New church rules may sound the death knell for bell-makers

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Plans to change the way church bells are listed could sound the death knell for Britain's two remaining bell foundries, it was claimed yesterday.

Plans to change the way church bells are listed could sound the death knell for Britain's two remaining bell foundries, it was claimed yesterday.

The firms - including the UK's oldest manufacturing company, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry - said they could face closure if the proposals by the Council for the Care of Churches were enforced.

The number of listed bells would double under the new scheme planned by the council, the Church of England body managing conservation issues, the foundries claim. That would reduce business, as the listing rules would allow fewer bells to be tuned, recast or replaced, and the foundries could be put out of business.

The council, however, believes the new regulations, updating rules set down in the 1930s, would raise the number of listed bells by only 3 per cent.

Colin Banton of the John Taylor Bellfounders in Loughborough, Leicestershire - which can trace master founders back to the 14th century - said: "They don't understand the consequences of what they are doing.

"If they are so worried about conservation and preservation, what about protecting bell foundries that have been working for hundreds of years?

"In 1900, there were probably about 12 foundries working, now there are just two and with all this increasing bureaucracy the future is uncertain."

Today's bell-makers can correct ancient bells, which were made out-of-tune because the old foundries lacked expertise and equipment, he said. "Church bells are the most widely heard musical instrument and it would be like never tuning a church organ. The council wants to treat bells as artefacts rather than as musical instruments."

Alan Hughes of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in east London, which dates back to 1570, accepts that rare and ancient bells should be protected, but says the proposed criteria have not been thought through. "There are over 5,000 peals of bells in Britain and 12,000 churches with one or more bells.

"Ours is a commercial concern and running a manufacturing industry in Britain at the moment is difficult enough without more obstructions being put in the way."

The new criteria would list all bells cast before 1600, all "good quality bells" made between 1600 and 1750, bells with "interesting features" and those made after 1851 that have "rings of excellence" or which are "significant examples of technical innovation."

The council said a balance was needed between preserving historic bells and allowing ringing to develop. Its lists were advisory and did not have statutory force, it said.

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