Whitechapel Bell Foundry (42)

I have been watching the BBC film In the Making: Bells, made in 1977 to commemorate the making a bell in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. I found it indescribably moving, because it shows so clearly all the different skills which went into the making of church bells, the combination of hand and eye with a little bit of electronics and chemistry, but mostly the inherited expertise which was handed down within the workshop. The star of the film is Douglas Hughes, co-owner, sitting for much of the film in the front office together with his older brother, William, sitting alongside him, as well as William’s son, Alan, who also appears in the film as a young man and who inherited the family business, now sold. Alan’s great-grandfather, Arthur Hughes, had joined the business in 1885 and took it over it 1904.

Douglas Hughes patiently explains the nature of the business and introduces the other people who worked there at the time; Ernest Oliver, who had worked for the foundry for 48 years and looked after the hand bells (his family had worked in the bell foundry for 250 years); Wally Spragett, twenty years; Don Matlis, who joined in 1960 and did the moulding; Ron Brown from Leytonstone; Peter Scott; Roy Marks. They were a team, each with their own specialist skill, proud of their work. It was a community of collective expertise: the mixing of London clay, horse manure, goat’s hair and sand; doing the moulding, setting the cores up and the gauges; the division of the core and cope; the pouring of the hot molten metal, an alloy of 77% copper and 23% tin, into the mould, with everyone watching; and then, last, the addition of an inscription. There was the blacksmith who made the clappers, the fitters and welders, joiners who made the wheels, and the bell-hangers who travelled the world installing them.

I’m not allowed to show the film because, of course, it’s copyright of the BBC. But I hope that I can encourage or persuade them to show it again in advance of the hearing beginning on October 6th. to give the Inspector some idea of what is in danger of being lost.

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