Welcome to the ABA! Bell Talk Forums Small Bells What is the purpose of this Bell?

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    • #12199

      Just received this inquiry:

      Hello, I am a post-graduate student from Durham University in England. I am studying Museum Studies and I have been allocated an item to research. My object is a bell that was discovered on an under-water dive in a river in Durham City itself. The shape and properties of the bell is very unusual and I was hoping that you would be able to look at the bell and use your expertise to give an opinion as to what purpose this particular bell had.

      I wrote Laura back and asked for more information as well as photos, her reply:

      The information you asked for:

      I do not have the weight but I do have other dimensions which may be of use to you instead:

      The entire height of the bell from top to bottom is 10cm. The height from the base of the bell to the shoulder is 7.5cm and the height of the crown is 2.5cm. The width of the crown is 3.5cm and the width across the body of the bell is approximately 5.4cm. The depth inside the bell is 6.5cm. The diameter of the bell’s opening is 6.5cm and the circumferance of the bell’s opening is 20.42cm. I hope this all makes sense.

      There is no writing or engraving on the bell. It is completely plain.

      It’s made from copper alloy with a very high content of tin. However, it has been lying in a polluted river for a number of years so there are the presence of other metals on the bell’s surface that are a result of the contaminated water.

      The history of the bell is that it was discovered in the River Wear in Durham in 2010 by an amateur diver. He found all sorts of other items in the river over a number of dives including buckles, pins, pilgrimage badges etc. I can give you more details about what I have found out about the bell also, but I would like to hear your assessment first to see if it aligns with my own work.

    • #17322

      After Laura sent me the photos, I wrote her back with my first observations:

      While your object is “bell shaped”, I notice that it does not appear to have had a “clapper” inside the bell because I don’t see any area where something could have been attached to make it ring. Therefore…are you sure it is a bell? I wonder what else it could be. I have to convert your metric measurements over to US inches, but it does look like it is about the side of your hand. Weight would be handy.

      Laura replied:

      I am glad you received the email ok and thank you for taking the time to look over it.

      I don’t see any reason as to why it isn’t a bell. It has a very high level of tin in it, which gives the bell it’s ring. I think it might have been made by an amateur bell founder and the clapper wasn’t attached. As you say there is no evidence of a suspension system where the clapper could have been. Perhaps there was a separate implement that was used to ring the bell?

      Yes it is the size of my hand. Sorry about the measurement conversions. I will try and get the weight but I do have limited access to the object.

      Thank you for going to the trouble to look into this for me- I really appreciate it. Any information you can provide would be excellent.

      Many thanks,


      I am very interested to have some of our contributors “chime” in with their opinions regarding Laura’s inquiry

    • #17323

      I’m sorry to say, that is not a bell.

      Besides not having a clapper it appears to be made of sheet metal, judging from the thickness plus what appears to be a dent in the side. The edge is turned in or in other words, crimped. I would guess it was crimped onto the end of a length of wood of the same diameter. It’s possible it was part of some ships rigging, the wood long decayed.

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