The Sound of Bells

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Two Hundred Years of History

This history of the notable Taylor bell-founding family, written by Paul Taylor, is taken from a leaflet produced for a celebration dinner held on Friday, 1st January 1960 to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Robert Taylor, the first member of the family to enter the trade. This dinner was held at the Bull's Head Hotel, Shelthorpe, attended by many members of the Taylor family.

As well as brief biographies of many family members, a family tree taken from the celebration leaflet appears at the end.

The relevance of this history to the study of bell acoustics is the account given of the discoveries and innovations in bell tuning made by Taylors at the end of the 19th century.

I am most grateful to John Kinchin of Leicester who provided me with a copy of the leaflet and allowed me to publish it here.


ROBERT TAYLOR
(1759-1830)

1759 Born at Riseley in Bedfordshire. Son of William Taylor, grocer of that village.
1760 BAPTIZED 1st JANUARY.
1782 Completed his apprenticeship with Edward Arnold (founding 1761-1800) bellfounder of St. Neots, Huntingdonshire.
1784 In charge of the St. Neots bell foundry, when Arnold went to Leicester.
1786 Cast his first complete peal, of five bells, for Bletsoe Church, Bedfordshire.
1789 Married Elizabeth, daughter of William Fowler, Brewer of St. Neots.
1794 Cast five of the six bells for Rushden Church, Northants. Evidently he had problems for he made notes about the second bell as follows:- ". . . being doubtful of it coming two low the cope and core was skraped to much which made it come # as ye thickness of the crook was right".
1816 Cast the third bell of the ring of five for Riseley in conjunction with J. Briant (1749-1829) of Hertford. This is the first known partnership of the two bellfounders.
1818 Cast the tenor of six at Rushden, this completed the peal of six.
1821 Started a bell foundry at Oxford, and the tenor bell of the three at Foston in Lincolnshire has on it "Taylor and Sons, Oxford and St. Neots".
1828 Recast the fourth bell of Lavendon, Buckinghamshire, weight 7cwt 2qtr 9lbs, for 14 7s 7d.
1830 Died and was buried in St. Ebbe's Churchyard, Oxford.

WILLIAM TAYLOR
(1795-1854)

1795 Born at St. Neots. Elder son of Robert Taylor. Soon began to assist his father.
1806 The bells at Newton-in-the-Willows and Braybrooke Churches, both in Northants, have on them:

W. TAYLOR 1806

  It is pleasant to imagine 11-year-old William helping to make the moulds and proud father putting his name on!!
1817 Great Houghton second of three inscribed "Robert Taylor and Son". The first mention of a son since 1806.
1822 The peal of five bells at Calverton, Buckinghamshire, bears the inscription:

W. & J. TAYLOR, OXFORD
CHURCH CLOCK AND CHIME MAKERS

1826 Made the Church clock for Churchill, Oxon. The pendulum is over 27' 0 long to ensure good time keeping and the clock is still going well today.
1854 Bishop's Cleeve, Gloucestershire, fourth of six inscribed:

WILLIAM TAYLOR

  This is the last recorded bell of William's.
1854 While working on the chiming machine for Bowdon Church, Cheshire, William died in Oxford in this year, and the business was transferred to his brother's foundry in Loughborough.

JOHN TAYLOR
(1797-1858)

1797 Born at St. Neots, the younger son of Robert Taylor. Assisted his father and brother.
1822 From this year we find bells inscribed "W. & J. Taylor, Oxford" as well as "R. Taylor & Sons".
1825 Married Amelia, daughter of the Reverend Pryce Jones, Vicar of Abthorpe, Northants, and soon after his marriage he went to Buckland Brewer, Devon, where he set up his Bell Foundry.
1826 He cast many peals of bells there, including the heavy peal of six for Hartland in Devon.
1831 We find him travelling to Staffordshire and he comes back to Devon with the orders to cast the peals of eight for Stoke-on-Trent and Penkridge.

His books have many "remarks on bells", as he calls them, scattered throughout the pages and he has no false modesty about himself for we find on Penkridge second bell:

To speak with mellow tone but ne'er to swear
John Taylor taught us with a fathers care.
Clappers: screws: wheels: and all kept well in place
Then for an age quite sound this tower we'll grace.

  We have also his drawings of his furnace at Buckland Brewer and a note on how to work it, thus:-
"The furnace never should have more than 28-cwt. in at one heat, It then will want to be in about eight hours. If more than that quantity it will not get hot under a very long time and perhaps not at all. As soon as there becomes a bright face on the metal and little things swimming and spinning around on the top of the metal its ready to cast"

and at the bottom of the page, a more homely note:
"The brown duck was set on eggs May 24th.
Fanny was set on Hens eggs June 15th".
1833 In comparing his bells with those by other founders, and not always to their advantage, we read in a letter to R. Chichester, Esq.:-
"There are two large iron foundries at Hayle. Cornwall, where casting is attempted. I should uncommonly like for you Sir to see a peal of six they did cast for Helston, Cornwall, in 1824. They are enough to frighten any one who may hear them suddenly and for the first time".
1834 And again:- ". . . . I flatter myself I am at length come to the full knowledge of Bell Casting - Master I may say of the ART!!!"

About this time he returned to Oxford and there rejoined his brother.
1839 He came to Loughborough to recast the Parish Church bells there and finding it a convenient centre for his trade, decided to settle in Loughborough, establishing his Bell Foundry in Pack Horse Lane.
1842 He cast the peal of ten bells for Newark Parish Church. The first "Taylor Ten".
1854 Leicester, St. Martin's Church (now the Cathedral), the third bell of the peal of five has the following inscription:-
John Taylor & Son, Loughborough, late of Oxford, Buckland Brewer, Devon, and St. Neots, Hunts.: Successors of the old and celebrated founders Newcombe, Watts, Eayre and Arnold, of Leicester, names of high repute dating as early as 1560.
1858 Died and was buried in Loughborough Cemetery.

ROBERT EDWARD TAYLOR
(1830-1856)

1830 Born at Buckland Brewer. Second son of John Taylor.
1853 A single bell for Christ Church, Banbury, Oxon., is inscribed:-

ROBERT TAYLOR FECIT
LOUGHBOROUGH

1856 Died. It is not known where he was buried.

PRYCE JEMSON JONES TAYLOR
(1835-1862)

1835 Born at Oxford. Third son of John Taylor.
1849 The third bell of the peal of four in Ashton Church, Northants., is inscribed:-

PRYCE JEMSON JONES TAYLOR
LOUGHBOROUGH
FECIT AD MDCCCXLIX

1852 A single bell in Compton Verney Church. Warwickshire, is inscribed:-

W. & P. TAYLOR, OXFORD

1862 Died and was buried in Loughborough Cemetery.

JOHN WILLIAM TAYLOR (I)
(1827-1906)

John William Taylor, born at Buckland Brewer, was the eldest son of John Taylor. He soon became a bellringer, for on a board, dated 1842, in Loughborough Parish Church Belfry, there is recorded a peal of Grandsire Triples in which John W. Taylor rang the 3rd bell.

In 1852, at the age of 25, he married Eliza, daughter of Thomas Brayley, of Loughborough.

In 1856 we have records of his opinions connected with problems not only of bell founding, but also of bellhanging. We find him disagreeing with plans of the Hon. Edmund Beckett Denison, who was regarded as an eminent authority on bells, condemning them as "most bad in principle."

The question of the use of cast-iron for bellhanging is exercising his mind and in writing to a Mr. George Bloomfield, an engineer in Suffolk, he "can approve of it" for bellframes although at this time is not so sure about using it for headstocks as he "cannot recommend that batch of metal on the top of the bell." (We must remember that canons were the accepted way by which bells were fastened to their headstocks in those days.) Continuing, he advocates a centre hole "up through the middle of the argent for the clapper to be fastened to the stock," and does not resist a little tilt at other bellfounders when he ends his letter by saying,
" You will see that we do not go with the multitude in this matter . . . we give our advice to you and you must please yourself."

On the death of his father in 1858, he and his brother Pryce carried on the business, and their bells were mostly inscribed "John Taylor and Co., Loughborough," under which style it has continued ever since. In this year, too, he bought land in the Cherry Orchard district and began building his Bell Foundry in Freehold Street and Chapman Street.

In 1862 he is left alone as his brother Pryce dies at the early age of 27 and his eldest son is not yet old enough to help him. About this time he puts his thoughts to paper on a problem that disturbs him greatly and which in fact will not stop disturbing him for another 30 years, viz., WHY DO BELLS SOUND OUT OF TUNE?

He writes to the Hon. E. B. Denison (with whom he has settled his differences and in fact has called his newly born son Edmund Denison in his honour), "I have almost a dread of attempting to harmonize bells up to A ... but I flatter myself at being able to reach G satisfactorily". He has a vague idea about the complex tone of a bell and his letter continues, "I find there are transition notes in a long range of bells neither fit for one scale of notes or the other. They have always baffled me".

Notwithstanding the powerful influence of the Hon. E. B. Denison, he does not hesitate again to disagree with him, this time falling out with Denison's specifications for the great peal of bells which was being planned for Worcester Cathedral, for in writing to the Reverend R. Cattley he says, "I should dread the result at Worcester of such a peal to eclipse all others!" E. B. Denison got his own way and Taylor had to cast the bells to his specification. The resulting peal of bells fully justified John William Taylor's forebodings but it was left to his son, many years later, to remodel and recast the bells, resulting in the present noble ring.

About this time, in the actual process of moulding bells, he takes a great step forward by equipping himself "with a complete set of iron shells for bells up to four tons". By this is meant what we now call "bellcases". He moulded them in the Bell Foundry and had them cast at "a foundry with which I am connected".

A few years later he has his eldest son working for him.

JOHN WILLIAM TAYLOR (II)
(1853-1919)

John William II goes up to London at the age of 25 and receives the order for the largest peal of bells in the world, namely the ring of twelve bells for St. Paul's Cathedral, and three years later father and son complete their work there by casting and installing "Great Paul", the largest bell in the Empire, sounding a fifth below the tenor bell of the ring-truly a masterpiece of bell founding.

Along with these monster bells they were also busy casting and hanging bells for many of the Parish Churches of England.

By now their bells are being cast with flat heads, i.e., without canons, thus straightaway getting rid of the previous objection to the use of cast-iron headstocks and they soon find the great advantage of metal as opposed to wood, in that metal does not alter with the vagaries of our English climate!

They are also cogitating on metal bellframes and soon these appear, firstly just cast-iron struts and timber cills and then the all-metal frame.

Early in 1884. the aforementioned

EDMUND DENISON TAYLOR
(1864-1947)

is found working with his father and brother. He had been apprenticed to an iron founder in Leicester and is soon busy superintending the actual casting of bells and bellframes.

In this year, too, John William II marries Annie Mary, daughter of John Bardsley of Loughborough. Twenty years later he is left a widower, and marries in 1909 his second wife, Edith, youngest daughter of William Lea, of Manchester.

By the late eighties they had realized the importance of the "transition tones" that had so baffled John William I some twenty-five years before, and had now decided that a bell should sound no less than three octaves. But to know this was one thing, to do it another. Many were the bells they cast trying to do this and many were their disappointments.

They were, though, well on the way to the solution of the problem when, in 1894, they were visited by the Reverend A. B. Simpson and were astonished to hear from him that two Dutch bellfounders, some 250 years before, had solved the same problem but that their secret was now lost.

Mr. Simpson had been crusading for some years in an effort to get better bells and finding, at last, someone really interested in improving the tone of a bell, he became a constant visitor to Loughborough, ever urging the Taylors on and comforting them when they became despondent.

Eventually the practical and financial problems of producing the "true-harmonic" bell were solved and in 1896 the first peal of tuned bells ever made was installed in Norton Church Tower, near Sheffield.

In 1906 John William Taylor I dies, and the Bell Foundry is carried on by the two brothers, John William and Edmund Denison. Their fame and success increase as the years go by, and they enlarge their scope by turning their attention to the building of Carillons. This opened up great possibilities both in the Old World and the New, and Taylor Carillons are to be found spread over the world just as are Taylor Peals.

The third and fourth sons of John William II now enter the scene as they become old enough, namely

PRYCE TAYLOR
(1891-1927)

and

ARNOLD BRADLEY TAYLOR
(1894-1916)

In 1914 they both leave the Foundry to enlist, and Pryce alone survives the Great War.

He comes back to the Bell Foundry when hostilities are over to rejoin his uncle and, his father dying in 1919, the business is carried on by the two of them until in 1927 Pryce dies while on a business trip to Canada.

After the War and until her marriage in 1923, to George Frederick Mears,

GWENDOLINE TAYLOR
(1894-1942)

the third daughter of John William II assisted her brother and uncle in bell tuning and the forty-seven bell War Memorial Carillon in Loughborough bears witness to her work.

In 1935 the youngest son of John William II,

PAUL LEA TAYLOR

born 1914, starts his career as a bellfounder, under his uncle, and remains today to carry on the family tradition.

It is with the wish to do honour to his forebears that he has written these few notes about them and to show that from somewhat small beginnings, where the family of Taylor took control, the business has continued to develop to its pre-eminence today through the industry of five generations.

Taylor family tree


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Last updated May 13, 2001. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey