Shropshire History

Shropshire

Bell Casting

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Bells are usually made out of bell metal, which is an alloy consisting of about 80% copper and 20% tin. By popular tradition, the bell metal contained traces of gold or silver and it is recorded that coins were thrown into the furnace when bells were being cast. This practice was believed to improve the tone of the bell but there is no evidence for this. Bells are cast mouth down, in a two-part mould consisting of an inner shape (core) and outer shape (cope).

 

Bell cores

 

The cope is lowered over the core and clamped to a base plate. Ingots of bell metal are then melted and poured into the space between the two core and cope. Holes in the top allow gases to escape as bubbles in the casting would make it weak and likely to crack. The bell is allowed to cool for several days and the larger bells can take over a week to cool completely. After the bell has cooled completely, the core and cope are removed and any excess metal is trimmed off.

 

Casting the bell

 

The diameter of the bell has been calculated to be close to the pitch required but fine tuning is still necessary. In early days, this was achieved by chipping away at the inside of the bell and testing with a tuning fork. This method was later replaced by grinding the inside on a circular lathe.

 

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Bell and clapper

 

The clapper is the moving part inside a bell that strikes the side and makes the sound. Care is taken to make it of the proper weight, as a light  clapper will not bring out the true tones of the bell and a heavy clapper may cause the bell to crack. Holes are drilled into the top of the bell and the clapper is attached to the inside of the bell either by a metal link or a leather strap.

 

 

 

In 1590, John Clyberie set up a bell casting works in Wellington. It is not known for certain where this was located and it has been suggested that it was where the Charlton Arms now stands. However, a more likely site is on Foundry Lane where there used to be a brass and iron foundry in the 19th Century. It would make sense for a foundry to take over existing premises after the family’s bell casting business ceased around 1699.

 

 

 

The business is known to have produced bells for over 70 churches in Shropshire, although it did not make them for Wellington’s own church. John Clyberie cast his first bell in 1590 but details of this bell are unknown. He died in 1605 and the business was taken over by William and Thomas Clibury (note the change in spelling).

 

Thomas Clibury cast his first bell in 1621. William Clibury cast the No.6 Bell at St James Church, Cardington in 1626, weighing 4cwt 3qrt 24lbs. Thomas died in 1637 and William in 1642, being succeeded by another Thomas Clibury.

 

No bells were cast between 1642-1650, suggesting that the English Civil War interrupted production. Another possibility is that the foundry turned its attention to making cannons. In 1669, the "great bell" at Nantwich (cast at Congleton in 1608) was re-cast in Wellington. "…our Great Bell in Nantwich, being above 2000lbs in weight, chanced to be cracked, and was cast anew at Wellington in Shropshire by one Clitheroe [name misspelled] in 1669, which cost the parish near £30”. Thomas died in 1673 and was succeeded by Henry Clibury.

 

Henry Clibury continued to produce bells and died in 1683. He was succeeded by John Bradshaw (it is not known if he was related, possibly a brother-in-law). Bradshaw continued to produce bells until his death in 1699. After this, the family business appears to have ceased but it is quite possible that someone else took over on a small scale.

 

There is an interesting reference in John Ferguson Weir’s book “The Labour of Art 1997”, describing how in 1845 the sculptor M C Wyatt invited a large group of friends to witness the Wellington bell casting and it was recorded as a “blaze of red light…the result of tapping the furnace ... overpowering light”. Whether bell casting was still going on in Wellington or whether it referred to the other town in Somerset is unclear

 

The last bellhanger in Wellington is recorded as a William Smith, who also traded as a locksmith in New Street in 1861. It is not known whether he or someone else was still producing bells locally or whether they were sourced from elsewhere.