On a bright February morning I was lucky enough to visit the John Taylor bell foundry in Loughborough. I had gone to discuss the bell project but our meeting was preceded by a tour of the foundry and its museum. I have rarely been more fascinated. Everything that is needed to make and hang bells, from casting to carpentry, is created on a single site. The buildings are crammed with bells and their fittings in various stages of manufacture and assembly. It is a truly wonderful place.
The foundry in Loughborough has been casting bells for around 180 years. The Taylor family first became involved with bell work in 1784 with foundries in Oxford and St Neots, but on securing a contract to rehang the bells of All Saints Parish Church, Loughborough the new foundry was established in 1839. This may have been intended as a temporary move but it quickly became clear that having a base in the Midlands opened up a wealth of opportunity for the foundry. The site on Freehold Street was secured in 1859 and a long association with the town was established.
Like many other entrepreneurs of the nineteenth century, John William Taylor developed his craft through experimentation and meticulous record keeping. He established good materials for copes and moulds, optimised the consistency of bell metal, and realised that the quality and timbre of his bells could be maintained by using a standard bell shape. Under the guidance of John William, and later his sons John William (II) and Denison, the business flourished. The last family member to run the business was Paul Taylor, who died in 1981.
Taylor’s operate the largest bell foundry in the world; it has cast and hung more than 600 complete rings of bells. Its bells include Great Paul at St Paul’s Cathedral, Great George at Liverpool Cathedral, the complete rings at Buckfast Abbey and York Minster and on a contrasting note the “Hell’s Bell” commissioned and used by the rock band AC/DC for their 1980 tour.