The Sudbury Bell Founders
Last year I wrote about the Lamarsh bell restoration. At that time I had wanted to find out more about Henry Pleasant, and where he had his foundry in Sudbury. Fortuitously I found that The Sudbury History Society had held an exhibition in 2005 featuring Sudbury’s bellmakers. Walter Perry presented a paper, to which he gave me access, and has allowed me to edit for this article.
The Sudbury bell founders have a link to the Miles Gray foundry in Colchester as Prentice and Newman took over when he died in 1686. By 1696 both had gone their own ways, Pleasant to Sudbury and Newman to Norwich and the Colchester foundry passed to a man named Mott. It would therefore seem that the Lamarsh bell might have been cast in Colchester as it is dated 1695. Prior to writing this article it was believed that it had been cast in Sudbury.
Henry Pleasant’s foundry was near Ballingdon Bridge probably where The Boathouse stands to-day or it could have been on the opposite side of the river downstream of the bridge. This would have been a better site as barges could not pass under the wooden bridge and the materials for making the bells would have arrived by river, and many of the finished bells would have gone down river to their Churches. Pleasant was in Sudbury from 1696 until his death in December 1708. He cast at least 72 bells which are distributed throughout East Anglia. At Maldon All Saints he cast three bells to join the three that were already there, and on one of the bells he placed the following inscription:
“When three this steeple did hold
They were emblems of a scold
No music then, but we shall see
What Pleasant music six will be”
Interestingly Maldon has the only triangular Church tower in Britain.
Although in Sudbury there were three bell founders and three Churches only one bell from their castings remains, and that is a Pleasant bell, in All Saints Church tower.
In 1701 Pleasant was commissioned to make a clock for St Peters Church and the contract stipulated that it was to be made to “the highest standard of his craft, with a pendulum, to maintain it to keep good time.” In return Pleasant was not to pay the poor rate and other dues to the borough. He would be relieved of duties of the borough as an overseer, constable, as well as other duties. Fifteen Aldermen and notable citizens signed on one part and
Pleasant on the other undertaking the contract. Pleasant’s clock was replaced in 1820 and in 1874 the present clock, by Gillet & Bland, was installed, but it is now electrically powered.
When Henry Pleasant died in 1708 his foundry was taken over by John Thornton until he closed it in 1720. He cast 36 bells and is thought of as a good bell maker. His largest commission was for five bells in Newmarket All Saints Church. Not much is known about him and twelve years was a short time in bell making when the trade was flourishing. Perhaps he did not have a business
Another bell founder was, Thomas Gardiner, who was in Sudbury from 1709 to 1762 and also at the Brocandale foundry in Norwich from 1727 to 1747. He died in 1769 which would have made him a very old man, making bells for over 50 years. He is thought to have cast well over 259 bells, all bar one of which, are in East Anglia. The stray one went to Kent. Gardiner may well have worked for Pleasant as he used Pleasant’s bell inscription
letter moulds. He may have resented Thornton getting Pleasant’s business and it took him a year to set up on his own, in 1709, in a foundry on land between Burkitts Lane and Weavers Lane. In 2004 when redevelopment of the site was taking place black foundry sand was uncovered just behind Gainsborough’s House. His foundry in Norwich was purchased from Thomas Newman, son of
Charles Newman, and a one time partner of Henry Pleasant from the days of the Miles Gray foundry in Colchester.
In 1709 one of his first commissions was for a treble and a second to match the existing four bells at Edwardstone. This proved to be an unhappy project as a William Culpeck did not like the note of the second, compared to the treble, and it was recast and had added to the inscription “Tuned by Wm Culpeck.” A year later Gardiner was called back to recast the tenor bell. This was as a result of the second bell not being tuned to the tenor bell. Gardiner got his own back on Culpeck by inscribing the following verse on the tenor bell.
“About ty second Culpeck is wrett (ty – the. wrett – angry)
Because ty founder wanted wett (wett – wisdom)
Thair wisdom were bad at last (thair – their)
Or this bell I never had cast”
In the 1980’s Edwardstone’s bells were re-hung, after many years of neglect and wear and tear. Gardiner’s tenor bell of 1710 was found to be cracked but it was saved for posterity by Morden College, Blackheath, which had close links with the village going back to the 16th Century through the founder Sir John Morden. The bell is on permanent loan to the College.
Gardiner was not one to hold back on his views and in 1747 when he had to recast a bell for All Saints, Great Horkesley he added to the inscription “William Sadler who was a negligent partner caused me to be cast by Sudbury Gardiner 1747” It seems likely that the libelled Sadler had run Gardiner’s foundry when Gardiner was in Norwich, and had made a poor job of casting this bell. Thomas recast the bell and let his views be known although the first part of the inscription has been partly removed leaving “cast by Sudbury Gardiner 1747” Close inspection reveals the full inscription!
With thanks to Walter A Perry