GREAT BELL OF
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 (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 Crawshays 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 59¼" (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).|
claim that the bell bore an inscription giving complete details of Crawshays 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 Crawshays 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.
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:
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 Crawshays 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
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 clockmakers 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.
1 cwt approx.
Lester & Pack, Whitechapel
Burdin Aine, Lyons, France
Below, the Great Bell can be seen in its tripod, next to one of Crawshay's standing stones.
THE HEAVIEST BELLS IN THE COUNTRY AT THE TIME OF THE CASTING OF THE BRADBOURNE BELL
Entries in bold represent bells hung for ringing.
|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"||124½ 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|
|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|