[Bell Historians] Thomas Bullisdon

Richard Smith richard at ex-parrot.com
Thu Dec 9 10:38:18 GMT 2021

Sorry for the barrage of questions – I'm trying to tie up 
some lose ends for a Ringing World article.  This question 
is about Thomas Bullisdon, who can be identified as the 
founder of the five at St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield 
from his mark on the bells, which incorporates his initials.

One of the better accounts I've read of Bullisdon is in 
Deedes and Walters, 'Church Bells of Essex', though of 
course this was written back in 1909.  It refers to the 
churchwardens accounts of St Mary at Hill in the City of 
London for 1508-11, which had been transcribed by Henry 
Littlehales and published in 1905.  They refer to work done 
to the bells by Bullisdon (spelt various ways, but never 
with a first name), 'Coulverton' (again with no first name) 
and 'Willm Smyth'.  Coulverton is clearly William Culverden.

Deedes and Watler also refer to the tenor at Weeley, Essex 
with Bullisdon's mark (incorporating his initials) which can 
be dated to 'about 1510' based on the donors, 'Vyllam Brooke 
and Agnes his wyff'.

Until recently, I think this was all that was known about 
Bullisdon's dates, and this is no doubt why all of his bells 
in Dove are dated c1510.  However, both Dove and Peter 
Dyson's Bell Founders Database list Thomas Bullisdon as 
active between 1495 and 1515.  My guess is that the source 
for both dates is the plea rolls from the Court of Common 
Pleas, which have been digitised and partly indexed in the 
last decade or so by the Anglo-American Law Tradition 
project at the University of Houston.

1495 is the year of a suit brought by a Thomas Bullisdon or 
Bullysdun 'bellefounder' (the clerk obviously didn't know a 
suitable Latin word) of Algate [sic], London.  There's no 
suggestion that he necessary started founding in that year – 
rather, this is the earliest date we currently have for him.

The 1515 date seems to be his date of death, based on the 
assumption that Thomas Bullisdon, the bellfounder of Aldgate 
and Thomas Bullisdon, the skinner of Aldgate are are same 
man.  This seems plausible as the executors of the skinner's 
estate sued William Culverden, a braiser, for settlement of 
a debt.  Culverden was also a bell founder.  There's also a 
record of skinner suing a William Neuport, bell founder, for 
another debt back in 1495, so the skinner evidently had 
close dealings with bell founders, but this doesn't 
necessarily mean he was one as they are not obviously 
related professions.  Perhaps there were two men with the 
same name in Aldgate, maybe a father and son.

However, in 1498, the founder is also describes as a 
Merchant Stapler.  They are best know for controlling the 
export of wool, but also controlled the export of hides, and 
this would support him being both a skinner and a founder; 
at times they also controlled the export of tin, and just 
possibly this could explain why he was both a founder and a 

I've not heard of any recent accounts of Bullisdon, and I 
can't find anything in the Ringing World index, so I don't 
know whether this is the argument for the 1515 date. 
Perhaps there's a much less circumstantial source which I've 
missed, so my first question is whether there is a better 
source for this date, or whether I have identified it 

Now that we know that Bullisdon was active from at least 
1495 and may not have lived much beyond 1510, dating his 
bells to c1510 is conservative in the sense that it errs to 
the recent side.  This is entirely consistent with Dove's 
policy, which is a very reasonable one, but it does mean 
some of these bells are quite likely a little older than 

The five at Smithfield are probably his most important 
surviving ring.  Is there any reason to date them any more 
precisely than they were cast during Bullisdon's career? 
Specifically, is there any possibility that they could be as 
early as the 1490s?  I'm aware of no records referring to 
bells in the old priory besides John Stow's account which 
does not seem to help here.


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