The Sound of Bells

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Mears and Stainbank catalogue of about 1920

This page has extracts from a Mears and Stainbank catalogue of about 1920. The whole catalogue is of great interest, and includes a complete catalogue of peals of bells supplied from this famous London foundry from the mid-18th century onwards. The items extracted here were judged to be those of some interest to historians of bell acoustics. The whole document sells Whitechapel hard, and includes many glowing references from satisfied customers. The section below on 'Tone and Tuning' is worthy of note - it says "Special attention is given to casting bells true in tone, i.e. with concordant harmonics, and the tuning is reduced to a minimum." This protestation was often made by old-style founders under threat from true-harmonic bells.

Readers should note that bells mentioned here may well have been replaced, some of them prior to the date the catalogue was published!

Mears Catalogue title page

Established 1570.
Removed from ESSEX STREET, WHITECHAPEL, to present Site in 1738.


Mot, RobertA.D. 1570
Carter, Joseph1606
Carter, William1610
Bartlet, Thomas1619
Bartlet, Anthony1647
Bartlet, James1676
Phelps, Richard1702
Phelps & Lester1735
Lester, Thomas1738
Lester & Pack1752
Pack & Chapman1770
Chapman & Mears1782
Mears, William1784
Mears, William & Thomas1787
Mears, Thomas1791
Mears, Thomas & Son1805
Mears, Thomas the younger1810
Mears, Charles & George1844
Mears, George & Co.1861

The goodwill, patterns, &c., of the following Firms have been acquired by this Foundry:-
Messrs. Abraham Rudhall & Co., of Gloucester.
John Briant, of Hertford.
Osbom & Dobson, of Downham, Norfolk.
Robert Wells, of Aldboume.


THE WHITECHAPEL BELL FOUNDRY was started in the year 1570, and during the past three centuries it has been the birthplace of many of our noted Cathedral Peals, also some of the largest Bells in the Country.

A complete history of this business may be found in the books which have been published on the Bells of various Counties, such as Mr. J. L'Estrange's "Church Bells of Norfolk," Dr. Raven's "Church Bells of Suffolk," etc. Mr. H. B. Walters, F.S.A., in his account of "London Church Bells and Bell-Founders," says, ". . . This brings us to the history of the only important London Foundry in the period 1540 to 1650, that of Whitechapel, which was founded about the year 1570, and has been continued without intermission down to the present day, when its reputation is greater than ever. In Westminster Abbey Belfry there are still two fine specimens of early Bells from this Foundry, the one dated 1583 and the other 1598."

It is interesting to note that we have recently rehung the Abbey Bells in a new iron frame, and completed the octave by the addition of two treble bells, which were placed there as a Thank-offering for the conclusion of Peace. This work enables us to record a continuous connection with these bells from 1583 to 1919.

The "ringing" of Church Bells, as distinguished from simply "chiming," is a custom that has grown up in this Country during the last two centuries or more. It is usual abroad to have three or more large Bells hung for chiming only, but some of the Cathedrals have as many as three or four octaves of Bells, fixed rigid, and played automatically by means of carillon machinery. It is, however, only by "ringing" that the full tone of a bell is brought out. The illustration on page 58 shows a bell hung for ringing; by means of a rope attached to the wheel, the bell is gradually raised until it is quite inverted, and sets mouth upwards, being held in position by the stay resting in contact with the slider. At each pull of the rope the bell turns a complete revolution for every blow of the clapper.

Bell metal

Bell-metal is a mixture of copper and tin, the latter being approximately a fourth of the whole weight. Church Bells are particularly suited for memorial purposes; they last for centuries, and even when they become cracked, the market value of the metal represents fully one half of their original cost.

Number of Bells

The usual number of Bells in a peal is eight (a diatonic octave) the weights being regulated by the size of the Belfry. The Bells (beginning with the smallest) are called the Treble, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and Tenor, all differing in sizes and weights, the whole weighing from four to five times as much as the Tenor.


The Quarter Chimes of the Clock are struck on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 7th Bells in a peal of eight, and the Hour on the Tenor.

Tone and Tune

The shape of our Bells is designed to produce the best possible tone. Special attention is given to casting Bells true in tone, i.e., with concordant harmonies, and the tuning is reduced to a minimum. One of our productions, the recast Tenor at St. Saviour's Cathedral, Southwark, weighing over 50 cwt., was cast exactly to the note required, and with its harmonics perfectly true. The general opinion of the tone and tune of our Church Bells is shown on pages 14 to 22 herein, but perhaps the greatest test of tuning is in long sets of Musical Handbells, where several are attuned to each note. To ensure perfect unison it is essential that each one should be of the same character, with the same relative harmonics.


A set of 172 Bells which we recently supplied, was reported upon by the Musical judges at the Manchester Contest:- “Bells well in tune, nicely modulated, and of exquisite tone; eminent musicians say they are the most musical and mellow Peal of Bells they ever heard."


The most satisfactory material for frames at the present time is iron. These frames are supported on massive steel joists, and enable such rigidity to be obtained, that the heaviest bells can be rung with ease, they also lessen the amount of strain imparted to the tower walls.

Modern methods of hanging Church Bells have considerably reduced the labour of ringing. Perhaps the finest performance ever recorded in heavy bell ringing, was that at St. Mary-le-Bow Church, Cheapside, recently when eight members of the Ancient Society of College Youths accomplished a peal of London Surprise Major (the most difficult method extant) in four hours, one man ringing the 53 cwt. Tenor and conducting the peal. These Bells originally cast at this Foundry, were rehung by us, and a report upon their condition is shown on page 19.

Other instances of Heavy Bell Performances on peals rehung by us are :- The peal of 6,048 of Kent Treble Bob Maximus in 4 1/2 hours at St. Mary-le-Bow Church, Cheapside, on January 23rd, 1909. The peal of Cambridge Surprise Maximus in 4 1/4 hours on January 28th, 1911, at St. Michael's, Cornhill, E.C. (twelve bells, Tenor 41 cwt.), and the 5,040 of Kent Treble Bob Maximus at Sheffield Parish Church, on March 11th, 1911, in 3 3/4 hours (twelve bells, Tenor 41 cwt.) In this peal, the weight of the ringer of the Tenor, was only 9 st. 4 lbs.


Inspections promptly arranged, and estimates submitted for erecting New Rings, augmenting, or for rehanging, repairing or recasting existing ones.

In submitting this Catalogue, we beg warmly to acknowledge the support and the kind recommendations which we continue to receive, and, soliciting a continuance of such confidence, beg to state that our attention is exclusively given to the casting of Bells and the manufacture of their Fittings and Frames.


In the table below, note particularly the 1920s prices for a peal of eight: bells, frame, fittings and installation.

Details of peals of eight


Last updated May 12, 2001. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey