ID: PH01_BEL / Elaine Barker

TitleThe Bells of St Mary's Peldon
AbstractThe tower of St Mary's Church, Peldon, houses two bells. Repaired and adapted they are both now stationary bells. The original one, the larger bell, was cast in bronze in 1613 by Miles Graye of Colchester. It is engraved 'Miles Graye made me in 1613', and weighs over 8cwt.

The Miles Graye Bell

Circa 1977, this bell, badly cracked and deemed to be unsafe, was lowered from the church tower and acquired by the Colchester Museum Collections. It started by being displayed at the Social History Museum in Holy Trinity Church, Colchester, until that Museum closed in 1997. Since then, it had been in store until The Friends Of St Mary's, Peldon, and the churchwardens, started the process for repairing and reinstating the bell to its rightful place.

The Miles Graye bell from Peldon in storage

Miles Graye was the name of three generations of bellfounders based near Headgate in Colchester in a house called The Swan with Two Necks. A former beerhouse, much of the building was destroyed by fire during the 1648 Siege Of Colchester in the Civil War. The earliest bellfounder of the Graye family is referred to as Miles Graye I and it is believed he was born circa 1575, his son and grandson, both called Miles, were to follow in his footsteps as bellfounders. Miles Graye I began work as an apprentice for Richard Bowler, the earliest known Colchester bellfounder who worked between 1557 and 1604 and it is most likely that it was the first Miles Graye who was responsible for casting the Peldon bell at his Colchester foundry.

Miles Graye, was to become one of the most celebrated bellfounders of the seventeenth century - he was named 'the prince of founders' by the author of . His 'trademark', sometimes in English and sometimes in Latin always inscribed on the bells, along with the year of casting, read

[Miles Graye made me]

The earliest bell bearing the name of Miles Graye is at St Andrew's Church, Bulmer and was inscribed MILES GRAIE MADE ME 1600. Between this date and 1648, 325 bells are recorded as having been cast by Miles Graye (I) and his son Miles Graye (II), including the great tenor bell at Lavenham and an equally large tenor bell in Newcastle Cathedral.

Bells in local villages cast by Miles Graye I and II are Tollesbury (1604), Peldon (1613), Great Wigborough (1622), Layer de La Haye (1622) and Fingringhoe (1625). Miles Graye III is believed to have cast bells at Goldhanger (1657), Tollesbury (1661) Abberton (1663) and Layer de La Haye (1673)

In 2009 the Whitechapel Foundry inspected the cracked Miles Graye bell from Peldon in the warehouse used by the Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service where it was being stored, mounted on a wooden frame. They also viewed the Thomas Mears bell in situ at St Mary's. They saw no reason why the Miles Graye bell could not be repaired and re-hung as a stationary bell alongside the existing bell which had to be slid to one end to make room. The wheels were set in motion for them to do this.

The extent of the cracks in the Miles Graye bell from Peldon pictured during its repair by the Whitechapel Foundry

Following the building of a new belfry floor the newly repaired and reinstalled Miles Graye bell was rung in November 2012, the first time in over 35 years.

The Repaired Miles Graye bell at Peldon

The Thomas Mears Bell

The smaller bell at St Mary's Church, Peldon, was cast by Thomas Mears in 1822, and weighs over 7 ½ cwt. This bell replaced a much larger one, which weighed over 9cwt. The bill from Thomas Mears has survived among the Church Warden's accounts, held in Essex Records Office, showing that both the old and the new bell were transported by sea, the old bell being taken in part-exchange.

The Mears family ran the Whitechapel Bell Foundry over four generations and Thomas Mears II, who was responsible for the Peldon bell, acquired full control of the foundry in 1818. Layer de La Haye also has a Mears bell although with its earlier date of 1792 it may have been cast by Thomas Mears I.

Thomas Mears II was active between 1810 and 1843 and was quite a salesman. He travelled to Canada over a number of years and carried out a considerable amount of work there during the early development of Canada; it has been said that the vast majority of the churches along the St Lawrence River contain his bells.

In 1977 the Thomas Mears Bell in Peldon Church was examined by the Whitechapel Foundry and was rehung shortly after by John Taylor and Co Bellfounders Ltd but with new fittings that rendered it only suitable for stationary ringing.

The Whitechapel Foundry was inextricably linked with the history of both Peldon's bells. At the time of the foundry's closing on 12th June 2017 it was the oldest manufacturing company in the country having been founded in 1570. It had over 450 years of bell-making and 250 years at its Whitechapel premises which have now been sold. Peldon's Thomas Mears' bell was cast there early in the nineteenth century and the foundry repaired and rehung the Miles Graye bell in the twenty first.

The Thomas Mears Bell on the left and the repaired Miles Graye on the right with Hilary King

Elaine Barker
Peldon History Project

Unpublished letters between Churchwardens, Museum Service and Whitechapel bell foundry
"St Mary the Virgin", Peldon, by Rev Anthony Gough
"Colchester Archaeologist" Issue No 15 2002
"Essex Boys" by Karen Bowman
"Church Bells of Essex" Rev. C. Deedes
Essex Record Office: Peldon's Churchwardens Accounts

AuthorElaine Barker
Published2 March 2020
SourceMersea Museum