The old bellframe

We are currently preparing a record of the old bellframe, including drawings & photo’s, which will be added to this page shortly.

The following text has been adapted from a report on the bells of St John Waterloo Road prepared by John Eisel

The frame

The frame was made from oak. It is clearly an ingenious solution to the problem of hanging a ring of eight bells in such a small tower, and makes maximum use of the space within the tower. What is remarkable is that in order to hang the bells within the frame it had to be cut away to a marked degree in the end of the tenor bell pit. In many of the bell pits there was also cutting away for the mouth of the bell in the timbers at the sides of the pit.

Clearly the frame was better suited to a ring of bells somewhat smaller than those which it contains, but for some reason, perhaps local pride, a larger ring was installed with the resultant cutting away of the frame and the brickwork of the inner face of the tower.

The bell-hanger – Charles Oliver

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century the major bellfounders were not, in general, contractors to hang bells as well. However, the founders generally worked in conjunction with a specialist in this type of work. Thus the Rudhall foundry of Gloucester worked with members of the Jacques family over a period of many years. The Whitechapel foundry worked in association with a succession of bell hangers at this time. From 1763 until 1783 the brothers Robert and Samuel Turner hung most of the major rings cast at Whitechapel. as well as working with other founders and on independent jobs. In 1783 Robert Turner hung the new bells at Kings Norton, Worcestershire, and after that nothing further is known of his work. Edward Simmons, who is known to have worked as a bell hanger from at least as early as 1775. took over, but it was not until after 1783 that he had much involvement with the Whitechapel foundry. A trade catalogue issued by Edward Simmons in about 1789 states the he was ‘Church Bell Hanger to Mr. Win. Mears’ and lists 56 rings of bells on which he had worked. The last known work by Edward Simmons was the hanging of the new ring of ten bells supplied to Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, in 1808 (Ringing World 1992 p.1200) and the place and date of his death are unknown.

The bell-hanging business was taken over by John Wooding Successor to the late Mr. Edw. Simmons’ who issued a broadsheet list of 78 rings of bells on which he had worked (British Museum, Add. MSS 19369). Included in the list is the ring at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, implying that Wooding worked there with Edward Simmons. Most of the rings on the list are in London and its environs but on one occasion he went to Waterford Cathedral, Ireland. The list is difficult to date, the copy in the British Museum being cut up and pasted into a volume, the order being demonstrably not as originally laid out. The latest ring of bells mentioned is that cast by Thomas Mears II for Mitcham, Surrey, in 1820, but even so, it is at least possible that the list was printed before that date, as there was a previous ring of hells at Mitchain and Wooding may have worked on that. What is clear from the list is that at that period John Wooding was not doing much in the way’ of business in conjunction with Thomas Mears.

This may well be because Charles Oliver sen. had emerged as a serious rival. He was working with Thomas Mears from at least 1818. if not before. In that year Thomas Mears cast a new ring often bells for St. Thomas’s church. Dudley. These were hung by Charles Oliver sen. (Bell News 1895 p.88). the work being completed by 4 January 1819, when the first peal was rung on the bells (Shropshire Record Office, Lawrence MS). Oliver did not have the exclusive contract to hang bells for Thomas Mears. however, for when a ring of six bells was supplied to Felmingham. Norfolk in 1819 it was hung by Thornas and Joshua Hurry of Norwich (Dr. P.D.T. Cattermole.pers. comm.). Subsequently Charles Oliver jun. joined his father in his bell-hanging business, and he issued a trade list of rings of bell that he and his father had hung. as well as others that had been rehung (See Appendix B). This list dates from shortly after 1841. The latest ring of bells mentioned being the one cast for St. James’s church, Hull, Yorkshire in that year. Among the bells hung by the firm are the rings at St. Luke’s. Chelsea. St. Peter’s. Walworth, St. John’s, Lambeth and Woburn, Bedfordshire. The last four mentioned all have, or had, two-tier frames.

It is clear from the list that at some period Charles Oliver jun. was actually’ in the employ of Thomas Mears, but then went into business on his own account and his later career has yet to be researched. It is probable that father and son pursued different careers at this period for Charles Oliver sen. did work as a founder on his own account. In 1 843 he recast the third bell of the ring of eight hells then in the tower of St. Clement Danes, and the same year cast supplied a bell to Stowupland, Suffolk on which his place of residence was given as Wapping (Raven 1890 p.238). The next year he supplied two smaller bells to augment the ring at St. Clement Danes to one of ten bells. It has been suggested that Oliver borrowed the strickles and other tools from the Whitechapel foundry (Ringing World 1941 p.247). He also supplied two hells to Carshalton. Surrey, in 1 845 and these bore his name as founder (Stahlsehmidt p.139). Certainly his connection with Whitechapel was maintained and he was still active in hanging bells for the foundry. Both father and son were elected members of the College Youths in 1850, and in the name-book Charles jun. was stated to be of Stepney while Charles sen. is described as being a bellfounder of Whitechapel. Charles sen. died on 21 September 1850 while hanging a new ring of bells at Sketty (Chris Pickford, pers. comm.), east by C. & G. Mears, who had succeeded to their father’s business. It is not known when Charles Oliver jun. died.