[Bell Historians] Elphick on the ancient bell at Hardham

c.j.pickford at talk21.com c.j.pickford at talk21.com
Sun Mar 7 23:19:23 GMT 2021

Although George Elphick, with characteristic humility and modesty, always maintained he wasn't an expert, he made a very close study of early bells in 1973 and produced a paper for the CBC (as it is now) which resulted in his article “The dating of uninscribed bells” by George P. Elphick in Ringing World 20 April 1973 p.307-8. He worked very closely with Ranald Clouston on this, although it is a subject in which he had had a particular interest for many decades before and continued to pursue throughout his life. Some of his working papers are in the Elphick collection at the John Taylor Bellfoundry Museum and Archives.

As it happens, George Dawson and I revisited Elphick's work a few months ago following the discovery of the Auckland Castle Bell. We have assembled a list of all known pre-1300 bells with the dates assigned to them by George Elphick and others (not always in agreement) and also a collection of photographs and drawings of early bells. Our list (although the dates are Elphick's) shows the earliest survivors as Hardham, Sussex (C11/3), Llancillo, Herefs (same), and Hanford, Dorset (C11/4), while bells at Bramshaw and Chilworth, Hants, are all C12/1. Elphick's reasoning is set out in "Craft" p.18 etc. There are a few more very early bells in the list, largely dated by George Dawson following the dating system devised by Elphick. Examples in the C12 include Ashby Puerorum,
Ribbesford, Leighton Buzzard, Mitford, Myndtown, Harescombe, Auckland castle, Llaneliew, Warminghurst and Littleborough 

It is not my special subject at all, but reading George's book "The Craft of the Bellfounder" and looking through his papers has given me some appreciation of the thoroughness of his work and the logic of his deductions. His style of writing is also brilliantly clear and readable. His analysis of the physical characteristics of early bells - especially soundbow types, canons and argents, and measurements (based on diameter, shoulder circumference and tangent) - enabled him to identify a sequence and establish a - to me, perfectly plausible - chronological sequence for bells of slightly different types. With his practical insight - he moulded bells himself using the written descriptions of writes like Theophilus and understood both the mathematics and the practicalities - he was able to argue and write with a clear understanding of what was involved.

The more of George Elphick's work I look at, he more I respect him as by far and away the greatest - the most questioning, the most innovative and the least accepting of received wisdoms - of the C20 bell historians. We have him to thank, too, for the understanding and classification of bellframes, and for his excellent re-interpretation of the London medieval founders. Until anyone else studies early bells with the same thoroughness and rigour as George did, the dating system he established should be regarded as "current state of knowledge" and adhered to. 

Chris Pickford

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