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Pennington - Fact or Fiction

Calstock Tenor bell with the Pennington shell mark

As with any family, stories are told about the Penningtons; sometimes it can be difficult to know which are fact and which are fiction.

In the early days of bell foundry it was common for bells to be cast in a pit dug in a field close to the church, but as time went on this practice that was gradually abandoned in favour of casting at a centralised foundry. The Pennington family undoubtedly started as itinerant bell founders but the existence of a foundry at Stoke Climsland, and possibly also at Lezant, suggests that their business moved with the times and became more centralised.

Two local traditions focus on the mobile nature of bell casting but whether they are reliable or not is difficult to assess. One story has it that in 1809 two bells for Pillaton church were cast by John (IV) Pennington in the Church Park field. The tale is confidently believed by local people but it seems rather unlikely when the business foundry was only a few miles away.

Fitzantony Pennington Memorial, Landulph Church

The other story concerns the unfortunate death of Fitzantony Pennington in 1768. Fitzantony was commissioned to recast the bells for the tower at Landulph. It is said that as the ground around the church was unsuitable for digging a bell pit, Fitzantony decided to cast the new bells in softer ground. Beginning with the smallest, the old bells were brought down from the tower and taken by ferry down the Tamar and along the Lyner to Antony. Each was recast and returned to Landulph. However, in squally weather, the ferry could not carry the weight of the final, heaviest bell; the boat capsized, the bell was lost to the muddy river-bed and both Pennington, who was only 38, and the ferryman drowned.

Landulph church would have been around 10 miles along tracks from the foundry at Stoke Climsland and maybe 5 or 6 miles from Antony on the river. It is difficult to know how these journeys would have compared with each other in 1768. At the time of the accident the Pennington family were also involved in casting the bells of St Maurice, Plympton. Those bells would have had to cross the Tamar and possibly also the Lyner, on their journey from the foundry so it is possible that Fitzantony died while transporting one of them.


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