[Bell Historians] Lulls in bellfounding activity

Chris Pickford c.j.pickford.t21 at btinternet.com
Tue Dec 29 10:17:08 GMT 2020

Interesting - and Richard has, as one would expect, given the caveat that this is based on SURVIVING bells. (i.e. incomplete data) 

Indeed, much as one might feel that such a study ought to be based on total / original output, that's clearly impossible as so many older bells have been recast or replaced without there being any reliable record. Such information as we do have is, of course, inevitably far from complete.

In compiling "total output" lists for quite a lot of bellfounders, however, I've gone to some extremes to identify lost bells (e.g. bells subsequently recast) and so I'm surprised to see 1688-92, 1794-1802 and (especially) 1832-1838 in this list of lulls. I need to look at my figures to comment in any further detail, but my impression is that 1688-1692 was one of some activity. The lull 1794-1802 is perhaps less surprising.

Noting the suggestions already made re 1832-1838, I think it's worth bearing in mind that the early C19 programme of building new churches in the growing industrial towns and cities was in full swing (supported by government grants administered through the Ecclesiastical Commissioners) and there was a market for bells, including a fair number of new rings. This period, especially, is one from when large numbers of bells have since been recast - we're talking of bells by Thomas Mears II, the early Taylors at Oxford and Buckland Brewer, pretty unfashionable to later musical tastes - and so the figure for surviving bells may be especially low in relation to contemporary output.

Also, the "decline" in the Church of England in the early C19th (I've just seem Andrew Aspland's posting) is regarded by academics nowadays as something of a fiction invented by the Tractarians to further their own reforming views. The reformers wanted something very different, and in seeking to achieve it they "trashed" a great deal of what was perfectly decent and positive about what went before. Willingness to describe church furnishings and architecture of the period as "vile" shows how extreme the driven reformers could be - it was all pretty nasty.

As to the decline of changeringing in the same period, that's a southern and also now discredited view, surely?  John Eisel and Cyril Wratten's "Order and Disorder" volumes have clearly revealed an enormous amount of activity - especially in the north of England - of which previous ringing historians had been largely unaware

However, an undeniable overall decline in demand is to some extent reflected in the closure of a number of traditional bellfoundries in the early C19th (the Penningtons, Wells of Aldbourne and the Bilbies) and the swallowing up of others by Mears at Whitechapel. Indeed, with the only significant exception of Taylors (by then in a relatively small way of business) Mears had a virtual monopoly (maybe 75% of the market) by 1840. I've recently dug out some figures for a talk I'm doing in January, and the output-based statistics (in bells cast) look something like this:

Year	Mears (London)	Mears (Gloucester)	Taylor	Bristol	Pannell	Other
1838	109		8			11	9	3	7
1839	119		8			24	4	0	4
1840	172		7			18	7	0	7
1841	210		12			25	2	1	5
1842	148		11			54	10	2	5
Total	758 		46			132	32	6	28
% of 1002	75%	4.5%			13%	3.2%	0.6%	2.8%

I could easily project these figures back to 1830 if it would be of use and interest (bearing in mind they are based on a selective range of founders). But Mears, having taken over Dobson, Rudhall, Wells, Briant etc, was turning out a fair number of bells through the period 1832-1838:
1832	62
1833	66
1834	64
1835	57
1836	90
1837	133
1838	117

It's an interesting subject, and Richard's analysis is clearly useful and informative. I feel, though, that some adjustment needs to be made with regard to "lost bells" if the figures are to be truly meaningful

Chris Pickford
E-mail pickford5040 at gmail.com 

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