Some great stories, archives and objects from over a century and a half of bell making
The Loughborough Bellfoundry Museum showcases almost 160 years of bells and bellfounding of John Taylor & Co. and boasts significant collection of archive materials from the bellfoundry’s lifespan.
Housed within the historic Grade II* listed 1859 dated, Loughborough Bellfoundry buildings, which are an important part of Britain’s industrial heritage, Taylor & Co. has cast more than 25,000 bells which can be heard all over the world.
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The Taylors Bellfoundry is often referred to as the Rolls Royce of Bellmakers and their much-loved onsite museum takes visitors on a journey of discovery of bells and bellfounding via the only archive of its kind in the country.
As the museum prepares to welcome visitors again in a Covid-19 compliant environment – thanks to The National Lottery Heritage Fund – we take a closer look at their unique archive and collection celebrating the history of bells and the endangered craft of bellfounding.
Great John in 1901
Having perfected their five-tone principle of bell tuning in 1896 Taylors acquired special machinery for tuning bells of all sizes, from a few kilograms to several tonnes. This photograph shows a huge Bourdon bell of 7150kg – ‘Great John’ – cast for Beverley Minster in 1901. It ranks tenth among the heaviest bells in the British Isles.
Gloria in Excelsis – Washington DC
This photograph shows two of the bigger bells (weighing 6.27 and 7.33 tonnes) cast by Taylors for the National Cathedral of St Peter & Paul at Washington, D.C., in 1961. The bells left the works on their journey to the United States in May 1963 and the newly completed ‘Gloria in Excelsis’ tower with its ringing peal of ten bells and separate 53-bell carillon was dedicated in May 1964.
Main Casting Hall
This view shows the main casting hall of the new Loughborough Bellfoundry building, which was erected in 1874-6 across the road from the 1859 works to increase capacity. The photograph dates from just after 1927 when a new electric travelling crane – notice the driver’s cab high up on the right-hand wall – was installed.
At the back is the drying oven in which the moulds are dried before casting takes place. The furnaces for melting the metal are behind the wall on the left-hand side of the photograph.
A new set of eight bells cast for St.Paul’s church, Burton upon Trent, in 1912. These true-harmonic bells replaced an earlier ‘old style’ octave supplied in 1872 when the church was built. The present tenor (largest bell) weighs 1450kg while the old one was only 1320kg. There are now ten bells, two more – also from Loughborough – having been added in 1922.
The second largest bell (weighing 1370kg) in the peal of ten cast in 1893 for what was then the Imperial Institute in Knightsbridge (Westminster). The Institute itself was demolished in 1963-4 but the landmark tower remains. Almost freestanding, it is now known as the Queens Tower and stands in the grounds of Imperial College London.
These bells were the gift of an Australian Lady, Elizabeth M. Millar of Melbourne, to Queen Victoria and they carry inscriptions with the names of members of the Royal household. This one bears the name of Albert Edward, the future King Edward VII. The bells are a heavy peal, the tenor bell weighing 1950kg, and the tower sways considerably when they are rung.
This is a view of the vertical boring lathe in the tuning shop, taken in 1903. It shows the top of a bell being machined so that a new cast iron headstock could be fitted. This was a comparatively new bell, cast by another firm in 1897, which was brought to Loughborough for refitting and retuning. It belongs to a heavy peal of eight at Long Ashton, near Bristol, where the Taylor tenor bell weighs 1570kg.
Great Peter of York
At 11 tonnes, Big Peter was the third biggest bell in Britain when it was cast for York Minster in 1927. Before it was received with great ceremony at the Minster, it was transported by road from Loughborough, and made several stops so that people could get a closer look. It arrived in York on Tuesday, September 20 and was welcomed with a special service outside the cathedral – where it is still in full swing today.
Experimental bronze art bell
This highly decorated bell – now on loan to the Loughborough Bellfoundry Museum – was manufactured in 1898 when Taylors were experimenting with new casting techniques. John William Taylor senior and his sons had travelled extensively on the continent where they had seen bells with a more artistic finish than their own Loughborough castings.
One reason for the difference was that most European founders used the cire perdue (or ‘lost wax’) process which allows for delicate artwork and gives a near perfect finish. The Taylors bought special lettering and moulds and engaged Alessandro Parlanti, a noted expert in bronze art, to visit Loughborough and teach them the technique. This experimental bell was cast as a result of that visit.
Bells to touch and ting
The bells on this bracket are in the museum for visitors to “touch and ting” – allowing them to both see the range of different shapes and styles and sample the sounds they make. All quite small – the largest about 50kg – they include some Taylor bells and others by different founders.
The bell nearest to the camera was made by James Barwell of Birmingham, about 1900. The one next to it carries the name of Robert Taylor, then only 18 or 19, in about 1850. Further along are two brightly polished ship’s bells. On the wall behind there is a bellwheel from a church bell, complete with rope and tufted ‘salley’ or hand-grip for the ringer.
Horse harness bells
Sets of horse harness bells such as this were commonly used by waggoners to warn road users of the approach of heavy loads. A set such as this would have been attached to the horse’s collar at the bottom of the neck, with the clappers hanging free to jangle as the animal moved along.
Most sets have three to five bells although larger sets are known. In this particular set, some of the bells are signed inside with the initials “RW” indicating that the maker was Robert Wells I of Aldbourne, in Wiltshire, who was working between 1750 and 1781.
In this museum, Taylor's Bellfoundry, has created a permanent record of the company and the industry, telling the story of bellfounding through the ages. An extensive range of exhibits and memorabilia tells the story of one of the oldest manufacturing industries in the world. A visit to the museum may…