Need info on steel church bell
September 7, 2010 at 7:03 pm #11555
Our church is researching the bell in our bell tower. The bell has the following information cast into the side of the bell:
Naylor Vickers & Co Sheffield 1865
Parent No. 4131
We are looking for dates of manufacture ( does the “1865” mean the year of manufacture? ) and when it was shipped from England, etc. Any details would be helpful. We know that the current church building was completed in 1859, which was just before the beginning of the US Civil War, and there is some conjecture that the original bell was commandeered by either the Confederate Army or the Union Army and used to manufacture cannons. So, if 1865 is the year of manufacture, that would tend to support that. Or, it may be that the bell was not purchased until after the war because of lack of funds, or a thousand other reasons.
Does anyone have a contact at the Sheffield steel plant, which I believe is still in operation? Do they have archives of info, and are they willing to search their records for me?
Thanks for any help you might be able to give.
September 7, 2010 at 7:04 pm #15977
Update on last post:
The word “Parent” should be “Patent”. It is “Patent No. 4131” that is cast into the side of the bell.
September 8, 2010 at 2:52 pm #15976jackbellParticipant
1865 is the year of casting. Naylor Vickers operated from the 1820’s until the early 20th century mainly producing armaments but bells were cast as a sideline for about 30 years starting in 1855. Google Naylor Vickers for more articles or go to the “search” link at the top of this page.
September 8, 2010 at 9:28 pm #15978
Thanks. I went to the Vickers web page, got the name of a sales rep that works in the US, emailed him, asking for a contact person in the UK. I have heard back from him, and he said that he is searching for the right person for me to contact.
Also, I am told that records do exist in the church’s vestry minutes that go back that far, so hopefully there will be some sort of notation about when the bell was purchased.
But knowing that the “1865” is the year of manufacture helps us define things a little better. Thanks. I will post more when I talk with the people in Sheffield.
September 15, 2010 at 4:17 am #15979Carl Scott ZimmermanParticipant
“No. 4131” is the serial number of the bell, not the patent number. It fits with the date of 1865.
Bell historian George Dawson of England is compiling a list of all known Naylor Vickers bells, and I am assisting him with those which are located in North America. Over 800 have been identified so far, dated from 1853 to 1899. A significant number of them are in the USA. It is known that Naylor Vickers had offices in Boston and New York, so it is fairly certain that many of the bells in America came in via those ports.
We can help you more if you tell us where your church is located, and if you can supply photos of the bell and its fittings. Naylor Vickers may have shipped “bare” bells from England, to be hung in fittings supplied by American bellfounders.
September 16, 2010 at 4:22 pm #15980
Thank you ever so much for your reply. I am trying to learn all I can about this bell.
I have many pictures, and as soon as I learn how to upload them to this website, I will! The church is The Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Huntsville, Alabama. The building in which the bell is housed was completed in 1859, and yet the bell has “1865” cast into the side of the bell. That span of years covers the American Civil War.
There is some thought that the original bell was commandeered by either the Confederate or Union forces and used to make things needed for the war effort. We know that there was a great presence of the Union forces in Huntsville. Steel was not used for cannons, I don’t believe, but there were many needs for steel for other things.
What we are trying to determine is this: Was there a bell shipped to the church before 1859 and then another bell shipped in 1865? I am going to do some research in the vestry records, but records that far back are few and short.
Stand by for pictures. I was the project engineer to install a new automated striking system on the bell, so I have lots of pictures. I can also get sizes, etc., if that information would help.
Thank you again for this windfall of potential information.
September 16, 2010 at 6:33 pm #15981Carl Scott ZimmermanParticipant
Best guess: The church bought a bronze bell (expensive!) in 1859 to furnish the newly-built church. That bell was confiscated (valuable!) during the war; after the war it was replaced with the (cheap!) steel bell. Quite possibly the steel bell wasn’t actually installed in 1865. It would have been cast then, and shipped to a dealer in the USA on speculation; it might not have been sold to your church until 1866, or even later.
September 16, 2010 at 6:37 pm #15982AnonymousInactive
If you would like to have me post the pictures for you, I’d be happy to do that. Just email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add them to your posting.
There are directions for “How to Post Digital Photos of Bells” at viewtopic.php?f=1&t=601 if you want to try doing it yourself.
September 17, 2010 at 8:51 pm #15983
Carolyn and Carl,
You are both being so helpful! I am excited about learning more about our bell (or bells!).
Carolyn, I will take you up on your offer to post the pictures. I am going to take my scanner home tonight and do the scanning, so I should have a couple of pictures in the next day or so. I will try to get a picture of the side of the bell and the bottom of the bell so Carl can get an idea about the tonnage, etc.
Also I still have not been able to get through the vestry minutes – stand by for any information I can get. I will post it here.
Our bell is proudly participating in the celebration of the signing of Alabama’s constitution which took place in Huntsville on September 17, 1819. We will ring for five minutes starting at 4:00 PM, 10 minutes from now!!
Thank you both for all your help.
Church of the Nativity, Episcopal
September 18, 2010 at 12:34 am #15984jackbellParticipant
A huge 1862 Naylor Vickers bell in London. It is known as “the steel monster”. I agree with Carl about the possibility of a bronze bell. It might have come from GW Coffin’s Buckeye Bell Foundry in Cincinnati. Buckeye bells were numerous in the southern states and some that escaped looting are still in use there. The Ohio River flood of 1937 destroyed all the foundry’s records up to that time. If not a Buckeye bell it might have come from one of the Saint Louis foundries such as Caughlan or Stuckstede.
September 21, 2010 at 1:41 am #15986
I tried to send a couple of pictures to you through your email. I am wondering if you got them.
I know of no other way to communicate with you than to post this message to see if you got the pictures.
I am anxious for you and Carl to see the pictures of the bell so you and all the others can evaluate the bell. I am searching for its history.
I still have to get through the vestry minutes from 1858 and 1859. I will let you know what I find.
Thank you for your help.
Nativity Parish, Huntsville.
September 21, 2010 at 3:44 am #15985AnonymousInactive
I’ve been having computer problems and perhaps my message didn’t reach you. I’m very sorry. Yes, I received your email two days ago, tried downloading the photos, but was unable to post them because .pdf files can’t be copied. Please resend them as .jpg files to me at email@example.com.
Sorry for the confusion.
September 22, 2010 at 2:01 am #15987
Carolyn and Carl,
I just sent new versions of the pictures to Carolyn for uploading. Hope it works this time – I didn’t know which format was required before. Now I do.
When the pictures appear, hopefully we will have a better idea about what this bell is all about.
Thanks to everybody for your help.
September 22, 2010 at 2:03 am #15988AnonymousInactive
Here they are at last!
September 22, 2010 at 1:40 pm #15989
I would like to make a couple of clarifying comments about these two pictures. First, they were taken in 1992 when we were doing the bell striker installation and general cleanup of the platform around the bell. If more details of anything would help anyone with my history search, I would be happy to get back up in the tower and take more pictures.
The bell is not actually leaning like it looks in the pictures. It hangs straight when it is at rest, and now it has been stabilized by a steel cable system so the striker will stay aligned.
I had no luck with getting more information from Naylor Vickers in Sheffield. They do not have records that go that far back.
I owe everybody a search of the church’s vestry records to see what that might reveal. I have made the request already; now it is just a matter of finding a minute to get down to the church on a weekday!
Thanks for everyone’s interest.
Episcopal Church of the Nativity
September 25, 2010 at 11:45 pm #15990
and Carl and everybody,
I did my homework, and I found out what happened to the bell at our
I got into the original minutes of the vestry meetings from 1858 to
1878. We opened the two-hour-fire-rated safe in the basement of the
church, the church archivist at my side, and we looked through the
original hand-written minutes of the Vestry meetings from the middle
nineteenth century. It was an emotional time.
We found beautiful handwriting, but no mention of a bell. We found
vestry elections and a resolution that two dollars would be assessed
against any vestry member who missed a meeting without a good excuse,
but no mention of a bell.
The current church building was completed in 1859, but there was an
older structure on the property that was built around 1843. I couldn’t
find records that far back. The vestry minutes of 1859 have an
exhaustive listing of all of the costs required to complete the 1859
church, including re-plastering a part of the building where the plaster
fell off. No expenditure for a bell was listed. I am assuming that
the bell that was in the older structure was moved to the new building.
The older structure was taken apart brick for brick, sold to a
congregation two blocks north for $700, and rebuilt. No mention of a
bell. Our church historian has visited the congregation that bought the
building, long since destroyed and and new building built, but a few
artifacts remain from the original building. No bell.
So we went to the history book of our parish that was written by a local
professor of history, now deceased, and Voila! She mentions that our
bell was taken to a foundry in Mississippi to be melted down and recast
into cannon. Further research on the internet revealed that in 1862
General Beauregard issued an appeal for churches to donate their bells.
I have references if you want them.
Our church, the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Huntsville, Alabama,
was specifically listed in that document as one of the churches who
donated their bell. (DONATED, as in voluntarily gave the bell to the
Confederate war effort.) What I am saying is that the communicants of
Nativity parish took the bell out of the bell tower, probably at great
effort, loaded it onto a horse-drawn carriage, took it to the local
train station bound for Mississippi, and waved bon voyage.
Apparently, the alloy that was used for church bells had abundant Tin,
an element necessary for cannon but in short supply in the Confederate
Army. A church bell could be used with additional copper, and the total
amount of metal could be doubled when used for casting cannons, and
copper was available to the Confederate foundries. So church bells and
farm bells and door knobs and anything bronze was in great demand.
So Beauregard appealed, Nativity (an a whole listing of other churches
across the South) responded, and bells went to a cannon foundry in
Mississippi (as our historian tells it), and the “Bell Battery” was
born. Six cannons constitute a Battery of Artillery, and six cannons
were made from the bells donated from Huntsville churches, and that
battery of artillery was dubbed the “Bell Battery”. When they touched
off a cannon ball, however, I don’t think anybody was thinking about the
Call To Worship that the metal in that cannon once sounded.
Beauregard said that he would repay the churches after the war was over.
Somewhere in some Civil War park there is a twelve pounder cannon
turning green in the acid rain that was made from a bell that once rang
in the bell tower of Nativity Parish, Huntsville.
To complete the story, sometime after 1865, Nativity bought a steel bell
from Naylor Vickers in Sheffield, and that bell still rings in our bell
Carl, you nailed it. My hat is off.
Swords to plowshares? Bells to Cannons? I hope God understands. My
theology says he does.
Thank you both for your help and interest in my quest for the lineage
and ancestry of The Nativity Bell. We will ring a steel bell in your
honor this week. I hope you both will be listening Wednesday at noon.
It sounds a little bit more like a steel bell than a bronze bell, but
use your imagination.
All the best to you both,
September 26, 2010 at 7:41 pm #15991
Icing on the cake: After church today, the church archivist grabbed me and took me up to the records room, where she had found an entry that said this: A bell was hung in the belfry on January 18, 1850, weighing 575 pounds and costing $200.”
The first church building was completed in 1847 and dismantled and sold in 1878. The newer building was completed in 1859 and still stands. The bell was sent off to war in 1862, so the only remaining piece of information that we don’t have is whether the bell was moved to the bell tower in the newer building before it was melted and made into cannon. That is a small tidbit of history that we may never know, and really not all that important. I just would like to know.
Once again, thanks for everyone’s help.
March 20, 2020 at 4:12 pm #29799
I have heard that steel bells cannot be tuned. Our bell at Nativity, Huntsville, is a steel bell, and I am writing a history of it, so I really need to get it right. Can steel bells be tuned? I see conflicting things on the internet.
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