Waltham Bells

On June 29th (2000) a group of enthusiasts went to John Taylorís Bell Foundry in Loughborough to see our new bells cast. Before watching the casting, the Curator of the Bell Museum explained why bell metal - a mixture of copper and tin - is used in preference to brass. The former sets hard and brittle and produces a cleaner truer sound, whereas brass being softer is less true. He told us that each bell can have up to 150 different notes in its make-up depending on where you strike it, but that there is one dominant note to which it will be tuned.

In the casting house the metal is heated to 1100@C and then poured into the mould. The mould is made with founders loam - a mixture of chopped straw, horse dung and urine and a special clay formed by a crook shaped piece of metal called a strickle. Any inscriptions or decorations are placed in the outside mould at this point, not added later. The outer mould has a metal cover and the whole frame is buried in sand apart from about the top 2 feet. The actual pouring of the metal to fill the gap takes only a few seconds. It was interesting to note that some pads of the process eg. the founders loam and stirring the molten metal with a willow stick have remained unchanged since mediaeval times.

After about a week, when the bell has cooled, it is removed from the pit and the inner mould chipped away. It is then ready to go to the tuning house. The tuning is done by removing metal from the inside of the bell, sometimes by a special machine, but often by hand and always little by little until the desired sound is achieved.

Although Taylor's is the largest foundry in Europe, they only have a workforce of 40. Apart from the Bell Master, who does the tuning and the metal workers, they have master craftsmen working with wood, leather and rope. John Taylor founded the firm in 1896 and although it is now a Trust there are still family members on the board. As well as bells such as ours, they make hand bells, chimes (bells which are rung automatically) and carillons (bells which are played through a keyboard). They come in all sizes from the smallest hand-bell to monsters weighing 20 tonnes.

It was a fascinating day and the fact that we witnessed the birth of a bell that should last for 1000 years and to which we had contributed make it truly unforgettable.

Bobbie Jenkinson

Filling the crucible
Filling the crucible
Mould with baked clay ready for graphite
Mould with baked clay ready for graphite
Finished Mould coated with Graphite
Finished mould coated with Graphite
Moulds in readiness
Moulds in readiness
New bell with old bell,  new clappers in background
New bell with old bell, new clappers in background
Pouring the Casting
Pouring the Casting
The plug
The plug
Tuning Machine
Tuning Machine
Waltham Bell Cast
Waltham Bell Cast