "Hertfordshire" in the Buildings of England series (2nd ed, 1977) p.140 mentions Hill House (formerly Elstree School) at the south end of the High Street, and the former chapel "now demolished" on the opposite side ofthe road which had Kempe glass of 1877-1906 (also mentioned is the separate "St.Nicholas School (now disused), a striking Arts & Crafts building put up by Lord Aldenham in 1882-3)

Website searches (May 2002) indicate that Elstree School was founded in 1848. It's chapel was designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield (presumably c.1877) anddemolished in about 1970. The school relocated to Woolhampton, Reading, Berks, RG7 5TD in about 1974.

Croydon foundry records: 

The first set of bells for Elstree School, cast in Dec.1905 (no.3) and Feb.1906 (the rest) and sent out 29 May 1906, were as follows:

1. Gillett & Johnston, 1906 (2038) 14¾" 0-3-14

2. Gillett & Johnston, 1906 (2037) 14¾" 0-3-8

3. Gillett & Johnston, 1906 (2023) 15" 0-3-1

4. Gillett & Johnston, 1906 (2036) 18½" 1-2-6

5. Gillett & Johnston, 1906 (2034) 20½" 1-3-4 in G sharp

Total weight 5-3-5

These bells were replaced soon afterwards, the second set being by Gillett & Johnston for Elstree School, 5/6 March 1907. Two sets of weights are recorded, one in the "notebook" (with the musical notes) and (identically) in the register, and the other set in the tuning book. They are the first bellsrecorded in the new tuning book and it is said that they were the first "Simpson" bells cast at Croydon). The hour bell was cast in December 1906 and the rest in February 1907.  

Notebooks Tuning book

1. Gillett & Johnston, 1907 (2097) 13" 0-2-0 14" 0-2-1 F

2. Gillett & Johnston, 1907 (2102) 14" 0-2-14 14" 0-2-24 D sharp

3. Gillett & Johnston, 1907 (2099) 16" 0-3-13 16" 0-3-17 C sharp

4. Gillett & Johnston, 1907 (2093) 20" 1-1-26 20" 1-2-9 G sharp

5. Gillett & Johnston, 1906 (2085) 22" 1-3-27 22" 2-1-18* F sharp

*Tuning book shows the largest as 2-1-18 as cast, reduced to 2-0-1½ aftertuning

Total weight given in notebooks as 5-1-24

Since about 1971 these bells have been in the possession of a private collector. He acquired them through Potts of Leeds, clockmakers, when the school was demolished. One of them is at Luddenden with Luddenden Foot, and in his Wakefield book Dennis Greenwood gives the note as F sharp and says that the inscription is "Gillett & Johnston Croydon 1907"

Hope this helps

Chris P

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