In June 2017 Helmdon School unearthed what could be Helmdon Primary School’s original school bell. The bell was ‘discovered’ at the back of a shed containing old games equipment and had obviously been there some years as no-one currently at the school could remember seeing it before.
Weighing around 76lbs / 34.5 kg you would think it would be difficult to misplace but it was probably its size and weight that has resulted in it being left at the back of a shed.
And this is not the first time the bell has been ‘unearthed’.
It was “lost” at least once before, as detailed by a former Head, Geoff Ipgrave, in his article about the old school logs for Aspects of Helmdon no.3, which is also published on the website as historical article no.23. He wrote:
“One time-honored and simple form of communication is, sadly, no longer in use. In October 1953 it was reported to the managers:
“The porch is very damp following the removal of the school bell”.
It used to be rung five minutes before school was about to start. For several years it lay half-buried under slack in the coal shed, but was rescued, cleaned, polished and put on display at the exhibition which was staged to celebrate the completion of extensions.”
It is unclear when the bell was removed from the porch and it is not even certain where that porch might have been, but given that we now know that the bell was cast in 1872, there are references in historical article 23 mentioned above that might provide an answer.
“1853 is the date set in stone on the front wall of The Old Schoolhouse, and that is the date that marks the true beginning of the village school on its present site: the initials CMM, JF, and JP appear with the date. The original building was erected as the result of a document dated 9 December 1852…”
“The 1853 building also included a house for the head teacher…”
“Twenty years later, when extensions to the original school building were needed, John Salmon Adkins, in a document dated l January 1872, conveyed…" ..… that piece of land situate at the Townsend now forming part of a Close called Crab Tree Leys lying on the West side and adjoining the present School ….. from North to South twenty-six feet and from East to West seventeen feet." This provided the space for the classroom nearest to the present main school and completed the building of the bottom block .”
It would not be unreasonable to suppose that the new extension prompted the casting of the bell but where would it have been hung?
The porch that would have been there in 1873 is the old entrance (no longer used) which sits between the original 1853 building and what is probably the 1873 extension.
The original school porch
But what of the School Bell, its maker, its dedication and its history?
J : W : Taylor
In Memory of
The Revnd P : J : Jones
Late of Helmdon
Given by his Nephew
The Reverend Pryce Jones (born in Bradden in 1788) was curate of Helmdon from 1819 until his death in 1855 and lived for many years in Helmdon Rectory (pictured below). This building preceded the replacement, now called Helmdon House which stands next to the Church.
Pryce Jones had a sister, Amelia (born Abthorpe 1799), who in 1825 married John Taylor of Loughborough thus establishing the connection between the Jones family and the Loughborough bell foundry of J Taylor and Sons.
John Taylor and Sons (now John Taylor and Co) cast two new bells for Helmdon Church during Pryce Jones’ time as Helmdon Curate, one in 1834 and the other in 1855, as follows:
No 2 bell is inscribed:
“THE REVND PRYCE JONES OFFICIATING MINISTER
T. TAYLOR & SON FOUNDERS LOUGHBOROUGH 1855”
No 3 bell is inscribed:
“THE REV. PRYCE JONES CURATE. W & J TAYLOR
(and, around the rim):
"OBEY OUR CALL. THE RIGHT THE GOOD OLD WAY,
SHUN SCHISM’S WILES, NOR EVER FROM IT STRAY."
John Taylor and his wife Amelia had three sons: it was the youngest of these, John William Taylor (1827 – 1906) who succeeded his father as Master Founder in 1858 and it was he that was the founder of the bell now in the school.
The following shows the entry in John Taylor & Sons “Copy Book” for the year 1872 which describes the Helmdon School Bell:
The Assistant Archivist at the foundry advises that it would be usual for bells to be inscribed with the name of the foundry, i.e. “John Taylor & Sons” or “J Taylor and Co”, “T Taylor & Son”, “W & J Taylor” etc. however, the Helmdon School Bell is more unusual as by putting “J : W : Taylor” on the bell, the Master Founder, John William Taylor, a nephew of the Reverend Pryce Jones, clearly wanted to be identified as the founder of this bell.