The Bells of St Martin of Tours, Epsom

An article about the bells of St Mary the Virgin, Ewell, may be found elsewhere on this website. In 1548, that parish had "In primis iiij belles of one ring [in the Tower] and a saunce [Sanctus or Altar] bell".

The immediately preceding and following information is derived from 'Further inventories of the goods and ornaments of the churches in the county of Surrey in the reign of King Edward the sixth.' in Surrey Archaeological Collections, Vol. 21, 1908.

St Martin's bells in the 16th century


The Invinterie of the goodes of the church of Ebbesham indentyd made by us Sir Thomas Chyttes, vicar, Robert Smyth, Wylliam Otwey, churchwardens Jhon Helloas, Thomas Tylly, Richard Rogers the xvij daye of March the yere of the rayne of Our Soverayne lorde Kyng Ewarde the vjth the iijde yere. [17 March 1549/50]

Inprimis, a chalice of sylver
Item, iiij belles
Item, iij vestementes with all thyng to them, one of crymsyn
velvet, another of whyte satyn, and another of blacke saye
Item, a corperas and a case
Item, ij towelle
Item, a sheett
Item, iij aulter clothes
Item, a surplice
Item, a rochet
Item, a sepulcre cloth
Item, a herce cloth blake saye
Item, ij crosses and a crose cloth sylke
Item, ij bannar clothes and a stremar steyned
Item, ij candelstickes
Item, a front cloth
Item, a basyn and a ewer of latten
Item, a holywater pott of latten
Item, ij cruettes
Item, ij sensars
Item, a leche bell
Item, a pyxe of latyn
Item, a cope of crymsyn velvet

Per me dominum Thomam Chyttes Vicarium ibidem by me Tomas Tylly

Nicholas Leigh Willelmus Saunder."
It can be seen that Epsom had no altar bell, otherwise called a mass bell, sacring bell, sacryn bell, saints' bell, sance/saunce bell, or sanctus bell. These were sometimes carried during a visitation of the sick to celebrate the rite of Eucharist, or used in processions and on other solemn occasions.

The adjacent parish of St Giles', Ashtead, held 'ij lytell brasen bells to carry before corses', which served the same function as Epsom's 'leche bell'. A custom had developed of ringing a corpse, corse or lych [lich from Old English l?c = corpse] bell to signal the approach of a funeral, 'when it cometh to church', an idea that the practice was a means of banishing the devil came to be proscribed in 1571.

St Martin's bells in the 18th century

Surrey Bells and London Bell-founders: a contribution to 'the comparative study of bell inscriptions by J. C. L. Stahlschmidt, 1884, lists St Martin's bells as :-







(Diameter of treble 28 in., of tenor 44 in.)

Notes on the bell-founders

Bells numbered 4 & 7 - 1714 and 1733
Richard Phelps(c.1670-1738) was master of the Whitechapel bell foundry from 1701 to 1738 and is best known for his large bell, Great Tom, in the steeple of St Paul's Cathedral. Phelps died and was buried at Whitechapel on 23 August 1738.

In his Will Richard Phelps left 'Thomas Lester, foreman in my business of a Bell Founder, all my implements and working tools in my trade or business aforesaid, and also my scales and stylyard and little engine for extinguishing fire, and all such boards and timber as shall or may be in my yards or workhouse at the time of my death, and also six hundred weight of Gutter Bell* and also the sum of twenty-three pounds of lawful money of Great Britain.'

[*Bell-metal consists of an amalgam of copper and tin in the proportion of about three parts of copper to one of tin. When casting a peal of large bells, the fused metal is carried from the furnace to the pit by means of a series of gutters. Residue solidified in them is 'gutter-bell', retained for re-use.]

An order for the priests' bell at St. George's, Southwark, was completed by Thomas Lester, to whom the business and lease of the foundry had been bequeathed, and inscribed R. Phelps 1738 T. Lester Fecit. In the same year, Lester acquired, on lease, a coaching inn called the Artichoke, to accommodate the need for extra workshops and space during a time of great expansion in the craft of bell-founding He removed the business from Essex Street to the premises which the business has continued to occupy at 32 and 34, Whitechapel Road. The tenor bell of St. Mary-le-Bow was also cast by Phelps and Lester in 1738. Lester's first peal was cast for Shoreditch parish church in 1739 and the commission greatly pleased him. Thomas Lester and Thomas Pack established a partnership in 1752 lasted until Lester's death, aged 66, on 19 June 1769.
Bell No 2
Although the second bell carries neither name nor date, the inscription is similar to one used by Thomas Lester, 1742, in Coddenham St Mary, Suffolk.

The late Frederick Sharpe, FSA, a leading authorities on the history, technology and music of bells wrote a number of books including one about The Church Bells of Berkshire , 1939: the following drawings have been based upon his work, as re-produced by the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers.
Bell Marking
Bell Marking

Bells numbered 3 & 8 - 1737
Samuel Knight, bell-founder of Reading, moved to London in 1710 to establish a foundry near Shoe Lane, Holborn. His Will, of the parish of St Andrew, Holborn, dated 15 December 1739 and proved four days later, is held in the National Archives under reference PROB 11/699/409.

Knight's executor and sole residuary legatee was Robert Catlin, who had been working under him as a carpenter and bell-hanger before becoming his foreman. Catlin, who was also a ringer and member of the Ancient Society of College Youths from 1722, continued the business until his own death in 1751.
Bell number 6 - 1769
Thomas Swain, who had been born at West Bedfont in the county of Middlesex, succeeded in 1751 as executor and residuary legatee to the business of Robert Catlin, a founder in St. Andrew's Holborn. By 1755, Swain removed the foundry to Longford near West Drayton to remain active until until 1781. Thomas Swain of Longford, in Harmondsworth,Middlesex, was buried there on 26th April, 1782.

Bell Marking
Bell Marking

Sometimes founders would have preferred to constructed temporary furnaces at convenient sites, remote from their main place of work using local materials to build the hearth for melting the metal with a domed roof to contain the heat from a charcoal or timber fire . Six bells at Upham, Hampshire bear an inscription 'Thos. Swain (made us all) 1761', whilst a transcript of the Parish Register records that they were 'Cast in a field (or large Dell) near Alresford by Mr. Thos. Swaine' [A location thought to have been represented by Hither Bell Found Field, Further Bell Found Field, A Dell and a drove way, part of Bell Found, on New Arlesford's 1842 Tithe Map].
Bell number 1 - 1781
Thomas Janaway ran his foundry in Chelsea from 1763-1786, probably having been an apprentice in the Whitechapel foundry to Thomas Lester. This foundry began and ended with Thomas Janaway before being merged into the Whitechapel foundry which bought all its stamps and tools to continue their use for many years. The factory had been based in a shed at Davis' Place, World's End Passage [running between King's Road and Cheyne Walk], in Little Chelsea but bells were sometimes cast on site in pits dug in ground close to the church for which they were intended.

The inscription, impressed into the inside surface of the cope so as to appear on the outside of the finished bell, was derived from a Latin proverb 'Musica est mentis medicina maestae' meaning 'Music is medicine for a sad mind'. It was adopted frequently by Janaway, other examples being recorded:-
1769 St. Margaret, Edgware, 1772 St. Mary Abbots, Kensington,1773 Ss. Peter & Paul, Bromley, 1776 Holy Trinity, Clapham, 1777 St. Mary, Battersea, 1780 St. Mary the Virgin, Bletchingley and 1781 St. Helen, Benson

The bell-founding process

The Illustrated Magazine of Art, from 1 January 1854, contains an article on Bells and Bell-founding describing processes at Messrs Mears, Whitechapel :-
"Passing through various yards, in which are stored quantities of old timber, old bell-metal, and a multitude of odds and ends, in the shape of old cannons and great masses of old copper, destined one day for the furnace, we arrive at the moulding-room. Here a sight presents itself which is at once peculiar and striking. All along the floor are ranged the moulds of future bells. In describing the casting of a bell, it will be necessary to observe, that it is nothing more than a layer of metal which has been run into the space between the mould and its outer covering,and allowed to cool ...
The outer form of the mould - by which the inner shape of the bell is determined - is made by means of a crook which is made to revolve on the clay, &c, of which the mould is composed. This crook is a kind of double compass formed of wood, one leg of which is cut or curved to the shape of the inner sides of the intended bell... This crook or compass is made to move on a pivot affixed to a beam above, and its lower end driven into the ground. In the case of very large bells, the mould is perfected in the pit in which they are to be cast. The crook is driven by the hand of the moulder and the mould being composed of plastic clay, &c, the form of the inner side of the bell is defined by a few revolutions of this simple machine. Thus is formed the core, or inner mould. The cope, or outer mould, is formed in much the same way, except that its inner surface is smoothed to form the outer side of the bell.

The core is first roughly built up of brickwork with a hollow in the centre. It is then plastered over with soft clay, &c, and moulded as described by the action of the crook; and is afterwards dried by means of a fire in the hollow mentioned. When baked, sufficiently hard it is covered all over with a composition of tan and grease. On this composition the outer leg of the crook is made again to rotate, and the exact shape of the bell is. thus determined. When the whole has been sufficiently dried by the action of the fire in the core, the crown or head - which contains the part's necessary to hold the clapper by which the bell is to be rung - are then fitted on,and the model of the inside of the bell may then be said to be complete. Any device or inscription necessary is then moulded and fixed upon it. Upon this mould the cope, or outer mould, is formed. Having been made of destructible materials, the facsimile of the bell is easily destroyed, and the space between the core and the cope is, of course, the exact shape of the future bell."
This narrative is illustrated by the engraved four figures below: -
Bell Making
Bell Making
Bell Making

Video of casting a new bell at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

St Martin's bells in the 20th century

At Whitechapel, Messrs Lester, Pack & Chapman had been followed by W & T Mears and after a number of other changes in the parnership, Mears and Stainbank from 1865. After the first World War, this firm advertised itself, as follows: -
Manufacturers Of Church, Clock, Hemispherical, and every other description of Bells
Whitechapel Bell Foundry,32 & 34, Whitechapel Road, London.
Telephone No. 9549 London Wall


GREAT BELL OF WESTMINSTER,Weight 13 tens, 10 cwt.. 3 qrs.. 15 lbs.
The largest ever cast in London.

Weight 11 tons, 11 cwt.
The largest ever shipped.

Weight 10 ton, 15 cwt.
This was for some time the largest bell in England.

Weight 5 tons, 8 cwt.
Its predecessor was a ton lighter. Heard when first erected 13 miles off.
In 1920 St Martin of Tours' peal of eight was recast by Mears and Stainbank and further two bells added to create the present ring of 10, as scheduled on the Epsom Bell Ringing website :-

14-0-18A1920Mears & StainbankInscribed as on 2nd Bell
24-2-10G1920Mears & StainbankThe Gift of Isabel G Harter in memory of her husband Alfred Edward Harter, 1920
34-3-10F1920Mears & StainbankMusica Est Mentis Medicina Thomas Janaway of Chelsea Fecit 1781
45-0-23E1920Mears & StainbankAlthough I am but small I will bee heard above them all
55-3-02D1920Mears & StainbankJohn Sturt, John Carter. Churchwardens. s.k. 1737
66-3-13C1920Mears & StainbankSame as on 7th bell
77-3-10Bb1920Mears & StainbankR.Phelps made me 1714
89-0-10A1920Mears & StainbankJohn Worsfold, John Weakly, Churchwardens. Thomas Swain made me 1769
910-1-14G1920Mears & StainbankMr.WM.Hoare, Joshua Oulsnam, Churchwardens. Richard Phelps made me 1733
1016-0-2F1920Mears & StainbankSamual Knight made me 1737.
Mears & Stainbank re-made us all as the gift of Arthur John Warren, Churchwarden
1905-1914 in memory of his wife, Sophia Jane, Jan 26th 1920

Video of Epsom Bell Ringers

Brian Bouchard © 2015.