[Bell Historians] G&J bell - Birkenhead docks

John David johnedavid at hotmail.com
Thu Aug 25 14:25:17 BST 2022

Hi All

Here is an item I wrote for Les Cloches des Iles (The C I District 's former newsletter) some years ago
which is relevant

John David
Guernsey (some may detect a little bias in the article)


While waiting for the Condor to be two hours late taking us home from Jersey after the June meeting, I went for a wander around the harbour, partly with the intention of counting the bells on the steam clock.
Before I got there, after passing twenty-six granite lumps labelled with all twenty-six letters, one each, in Morse and Semaphore and international code of signal flags,  I found a bell doing duty as a signpost to the Maritime Museum. Seeing the inscription THE GAS ACCUMULATOR COMPANY (U. K.) LTD , I thought that it must be the well-known bell from Elizabeth Castle, transposed. Anyway, I measured its diameter, 30”, gave it a clong with one of the external hammers provided, and carried on to count the bells on the steam clock, which had struck nine a short time before.
After reaching home I checked my references to the Elizabeth Castle bell (which I have not seen) and found that it has been measured at 34” in diameter and dates from 1934 – some 19 years older than the Maritime Museum bell. The flanged top and three external hammers of the latter suggest that it was originally intended for use on a buoy, the hammers being worked by the motion of the sea. The bells were cast by Whitechapel with a flange projecting from the top of the crown. I have seen similar bells from Taylor’s, cast for Trinity house, but they use a single clapper, dangling inside the bell, with three balls. The Lower Heads buoy has one of these bells, it is easily heard from Jethou or St Martin’s point on a windless day with a slight swell.
I remembered reading an article in which the Gas Accumulator Company was mentioned, and after a week or so found it in “Railway Wonders of the World”, a part-work published several times in the 1930s. The article was concerned with flashing signal lights being tried out on the Swedish Railways, where they were said to be easier to pick out, and thus made life less stressful for engine drivers. The Railway management had reasoned that as flashing lights were used unattended at sea on buoys then the technology should be able to be applied on land and it was found that a cylinder of acetylene would give several hundred thousand flashes at the rate of one or two a second.
                Acetylene is awkward stuff to handle, it is easy to compress into cylinders but unfortunately dangerously explosive when you do, which meant that for a long time it could only be used for low-pressure applications such as lighting, when it could be made on the spot by dripping water onto calcium carbide – the Vale church was at one time lit on this system, and of course it was used for bicycle and car headlights until batteries and bulbs became reliable. Even during the Occupation the Germans used large numbers of portable carbide lamps. The compression problem was eventually solved by taking advantage of acetylene’s high solubility in acetone, the cylinders could be filled with acetone which dissolved the acetylene, rendering it safe, except for the awkward fact that the cylinders could not be filled with acetone, as it expanded when it dissolved the acetylene, which meant that there was a potentially explosive space at the top of the cylinder. This problem was apparently solved by first filling the cylinder with crushed brick.
Nitro-glycerine has a similar problem, it is highly temperamental unless it is mixed with kieselghur, when it only explodes when required. Dr Gustaf Dalen, a world renowned Swedish physicist and Nobel Prize winner, reasoned that the same might be true of acetylene, tried it, and founded the Gas Accumulator Company to exploit his discovery. With the aid of a simple flashing burner, driven by the flow of acetylene itself, marine buoys, beacons, and lighthouses and eventually railways could have flashing lights, easily picked out from amongst the multitude of other stationary lights, and a cylinder of acetylene would last for a month or two. In 1922 Dr Dalen lost his sight following an accidental explosion during an experiment with pressurized liquids and gases. Kept at home, he learned how his wife was exhausted and harassed by the constant need to care for and watch over food as it was cooked. Although unable to see, he was determined to develop a cooking stove that was both capable of every culinary technique and easy to use, with perfect results. Adopting the time-honored principle of heat storage, he combined a small and efficient heat source, two large hotplates and two generous ovens into one robust and compact unit - the AGA Cooker. AGA was also the Swedish trade mark of the Gas Accumulator Company.

From: Bell-historians <bell-historians-bounces at lists.ringingworld.co.uk> on behalf of Peter Kirby via Bell-historians <bell-historians at lists.ringingworld.co.uk>
Sent: 25 August 2022 13:45
To: Bell Historians Mailing List <bell-historians at lists.ringingworld.co.uk>
Cc: Peter Kirby <peter.c.kirby at btinternet.com>
Subject: [Bell Historians] G&J bell - Birkenhead docks

Apologies if there has been discussion on this particular subject before.

I recently came across a G&J bell at Birkenhead Docks (N 53° 23' 55" W 003° 01' 8" OS Grid: SJ 32351 89558). The inscription indicates it was cast in 1948 and the top has the inscription of The Gas Accumulator Company London. Diameter is around 2’. There is a solenoid type hammer (I doubt if this works) and the bell is mounted in a frame at ground level so easily accessible.

The only reference to the Gas Accumulator Company I can find is that they appear to have been based in Brentford, Middlesex, if this is the case, why is this bell in Birkenhead?

I have a couple of photographs but not sure if these can be included in postings to this list.

Can anyone on this group assist?

Peter Kirby

Halifax, West Yorkshire
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