The Sudbury Bell Founders

Henry Pleasant
John Thornton
Thomas Gardiner

Although the Sudbury bell founders were independent of each other they do have a common thread back to the Miles Gray foundry of Colchester. Henry Pleasant and a Charles Newman take over the Miles Gray foundry in 1686, when Christopher Miles dies. Newman and Pleasant may well have worked for the Miles Gray family. By 1696 Charles Newman went to Norwich and Henry Pleasant came to Sudbury. The Colchester foundry was now in Mott’s ownership.

HENRY PLEASANT foundry was near Ballingdon bridge, the site is unsure as it maybe where the Boathouse stands, or downstream of the bridge on the opposite bank near the island. When Henry came to Sudbury he was most likely to have been a mature man in his forties. He was in Sudbury from 1696 until his death in December 1708. He cast at least 72 bells distributed throughout East Anglia. His bells are regarded as good but not outstanding. His bell inscriptions were basic as “Henry Pleasant made me and the year date”. At Maldon All Saints, ( which has the only triangular Church tower in Britain) he cast three new bells, plus the three existing bells making a ring of six bells. On this occasion Henry departed from his mundane inscriptions by inscribing one of the bells with this verse and pun on his name:

“When three this steeple did hold
They were emblems of a scold
No music then, but we shall see
What Pleasant music six will be”.

Sudbury had three bell founders and three Churches; today there is only one bell in Sudbury from one of their founders, Henry Pleasant who cast the third bell in All Saints Church tower. In 1701 he was commissioned to make a clock for St Peters Church Sudbury. In the contract Henry was to make it to the highest standard of his craft, with a pendulum, to maintain it to keep good time. In return Henry was not to pay the poor rate, other dues to the borough. He would be relived of duties of the borough as an overseer, constable or other duties. Fifteen aldermen and notable citizens signed on one part and our Henry signed undertaking the contract. Henry’s clock was replaced in 1820 by a new clock that was no better than Henrys, although it had the mechanism for striking the hour. In 1831 T Mears cast a clock bell weighing 3 cwt approx, for the 1820 timepiece.
In 1874 the existing clock by Gillett & Bland was installed, at the same time two new bells were added enabling the clock to strike the Cambridge chimes and use the tenor bell to strike the hour, making Mears clock bell of 1831 redundant. The clock is now powered electrically.

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Henry Pleasant's Bell
Henry Pleasant’s bell at All Saints Church Sudbury.
This photograph is by kind permission of Mrs Valerie Herbert

JOHN THORNTON, took over Henry Pleasant foundry in 1708 until he closed it in 1720. Little is known of John Thornton (he turned up and disappeared), he was in Sudbury for twelve years. He cast thirty-six bells, and is credited as being a good bell founder. All his bells are in East Anglia; his largest commission was at Newmarket All Saints where he cast five bells. Twelve short years in a time when bell founding was flourishing, leaves unanswered questions, maybe the competition from Thomas Gardiner after 1709, or the purchase of Henry Pleasant foundry had problems. Henry Pleasant’s letter moulds were not used by John Thornton, as would have been expected. After 1709 were identified and being used by Thomas Gardiner. Maybe Thornton wanted his own and sold them to Gardiner, or they were not included in the sale of Henry Pleasant’s foundry, it was possible that Thomas Gardiner had worked for Henry Pleasant, and had been heir apparent.

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THOMAS GARDINER At Sudbury 1709 – 1762 and at the Brocandale foundry Norwich 1727- 1747. He died in 1769 and may well have been a very old man, to allow fifty-three years of bell founding. His career started as a very young man, making him outstanding in casting well over two hundred and fifty nine bells, all are in East Anglia, excepting one in Kent. He may well have worked for Henry Pleasant hence his using his bell inscription letter moulds. A year slipped by from Henry Pleasant’s death to his starting up in business in 1709. He may well have resented John Thornton getting the Ballingdon foundry. In 1709 he started his foundry on land between Burkitts and Weavers Lanes. When the site was cleared in 2004 for the new building development, black foundry sand was uncovered, at the lower end of the site, close to the rear of the properties in Gainsborough Street. His other foundry at Norwich was purchased from Thomas Newman, son of Charles Newman, a one time partner of Henry Pleasant, both from the Miles Gray foundry Colchester 1686-1696. The last link that our three Sudbury founders shared. He has left us with some bell inscriptions which help to show us a little of the man.

At Edwardstone in 1709, in his first year as a bell founder, he was engaged to cast two small bells, a treble and second to match in with the existing four bells. A William Culpeck was unhappy about the note of the second bell compared to the new treble, and ignoring the notes of the four original bells. He had the bell recast and to add salt into wound insisted that Thomas inscribe the recast second “Tuned by Wm Culpeck” The following year Thomas was recalled to recast the tenor bell as it was out of tune chromatically, this was the result of the second bell not being tuned to the tenor bell. Thomas recast the bell but savoured sweet justification on last years discourse with William Culpeck, by inscribing the tenor bell with the following verse:-

“About ty second Culpeck is wrett
Because ty founder wanted wett
Thair wisdom were bad at last
Or this bell I never had to cast”.

Early 18th cent Suffolk dialect;

Ty =The, Wrett = Angry, Wett = Wisdom, Thair = Their.

In the 1980’s Edwardstones bells were re-hung, after many years of neglect, wear and tear. Fund raising was pioneered by the Rectors wife Mrs Sarah Titford, (do you remember the Concorde flight as a grand prize). Sadly Thomas Gardiners tenor bell of 1710 was found to be cracked. It was thought that it was to be recast, but was saved by the generosity of Morden College, Blackheath, who now have Thomas Gardiners bell on permanent loan. Sir John Morden founder of Morden College in the 16th century had close links with Edwardstone.

At All Saints Great Horkesley in 1747 Thomas Gardiner made another of his controversial bell inscriptions, “William Sadler who was a negligent partner caused me to be cast by Sudbury Gardiner 1747” What appeared to have happened was that before 1747, a William Sadler who ran Thomas’s foundry at Sudbury, while he was at his
Norwich foundry had made a poor job of casting this bell. On Thomas’s return to Sudbury after closing his Norwich foundry in 1747, Thomas was obliged to recast this bell and made his views known. The inscription being libelous was partly removed leaving “cast by Sudbury Gardiner 1747“. The original can still be read with care.

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These articles were collated & produced by Walter A Perry © 2008

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