John Taylor & Co in Loughborough is the only major bell foundry left in the UK. The bells it has produced ring at St Paul’s Cathedral and chime in clocks, belltowers, churches, universities and public buildings in over 100 countries.
It is also a place full of history. More large bells have been cast here than at any other bell foundry in Britain. And it still attracts engineers who are passionate about producing the perfect bell. In this programme, we hear from some of them, including foreman Anthony Stone and bell tuner Girdar Vadukar.
The largest church bell in Britain, Great Paul, which weighs in at nearly 17 tons, was cast at Loughborough in 1881. An agricultural steam engine then pulled the bell to London on a specially adapted cart. After adventurous months on the road, it was finally hung at St Paul’s Cathedral – and as the Surveyor of the Fabric, Oliver Caroe, explains, this took enormous ingenuity and a hefty dose of whale oil.
More recently, the bell used for the AC/DC track Hells Bells was cast at Loughborough. The band’s ambition was to take the bell with them on their Back in Black tour in 1980 - a logistical nightmare because of the bell’s great weight.
At St Mary’s church in Putney in South West London, in 1973, a set of Loughborough bells alerted local residents to a fire when they “rang themselves down” as the flames burnt through the wooden stays holding them in place.
What resonates strongly is the enormous passion everyone in this programme has for bells – and the fact that they are likely to outlast the people who made them, in many cases by hundreds of years.
We are grateful to Jemma Meyer for supplying sound of Great Paul for this programme.
Listen now: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001fwcz
A near perfect radio programme about craftsmen, history and church bells. Bravo.