Early on a chilly morning in May 2019 a group of hardy and enthusiastic souls gathered at a car park in Callington. We were headed to the John Taylor Bell Foundry in Loughborough - to make sure they hadn't lost our bells. Actually, we were going on a tour of the foundry, but we thought we'd check up on the bells at the same time. We were a mixture of tower bell ringers, hand bell ringers and other interested people who were willing to make the journey to the far north (well as far as Loughborough anyway).
We had an interesting journey, a mere five and a half hours of stimulating conversation and fascinating sights. We encountered windmills, fields, rivers, hills, valleys, towns, animals, people and traffic, in fact nothing short of an amazing array of English landscape. But probably the highlight of the journey north was a collection new Northern Railway carriages each being carried up the M5 on the back of a very long lorry. There is something surreal about train carriages travelling on a motorway.
The journey was worth it; we were privileged to see the whole of the foundry. The visit began with a presentation about the history of the foundry and an explanation of some of the processes involved. We then saw the area where bells are stored ready for processing or shipment and where bell frames are assembled. In the carpentry workshop there was a vast array of bell wheels, pulleys and stays. We were able to see how a wheel was constructed and spotted the words "Calstock six new wheels" scribed on the work board. Then on to the tuning shop where the art of tuning was explained in detail and we were able to hear the difference between bells made of iron, aluminium alloy, brass and bell metal.
The next stop was the foundry floor, a rare treat was in store for us as we watched the casting of a bell. At the point we arrived the bell metal had already been heated to the right temperature and was ready to be used. First it was transferred from the furnace into a ladle, impurities were skimmed off the surface, the metal was allowed to cool for a few minutes and finally it was poured into the chimney of the mould, which was buried in the sand beneath the floor. An amazing process to watch; it was something akin to looking at a demonstration in a working museum, except that this was a real industrial enterprise.
After this there were just a couple of things to do - the ringers had a quick play with the wonderful bells which Taylor's have on the site, while the non-ringers had a browse around the shop and bought a few souvenirs of their visit. Then back to the coaches and home; but needless to say it wasn't quite that easy: accidents, road closures and the natural effects of travelling round the Midlands during the rush hour resulted in a seven hour journey back to Cornwall. But it was worth it.
This visit to the John Taylor & Co Bell Foundry was made possible through the generous support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund.