THE GREAT BELL OF
BRADBOURNE HOUSE, SEVENOAKS

Dickon R Love and Chistopher J Pickford, 2002

"The Great Bell of Bradbourne" is mentioned in several local history books. Investigation led to the discovery that this bell was a real giant weighing over two tons. Of no less interest is the fact that when it was cast in 1871 this bell was one of the thirty or so heaviest bells in the country. Such was the advance of English bellfounding in the years leading up to the Great War that by the time the Bradbourne bell was scrapped in 1918 it had fallen to 100th place in the list.

Bradbourne House

Bradbourne House (or Hall) in Sevenoaks was originally a timber-framed manor house, surrounded by a moat in the early days. This was replaced by a stone mansion in 1689. The Bosville family came to Bradbourne in 1555 and stayed there until 1761. Later residents included the Betenson family, Francis Crawshay, and the Lambardes. After standing empty for over a decade, the Hall was eventually demolished in 1937. Modern houses were later built on the site, but the lakes beyond the former mansion still exist.

Probably Bradbourne's most famous resident was Francis Crawshay, a Welsh Iron Baron who owned coalmines and iron foundries. He came to live in Sevenoaks in 1870 and quickly gained a reputation locally for his eccentricity. It was at Bradbourne that he caused great stone monoliths and Druidic circles to be erected within the grounds. Their eerie appearance kept the superstitious ‘locals’ out of the grounds after dark and Crawshay’s obituary mentions his pastime of indulging in midnight druidical processions in the grounds.

He was a man noted for his universal beneficence and charity, but the thing for which he was remembered long after his death was the Great Bell of Bradbourne that was sounded religiously as 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. every day.   This time was checked with London and the sound of the bell was heard clearly as far as Riverhead, Dunton Green and Seal. Apparently Crawshay also used a rope in his bedroom to sound the bell when suffering an attack of gout – usually in the middle of the night – until his neighbours politely petitioned him to desist!

But what do we know of the bell itself? Until recently, very little – although photographs showing the bell hanging from a tall tripod near the house have appeared in various books on the local history of the area. Fortunately, full particulars have recently come to light in the archives of the bellfounding firm that bought the bell as scrap metal in 1918.

It transpires that Crawshay had this massive bell cast at Lyons in France, by a founder named Burdin Aine, in 1871. The bell weighed over two tons (40 cwts 1 qr 25 lbs or 2205kg) and had a diameter of 59" (155mm), making it the second largest bell in Kent (after Great Dunstan at Canterbury Cathedral). Moreover, at the time it was cast it was among the heaviest bells in the whole of the United Kingdom and the largest bell of foreign manufacture in the country. It was also the biggest bell in a country house, though it was soon afterwards to be equalled by the bass bell at Eaton Hall (Van Aerschodt 1877), the three largest bells at Abberley Hall (Taylor 1884), and the 176 cwt "Joe" of Highmoor (also Taylor 1884).

Some sources claim that the bell bore an inscription giving complete details of Crawshay’s family, mentioning that the women viewed it with disgust as their birthdays were there for all the world to see how old they were! This was not actually the case, although the ages of all the children at the time of Crawshay’s death in 1878 are given - much more publicly than on the bell - on his gravestone in Brasted churchyard.

In fact, the bell bore the following inscription celebrating the technological advances of the nineteenth century:

I WAS BORN IN LYONS, FRANCE, AND WAS BROUGHT TO ANGLE TERRE TO PROCLAIM THE WONDERS OF FIFTY NINE YEARS OF THE LIFE OF MY PARENT FRANCIS CRAWSHAY. THE INVENTION OF *

ROLLING IRON INTRODUCED TO WALES FROM STAFFORDSHIRE. THE WATER BALANCE, MACHINE FOR LIFTING COAL AND MINERALS FROM PITS. HOT AIR APPLIED TO THE METTING (sic) OF ORES IN THE BLAST *

FURNACES. FURNACE GASES USED TO RAISE STEAM FOR BLAST ENGINES. THE ROLLING OF RAILWAY IRON FOR THE LOCOMOTIVE ENGINE FOR RAILWAS (sic). THE LOCOMOTIVE ENGINE FOR GREAT SPEED AND TRACTION ON RAILWAYS. *

THE LOCOMOTIVE ENGINE APPLIED TO COMMON ROADS. THE ARCHIMEDEAN SCREW TO PROPEL SHIPS. THE GREAT EASTERN SHIP OF 22000 TONE BURTHEN BUILT. DAGUEREOTYPES AND PHOTOGRAPHS *

PRODUCED BY LENSES AND CHIMICALS. TELEGRAPH BY ELECTRICITY. IRON SHIPS AND WOOD SHIPS COATED WITH ARMOUR PLATE. THE TURRET SHIPS. BREECH LOADING GUNS AND RIFLES APPLIED TO *

THE NAVY GUN. COTTON INVENTED. REVOLVER PISTOLS AND GUNS. CENTRAL FIRE. NEEDLE GUNS ETC. TUBULAR BRIDGES. GIRDER BRIDGES. AND LATTICE WORK BRIDGES. IRON TUNNELS UNDER THE THAMES *

AND IRON TUBULAR PILLARS SUNK BY PRESSURE TO SUPPORT BRIDGES ON THE THAMES. THE SHORT STROKE ENGINE AND LARGE DIAMETER USED FOR SCREW PROPELLERS AND WINDING ENGINES. STEAM *

PLOUGH. STEAM THRESHING. MACHINE AND HORSE REAPING MACHINE STEAM APPLIED TO CROSSING THE ALPS AT MONT CENIS AND BOVING (sic) MACHINE BY COMPRESSED AIR IN THE MONT CENIS TUNNEL *

GOLD DISCOVERED IN LARGE QUANTITIES IN CALIFORNIA, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND. SUEZ CANAL TO RED SEA COMPLETED FOR SHIPPING. THE USE OF CHLOROFORM FOR THE ALLEVIATION OF PAIN IN *

SURGICAL OPERATIONS AND OBSTETRICS.

GOLAU 1871

BURDIN AINE FONDEUR A LYON

It is interesting that Crawshay chose a French founder to cast his bell – and rather surprising, since at least three of the English firms (Mears, Warners and Taylors) were equipped to cast bells of this size. Indeed, the development of bellfounding in the late nineteenth century was itself almost worthy of mention in an inscription commemorating the technological achievements. This is demonstrated by the ranking of the Bradbourne bell which fell from being number 34 in the list of heavy bells in 1871 when it was cast to no 80 in 1900 and no 100 in 1918. During the period between 1871 and 1918 no less than 67 bells over two tons were added to the list.

Perhaps to the relief of local residents, Crawshay only lived to enjoy the sound of his bell for seven years or so. He passed away in November 1878. He was buried in the churchyard at Brasted where his distinctive grave stands to the north of the entrance to the church. The cast iron surround is made up of anchors and ropes, and the main inscriptions of the memorial are on an obelisk or monolith. It bears the following inscription:

IN
MEMORY OF
FRANCIS CRAWSHAY
OF BRADBOURN HALL, RIVERHEAD
KENT, AND OF FOREST ISAF
TRE FOREST, SOUTH WALES,
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE
NOVEMBER 6TH 1878,
AGED 67
THE FAITHFUL AND DEVOTED
HUSBAND FOR 41 YEARS OF
LAURA CRAWSHAY
OF HONINGHAM HALL, NORFOLK,
AGED 67.
AND THE BELOVED FATHER OF
WILLIAM AGED 38 YEARS
LAURA JULIA 36
ISABEL ELIZA 31
RICHARD 10 MONTHS
FRANCIS RICHARD 29 YEARS
TUDOR 28
HELEN CHRISTINE 27
MARY STELLA 25
DE BARRI 21
DEEPLY REGRETTED BY ALL WHO
KNEW HIM
HE RESTS FROM HIS LABOURS.

Crawshay Grave. Photo CJP 2002

On the east side of the memorial, there is an inscription in memory of Laura Crawshay, born on born 12 July 1812 and died on 7 August 1896, who was "for nearly 18 years the devoted widow of Francis Crawshay..."

Some years after the death of Francis Crawshay, William Lambarde moved to Bradbourne in 1906. The Lambardes had moved from Park Place to Beechmont before coming to Bradbourne. The Great Bell had become cracked, so it was sold to John Taylor & Co, the Loughborough bellfounders, in May 1918. It was melted down and used as scrap metal.

Bradbourne was sold by Major William Gore Lambarde in 1927 and finally acquired by the New Ideal Homestead Company. The mid-18th century lakes were given to the Urban District Council by an intermediate purchaser, Hugh Goff. The Hall survived for another 10 years, becoming more and more derelict. It was finally demolished in 1937, and nos.16-22 Robyns Way were built upon its site. Some of its ancillary buildings remain, as well as a few of the earlier eccentric owner Crawshay’s druidical monoliths surviving in the back gardens of several local houses.

The Great Bell was not the only bell at Bradbourne, and another still survives in the building known as the Chapel or Clockhouse to the south east of the former mansion. The precise origins of the present building are uncertain. Some believe that it represents the remains of a private chapel built for the Bosville family in the early seventeenth century. A licence for such a chapel was granted in 1614. Anthony Stoyel, on the other hand, has argued that the house is actually an "eye-catcher" or late eighteenth century folly, looking like a distant chapel on the hillside when viewed from the Hall and offering superb views back over the lakes towards the house from the vantage point of its tower.

Bradbourne House Chapel

Whether the house was the chapel or not, it does still sport a clock and its bell. The clock (currently not working) displayed the time on a copper convex dial on the side of the tower. The movement is dated 1800 but there is no clockmaker’s name on the setting dial. It is a fine two-train birdcage movement with a wrought iron frame. The hours were struck on a bell cast at Whitechapel by Lester & Pack in 1768, the year before the same firm cast a new ring of eight bells for Sevenoaks parish church.

As this bell is of a different date from the clock, it may have been supplied second hand. That it was used as a clock bell – rather than swung or chimed by clapper – is, however, certain. There is no internal indentation at the soundbow but a mark on the outside shows where the clock hammer once struck the bell. One of the canons (or suspension loops) on the bell is missing, but it is otherwise intact.

So, here we have the story of an important bell and of a local character and eccentric – both gone for ever, but not forgotten.

Bell

Weight

Diameter

Cast

Founder

Clock Bell

1 cwt approx.

161/8"

1768

Lester & Pack, Whitechapel

Great Bell

40-1-25

591/4"

1871

Burdin Aine, Lyons, France

Below, the Great Bell can be seen in its tripod, next to one of Crawshay's standing stones.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  • Gordon Anckorn, author of "A Sevenoaks Camera" (Bath 1979 reprinted 1987)
  • Mr & Mrs E. Bell, The Clockhouse, Sevenoaks
  • Andrew Higson at John Taylor & Co. Bellfounders, Loughborough
  • Michael Holmes, author "The Country House described: an index to the County Houses of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" (St Paul's Biographies in Association with Victoria & Albert Museum 1986)
  • Christopher Raynor, author of "Sevenoaks Past" (Phillimore 1997)
  • … Brooks, article "The Clock House of Sevenoaks" in Byegone Kent Vol.1 no.7 pp.441-2
  • Anthony Stoyel, typescript notes on the Clockhouse at Bradbourne

THE HEAVIEST BELLS IN THE COUNTRY AT THE TIME OF THE CASTING OF THE BRADBOURNE BELL

Entries in bold represent bells hung for ringing.

Location Weight Cast Lasted until Founder
Westminster, Houses of Parliament, "Big Ben" 270-3-15 1858 Thomas Mears II
York Minster "Great Peter" (original bell) 215 cwt approx. 1845 1927 Charles & George Mears
Oxford "Great Tom" 124 cwt approx. 1680 Christopher Hodson
Lincoln Cathedral, "Great Tom" (Hour bell) 108 cwt approx. 1835 Thomas Mears II
London, S. Paul's Cathedral "Great Tom" (Hour bell) 102-1-22 1716 Richard Phelps
Preston Town Hall (lost by fire) 96 cwt approx. 1866 1947 John Taylor & Co
Worcester Cathedral (Hour bell) 82-3-24 1868 John Taylor & Co
Leeds Town Hall (Hour bell, hung for swinging) 81-0-11 1859 John Warner & Sons
Exeter Cathedral "Great Peter" 80 cwt approx. 1676 Thomas Purdue
Westminster, Houses of Parliament, 4th quarter 77-3-24 1856 John Warner & Sons
Exeter Cathedral "Grandison" (former tenor) 67-1-18 1729 1902 William Evans
Newcastle-on-Tyne Cathedral, "Major" (old hour bell) 65-3-6 1833 1891 James Harrison
Canterbury Cathedral "Great Dunstan" 62-2-9 1762 Lester & Pack
Gloucester Cathedral, "Great Peter" 59-3-14 1450 Unknown
Halifax Town Hall (Hour bell) 59 cwt approx. 1862 John Taylor & Co
Woburn new church (bell) 55 cwt approx. 1867 1910 Mears & Stainbank
London, St Mary-le-Bow (Tenor bell) 53-0-22 1738 1933 Phelps & Lester
Rochdale Town Hall (former Hour bell) 53 cwt approx. 1871 1884 John Taylor & Co
Ascot Priory 52-1-8 1862 Mears
Southwark Cathedral (old tenor) 51-2-0 1735 1911 Samuel Knight
York Minster (former tenor) 50-2-0 1849 1925 Charles & George Mears
Worcester Cathedral (former tenor) 50 cwt approx. 1869 1928 John Taylor & Co
Wells Cathedral (former tenor) 47 cwt approx. 1803 1877 John Rudhall
Sherborne Abbey (former tenor) 46-0-23 1865 1933 John Warner & Sons
Norwich, St Peter Mancroft (Tenor) 43-1-18 1814 Thomas Mears II
Dublin, Post Office 43 cwt approx. 1817 Dobson
Dublin Lighthouse 42-3-8 1848 Charles & George Mears
South Stack Lighthouse 41-2-24 1853 Charles & George Mears
Tong, Salop (Great bell) 41-2-3 1720 1891 Rudhall
Brighton, St Paul (Bourdon bell) 41-1-13 1853 Charles & George Mears
Liverpool, St Nicholas (old tenor) 41-0-14 1812 1911 Dobson
Exeter Cathedral "Stafford" (11th bell) 40-3-19 1676 Thomas Purdue
Yeovil Parish Church (Tenor) 40-2-23 1728 Thomas Bilbie
Sevenoaks, Bradbourne Hall 40-1-25 1871 1918 Burdin Aine
Sheffield Cathedral (former tenor) 40-0-10 1804 1970 Thomas Mears II
Liverpool Municipal Buildings (Hour bell) 40 cwt approx. 1868 John Warner & Sons
London, St Michael, Cornhill (former tenor) 39-1-15 1795 1960 Thomas Mears I
Bristol, St Mary Redcliffe (former tenor) 39 cwt approx. 1622 1903 Purdue
Dublin, Trinity College 36-0-12 1744 Abel Rudhall
Hereford Cathedral (Tenor) 33-3-21 1500 Unknown