[Bell Historians] Lulls in bellfounding activity

Richard Smith richard at ex-parrot.com
Tue Dec 29 11:41:35 GMT 2020

Cathryn Corns wrote:

> There was widespread economic depression after the 
> Napoleonic wars which led to a downturn in many 
> industries, which may have contributed to the decline in 
> the 1830s.  This was particularly marked in rural areas.

The post-Napoleonic depression occurred to me too, but I'm 
struggling to fit it to the figures.

The French Revolution lull in surviving bells is the least 
pronounced of the six.  There is a marked decline in 1794, 
and levels stay low until 1802.  Britain was at war with 
France from February 1793, but we'd expect it to take some 
time until it affected foundry output, which could explain 
why it was only in 1794 that output seemingly dropped. 
March 1802 was when the Treaty of Amiens was signed, 
bringing a temporary period of respite between the earlier 
French Revolutionary Wars and the later Napoleonic Wars, and 
it explains the recovery in surviving bells.

Recovery was incomplete, and the whole period from 1793 to 
1818 left us with a below average number of surviving bells; 
neverless, it was the earlier French Revolution Wars that 
had the more pronounced effect that the later Napoleonic 
Wars.  Between 1816 to 1818 there is another pronounced low, 
which could well be due to the post-Napoleonic depression, 
but it not a long enough or deep enough lull to be certain 
it is a real effect rather than statistical noise.

My understanding is that that the economy had largely 
recovered by the early 1820s.  This is consistent with 
period from 1821 to 1826 having the highest level of 
surviving bells since the 1720s and until surviving output 
really starts to accelerate in the 1860s, no doubt driven in 
part by Victorian church building (in turn driven by 
population growth and urbanisation), the Oxford movement and 
belfry reform.  The 1820s peak may well be result of many 
projects which were delayed during the Napoleonic period 
coming to fruition at around the same time.

But then things drop again.  1829 to 1831 are back to the 
baseline level we see throughout the 18th and 19th century, 
and then the surviving output drops to around half this 
level in 1832 where it stays until 1838, and by 1840 it is 
back to the status quo ante.  It's not a gradual decline and 
recovery, as you might expet from general economic 
considerations.  If I had no knowledge of English history, I 
would assume there was a major war between about 1832 and 

It's interesting to compare the 1830s low to the earlier 
lows of the 17th century, both of which took a decade or 
more to recover fully.  In the first case, following the 
Civil War, it may well be indicative of the effect of the 
puritans during the Commonwealth.  It's the established view 
that the Commonwealth had little effect on bellfounding, but 
perhaps this is something of a simplification; or perhaps 
disruption to the industry had been so widespread during the 
Civil War that the industry needed a decade to re-establish 
itself.  Whichever is the case, it is marked contrast to the 
four lulls in the 19th and 20th centuries.


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