Great bells by year

The table below shows all 36 Great Bells of the British Isles (4 tonnes or more, present or past) plus 11 others, in order by the year each was cast.  It includes the bass bells of the heaviest carillons and chimes plus a few heavy old bells that were in some sense records in their day.

The details presented in the table are transcribed from Chris Pickford's spreadsheet (see References), omitting one undated medieval bell, and have been slightly edited.  Below the table are comments and analysis by the compiler of this page.

Appearances indicate:

  set a new record for weight  
hung for change ringing
destroyed or recast
bass bell of a carillon
bass bell of a chime

"Nr" = sequence number in the associated list of Great Bells of the British Isles (which is in order by weight), and link to the corresponding expanded description of the bell.  Those without sequence number are not "great bells" by our criterion; they are the "others" mentioned above.
Nr Place Weight Cast Lost Founder
. . . Ely Cathedral 56-0-08 1346 1662 Mediaeval
. . . Canterbury Cathedral, "Great Dunstan" 72-2-00 1430 1499 Unknown
. . . Gloucester Cathedral, "Great Peter" 59-3-14 1450   Unknown
. . . Canterbury Cathedral, "Great Dunstan" 64-3-00 1499 1663 Bayle, John
. . . Perth, St.John (bass bell of carillon) 28-0-14 1506   Waghevens, Peter
. . . Lincoln Cathedral, "Great Tom" (old bell) 78-3-18 1610 1834 Oldfield & Newcombe
38. Exeter Cathedral, "Peter" 80-0-00 1676   Purdue, T
15. Oxford, "Great Tom" 124-2-00 1680   Hodson, Christopher
33. London, S.Paul's Cathedral (hour bell) 82-2-11 1708 1710 Wightman, Philip
23. London, S.Paul's Cathedral (hour bell) 96-0-00 1710 1716 Phelps, Richard
21. London, S.Paul's Cathedral "Great Tom" (hour bell) 102-1-22 1716   Phelps, Richard
19. Lincoln Cathedral, "Great Tom" (hour bell) 108-0-00 1835   Mears, Thomas
7. York Minster, "Great Peter" (original bell) 215-0-00 1845 1927 Mears, C & G
3. Westminster, Houses of Parliament, "Big Ben" (first one) 318-1-22 1856 1857 Warner
5. Westminster, Houses of Parliament, "Big Ben" (hour bell) 270-3-15 1858   Mears, G & Co
37. Leeds Town Hall, "Victoria" (hour bell, hung for swinging) 81-0-11 1859   Warner
29. London, Italian Church, Hatton Garden 87-0-00 1862   Naylor Vickers
24. Preston Town Hall (former hour bell) 96-0-00 1866 1927 Taylor
31. Worcester Cathedral (hour bell) 82-3-24 1868   Taylor
34. Bolton Town Hall (hour bell) 82-0-13 1872   Warner
28. Bradford Town Hall (hour bell with chime) 87-0-07 1873   Taylor
14. Manchester Town Hall, "Great Abel" (hour bell with chime) 129-0-00 1876 1882 Taylor
22. Manchester Town Hall (no.20 bell of original chime) 100-0-00 1877 1936 Taylor
2. London, S.Paul's Cathedral, "Great Paul" 334-2-19 1881   Taylor
11. Manchester Town Hall, "Great Abel" (hour bell, and formerly bass bell of chime) 162-3-03 1882   Taylor
. . . Abberley Hall, Worcs. (bass bell of former carillon) 78-2-00 1884 1939 Taylor
10. Wigton, Highmoor, "Joe o’ Highmoor" (hour bell with chime) 176-0-00 1884 1920 Taylor
. . . Aberdeen, St.Nicholas (former bass bell of carillon) 58-2-26 1885 1952 Van Aerschodt
17. Newcastle-on-Tyne, Cathedral, "Major" (hour bell) 118-2-00 1891   Taylor
(18.) Beverley Minster (Great Bell) 113-0-21 1900 1901 Taylor
20. Downside Abbey, "Great Bede" (bourdon bell) 106-3-00 1900   Taylor
13. Beverley Minster, "Great John" (bourdon) 140-3-01 1901   Taylor
16. Birmingham University, The Chamberlain Tower, "Big Joe" or "Big Brum" (hour bell) 121-2-11 1908   Taylor
. . . Cobh (Queenstown) R.C. Cathedral (bass bell of carillon) 67-2-22 1916   Taylor
32. Loughborough, War Memorial (bass bell of carillon) 82-3-16 1923   Taylor
9. Bristol University, "Great George" 191-1-19 1925   Taylor
36. Preston Town Hall (former hour bell) 81-3-05 1927 1947 Taylor
6. York Minster, "Great Peter" 216-2-22 1927   Taylor
8. Nottingham Council House, "Little John" (hour bell) 207-0-27 1928   Taylor
30. S Helen's, Lancs, S.Mary's Lowe House R.C. Church (bass bell of carillon) 84-2-20 1929   Taylor
. . . Bournville Schools (bass bell of carillon) 64-0-18 1934   Gillett & Johnston
12. Buckfast Abbey, "Hosannah" (bourdon) 149-0-18 1936   Taylor
35. Liverpool Cathedral, "Emmanuel" (tenor) 82-0-11 1938   Mears & Stainbank
4. Liverpool Cathedral, "Great George" 295-2-02 1940   Taylor
27. Aberdeen, St.Nicholas (bass bell of carillon) 89-3-26 1952   Gillett & Johnston
25. Ampleforth College, "Gregory John" 92-2-08 1961   Mears & Stainbank
. . . Newcastle upon Tyne, Civic Centre (bass bell of carillon) 71-1-13 1963   Taylor
26. Liverpool RC Cathedral, "Matthew" 91-2-06 1966   Mears & Stainbank
1. Olympic Stadium, London 450-3-24 2012   Whitechapel/Eijsbouts

Comments and analysis

Records:   The first four bells whose weights are highlighted in dark green in the table above probably were not actually the "heaviest bell cast to date" in the British Isles.  Firstly, the 1680 Hodson bell is a recasting of a medieval bell of about six tons.  Secondly, the 1708 Wightman bell was a recasting of a medieval bell which weighed 82-2-21.  However, since those two medieval bells cannot be dated, they cannot be placed properly in the list above.  The last four bells whose weights are highlighted in dark green in the table above undoubtedly were each the "heaviest bell cast to date" in the British Isles.  The new record holder (as of 2012) for "heaviest bell in the British Isles" was cast in the Netherlands under subcontract from the Whitechapel foundry of London, and thus is arguably not the "heaviest bell cast to date" in this land.

Places:   Until the middle of the 19th century, all of the great bells in this region went into cathedrals or monastic churches.  ("Great Tom" of Oxford is a recasting of a bell that came from an abbey.)  During the Victorian era, more than half of all the new great bells were cast for secular institutions - town halls and private estates.  In the 20th century, the pendulum swung back toward the sacred institutions, though secular institutions continue to appear in the list.  In the last 40 years, there have been no new great bells installed in this region, though a few have been cast for export to other parts of the world.

Geography:   Only one of these great bells is outside of England - the bass bell of the carillon in Aberdeen, Scotland.  Perhaps that's an indication that none of the other countries in these islands ever had the right combination of a sufficient concentration of wealth, an interest in bells (either religious or secular) and a desire to make a great public statement.

Founders:   Before the 19th century, all of the great and near-great bells in this region were "one-off" efforts on the part of their makers.  (Recastings in an attempt to make a better bell don't count.)  In part this may be because the market for such bells was so thin during that period.  In the mid-19th century, the London foundries of Warner and Mears (now Whitechapel) each made a couple of great bells, thus demonstrating their capability to do so.  However, once Taylor began making great bells in 1866, that foundry effectively monopolized this market for three generations, producing not only the current record holder but also more than half of all the great bells now listed.  Somewhat surprisingly, the Gillett & Johnston foundry, which exported more than 25 great bells to North America in less than two decades, produced only two for this region; both of them are bass bells of large carillons.  The Whitechapel foundry (under the name Mears & Stainbank) returned to competition in this field in the mid-20th century.

Return to the indexes to great bells.

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This page was created 2005/07/20, and last revised 2013/09/16.

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