About the archives
John Taylor & Co claim business descent from the pre-Reformation founders in Leicester, and later from Hugh Watts II who was one of the great bellfounders of the first half of the seventeenth century.
No original foundry records of such early date survive, but when the Eayres of Kettering and St. Neots took up bell founding in the early eighteenth century they produced bells in the style of Watts - whose work they greatly admired. The earliest records in the Taylor archive go back to the time of Thomas Eayre I and Edward Arnold who eventually succeeded the Eayres at St.Neots in 1772.
Robert Taylor, the first of the Taylor bell founders, was apprenticed to Arnold. The archive certainly include records from Robert’s time and from the period when the Taylor foundry was located at Oxford, Buckland Brewer (Devon) and elsewhere before finally settling at Loughborough in 1839-40.
However from 1842 the principals of the firm kept careful records, cross referenced, of their work. From that date the bellfounding archive is virtually complete.
So what material does the archive contain? There are several important main Record Series:
- Copy Books with job details, copies of estimates and letters, memoranda etc
- Job Books which record all bells cast, & finished
- Inscription Books recording bell inscriptions on new bells from 1888 onwards
- Metal Books recording all bells coming into the works & casting details
- Crook Books which record crooks (strickles) & their usage
- Technical material regarding bellframes and fittings
- Correspondence Books with copies of all letters out
- Correspondence files
- Inspection notebooks which record the state of towers inspected
- Day Books which have full copies of all invoices for work done
- There’s a great deal more - but these are probably the most useful series
In addition, there is an extensive Photographic Archive. Many jobs from the 1880’s onwards were photographed before leaving the works. Then from the late 1950’s there are more photos, particularly of major commissions.
Lastly, we have a good collection of published material relating to church bells and bell founding - notably a near-complete set of “Church bells of …” books. Alongside these are complete sets of the main bellringers’ periodicals - Church Bells, Bell News and the Ringing World.
The archives - research uses
The archives will, of course, be useful to anyone interested in bells, bell music, and the history of bells and bellfounding. That goes without saying! These are just some of the likely uses
- Bellringers can find out about the history of their tower - exploring the Taylor involvement there (before, during & after restoration)
- Church historians working with the bellringers to prepare exhibitions and displays for publicity events etc
- Guilds and Associations updating the records of towers and bells in their areas
- Drawing on the materials for continued development of the “Dove” and “National Bell Register” databases
But although the collection IS about bells, it is by no means JUST about bells.
Some of the topics for more general study might include:
- The application of music and science to the manufacture and tuning of bells
- Engineering and technology as applied to bellframe design and bellhanging
- Transport - and the carriage of heavy loads worldwide
- Architectural history - information on the architects responsible for major church and public works commissions where bells were involved.
- Family history and biography - the Taylor family and staff
- Industrial archaeology
Catalogues and indexes
Since BFCL became responsible for the collection, the archives have been fully catalogued and numbered for the first time. Work is still going on to improve the contents of the catalogue and add further detailed information about the different categories of material. In due course the full catalogue will eventually be made available online. In the meantime, a summary list is available here [link to new page - text for this in Appendix I below]
Alongside this, work has been done to improve the “finding aids” for some of the main record series to make it easier to find the entries relating to particular places or jobs. In the past the only means of access was by hand-written indexes in individual volumes. We have now created electronic indexes - searchable and sortable - for whole series of records (e.g. the Job books and inspection notebooks)
In addition, some existing indexes (e.g. to the file series and to the technical drawings) have been upgraded to searchable electronic formats.
As a result of this work, it has become much easier - quite suddenly, it seems! - to collate information from the full range of archival material in our safe-keeping.
SO, what if you want to find out something from the archives?
Information already available
Much of the basic information about our bells - and about old bells that we have rehung or repaired - is already available via two publicly accessible websites. These are
If you’re looking for information on the bells of particular churches or wanting to find out about work carried out by our firm, then you would do well to start with these websites.
If your interest is in the history of the firm itself, then a good starting place is the excellent book by Trevor S. Jennings (the first curator of the John Taylor Bellfoundry Museum) Master of my Art: The Taylor Bellfoundries 1784-1987. Published in 1987, this book is currently out of print - but it should be relatively easy to borrow a copy through the public library service or from a ringers’ library.
We offer an enquiry service for people wishing to obtain information from the records without visiting. As this involves work for individual enquirers, we charge for it.
Our baseline charge is £25 for an initial enquiry (payable in advance). For this, we will do a preliminary search and extract the main accessible information to answer your query. Any copies or scans will be charged extra at 30p a copy. We will also advise if there is potential for discovering further information by “digging deeper”.
Where additional research is requested, we charge £25 an hour - again plus the cost of any copies supplied. We will estimate in advance how much time is likely to be needed so you know the probable cost.
With all archive research, there is always a possibility that nothing will be found. It is important that you tell us exactly what you already know (so we don’t spend time digging out material that won’t add to your knowledge) and that you are as specific as possible about what you’d like to find out.
If the records are unlikely to provide answers, we should be able to let you know before you commission a search. There’s no point spending time and money if a search is unlikely to be fruitful.
Sometimes, though, finding out about a particular job can involve looking in lots of different items within the archive - not all of which (e.g. the letterbooks) have detailed indexes. This is where research can become involved and time-consuming. In such cases, we may suggest that it would be best for you to visit and look through the material yourself.
Access to the archives is by prior appointment ONLY - and during normal business hours. We will do our best to accommodate visits to suit the wishes of our users, but because the archive is staffed by volunteers it will always be best for intending visitors to suggest a couple of possible dates for a visit.
While we are genuinely committed to opening up the archives as freely as possible, would-be users must accept that access to the material is a privilege - and certainly not a right. The operating company (John Taylor Bell Foundry (Loughborough) Limited) reserves the right to restrict access without explanation should it wish to do so. For this reason all potentially sensitive requests are routinely referred for approval first.
As with all archives, visitors are supervised and staff or volunteers will be at hand to offer further guidance when you visit. Normally, material needs to be got out ready in advance. It may be possible to produce additional items at the time of your visit but this cannot be guaranteed.
Of course, we ask you to take great care when handling material from the collection, bearing in mind that the archives are unique and irreplaceable. The usual archive “rules” apply, and we prefer you to use pencil (rather than ink) for note-taking, not to lean on or place heavy objects on the archives and to refrain from eating and drinking anywhere near the documents.
There is no borrowing. Material is only made available for study on site.
Copyright and reproduction
For the most part, copyright in the archives belongs to the company. However, rights for some items may belong to third parties. Where we own the copyright we will normally be pleased to allow the reproduction of images and text from the collections subject to full acknowledgment etc. Fees will be charged for commercial reproduction.
Fees and charges
There may be fees and charges for access to the archives, especially if an enquiry involves research by the archivist to identify relevant material or if someone has to attend specially in order to be present during your visit. Individual enquirers will be advised in advance of visiting if that is the case.
For more information, to make an enquiry, or to enquire about a visit, make initial contact with Mary Barrass at the Foundry:-
Bell Foundry Collections Ltd
John Taylor & Co
The Bell foundry
Tel: +44 (0)1509 212241
Fax: +44 (0)1509 263305
If contacting us by post or e-mail, please mark your enquiry “Archives enquiry” so that it can be directed to the Archivists
B F C Ltd Board Members:- David E Potter (Chairman), George Dawson (Archivist), Chris Pickford (Archivist), Andrew Mills (John Taylor & Co Rep), Mary Barrass (Museum Rep). Rev David Cawley.