WHITECHAPEL BELL FOUNDRY


ROBERT MOT
Founder from 1574-1606

Robert Mot may have been the son of John Mot of Canterbury who bought up handbells, organ pipes and latten candlesticks from the dissolved churches in 1553. The name is common in East Kent, being known as early as 1392. The Whitechapel registers suggest that there was quite a family of that name.

Robert Mot's trademark was used for the first time in 1583 and this may be taken as the period when he left Houndsditch and took premises in Essex Court leading off the north side of Whitechapel High Street. The advantages he gained by this move were to escape the tolls of Aldgate, and to be nearer the docks for transport. Quite close to Essex Court (later known as Tewkesbury Court and later still as Tewkesbury (New) Buildings) is a lane now known as Gunthorpe Street, being so named in 1912. Thorpe means a homestead, and thus Gunthorpe indicates the "home of guns", and as Robert may have cast guns for Queen Elizabeth's ships on this site, we may ascribe his influence the naming of this street to perpetuate a tradition. There he firmly established the foundry, for at least 80 of his bells were in existence until quite recent times, nearly half of them in Kent where he was apparently well known.

Robert's business, although firmly established, had its usual share of the troubles of the age. He twice petitioned the Lord High Treasurer in 1578 for ten guineas that had been owing for eight years from Henry Howard, implying that it was a debt owed to his predecessor. He "changed", or no doubt recast, the treble at St. Botolph's Aldgate, in 1588, and the 2nd in the following year.

In 1587 the tenor at St Michael's Cornhill, was cracked and a Thomas Lawrence tried to recast it, but the bell "was not liked of", and the parish called on Robert Mot in November 1588, to recast it. The new bell was examined on the 1st December after taking the "waites of the city" and the opinion of musicians, but the verdict was not favourable. A new bell was thereupon cast, but it only lasted nine years before they sent it again to Whitechapel. Upon being recast and hung in 1599 it did not agree with the rest, and we hear that Robert was faced with the prospect of recasting it again and again until it gave satisfaction. He did produce a satisfactory bell in August 1600 but to recoup his losses on the rejected tenor he sold it to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey who, it seems, were not so critical. The last we hear of his active life is from the Reading churchwarden's accounts when he bought some metal in April 1605. It must have been there that he told Joseph Carter (who bought the Whitechapel business) of his imminent retirement. This lasted only two years, for the Whitechapel registers record that "Robert Moate buried April 1st, 1608". He left a daughter Joan who married a William Mot, probably a cousin.

************

THE MEARS FAMILY


Founders from 1781-1865

The Mears family came from Kent, near Canterbury. When Lester and Pack cast the 3½: ton "Great Dunstan" for Canterbury Cathedral, they did this in the Cathedral precincts because of the difficulty of transport for a bell of this size in 1762. Whilst the work was being carried out a youth came every day and watched the whole process. He - William Mears - seemed so interested that he was brought back here and taught the craft. In time, he became a partner and finally took over after Chapman died; his family continued for four generations until 1865.

In 1787 the firm became W and T Mears until William Mears retired altogether in 1789 and Thomas Mears (the elder - pictured opposite) carried the business on by himself for the rest of the century and for some few years into the next.

Thomas Mears II was quite a salesman and used to travel to Canada for quite a number of years and carried out a considerable business 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. After Thomas became too old to travel our business continued through agents for very many years, Hugh Russell & Sons of Montreal. All this work ceased after WWI owing to the strong French influence, and the majority of the bells imported into Canada now come from France.

John Mears is something of a mystery, he worked here and seems to have owned a part of the premises known as the Back Foundry, for according to some old account books, he received rent accordingly; he died on 14th October 1885 and was buried at Bekesbourne Church in Kent on 19th October.

There are two offshoots from the foundry during the latter half of the 18th century - one established close by, and one at the far end of London, in Chelsea.

Sarah Oliver, Lester's granddaughter, married one Robert Patrick, a cheesemonger in Whitechapel and he for some mysterious reason or other, started a rival business. He probably got hold of some of the Whitechapel workmen, and he turned out some fairly good bells but it is doubted that the venture was altogether a successful one.

The final member of the family to be associated with the foundry, George Mears, retired in 1865 and died soon after. To this day, the front door to the foundry offices bears a Victorian-era plaque bearing the name 'Mears & Stainbank' (Robert Stainbank being George Mears' successor).

************

ALFRED LAWSON


Founder from 1884-1904

Alfred Silva Lawson came of a well-known family, and it is interesting to note that his father was taken as a model when Charles Dickens wrote Dombey and Son. He was previously manager of the national Bank of India in Bombay. His brother, Sir Charles Lawson, was also one of the leaders of opinion in that country, being proprietor of the Madras Mail. In 1884 he entered a ring of eight bells at the International Exhibition in London and gained a prize.

In 1885 Alfred Lawson purchased the Redenhall foundry but apparently he did not use any of its strickles or stamps. In the same year he issued a catalogue showing that the firm had sent to Canada some 225 bells, proving a considerable export trade. Another interesting point is that he gives Robert Mot's three-bell stamp as the firm's trademark.

He discontinued the traditional form of canon and used the Doncaster head (designed and introduced by Lord Grimthorpe to Warner's) in 1896 on the New Shoreham bells in seven different sizes. He always used two moulding wires above and below the inscription band.

In his modernisation of the foundry he introduced in 1884 a travelling crane for carrying moulds and metal for casting away from the furnace, and in the following year the present drying ovens were installed, for previously all moulds had been dried by small charcoal fires. It was in the same year that the stock of beech billets gave out, and the house and office coals were used as a stopgap, and so successful was this that coal was in future used for firing the furnace.

He was married, but apparently did not live at the foundry, for at that time his manager, William Wariskitt, occupied the premises. He joined the College Youths in 1883 although he was not a ringer, and was also a member of the Skinners' Company - one of the "Great Twelve" City Companies.

************

ARTHUR HUGHES


Founder from 1904-1916

Arthur Hughes, Lawson's successor, was born at Lambeth in 1860. He gained his foundry experience at the Phosphor Bronze Co. Ltd., and through his work became interested in the Whitechapel foundry, which he joined in 1884, just before John Mears retired. In 1883 he married Emma Sharples, and they had a family of three sons, Albert Arthur, Robert Arthur and Leonard Arthur. The younger two were in the business only a short time.

Arthur Hughes was a ringer as well as a founder, and joined the College Youths in 1883, becoming Master in 1907. During the early 1900s he and his eldest son did much research into the shape of a bell in relation to its tone, no doubt being prompted by the work of Canon Simpson. He was not, however, in agreement with the latter's ideas, preferring the approach of an artist rather than that of a physicist. He died in 1916, leaving the foundry in the hands of his wife and two sons.

The foundry remains in the Hughes family.

INDEX PAGE FOUNDRY HISTORY