ST LUKE'S CHURCH - LIVERPOOL
(The Bombed Out Church)
The Bells of St Luke's had, up until they were installed in the tower of St Luke's, led a varied but mostly unused life and were once destined for another tower! The earliest reference to the bells at St Luke's appear in the popular Liverpool journal, The Albion: "Sir, It has become a matter of regret with many of the inhabitants of this town, finding that a paltry peal of eight bells has been purchased for the tower of St Luke's Church. It was generally supposed that so noble an edifice, in so commanding a situation, would have been considered worthy of a better peal, or greater number of bells. I indulge a hope that this small peal of eight may yet be applied to the tower of some other church".
Over in Newton Heath Church near Droylsden, Manchester, it was decided to have a peal of 8 bells installed in the tower. William Dobson of Downham Market, Norfolk submitted a tender for £645 and this was accepted. The following agreement was then drawn up in 1817: 'the said Willm. Dobson..shall and will on or before the 30th day of Aug next cast manufacture and provide for the said Church of Newton a new Peal of 8 musical Bells which shall weight in the aggregate 66 hundredweight and a half of which the tenor bell shall weight fifteen hundred weight. And shall and will convey the same carriage free and hang the same in the Tower of the st. Church of Newton with new Stocks and with 8 new wheels 8 new sets of bolts spikes and other iron work and with proper Brafes Gudgeons Clappers screws Rollers Stays & Ropes'.
The following year, the bells were cast and together with the components of a two-tier wooden bell frame, were brought to Newton Heath by canal. However, they were not hung in the tower due to instability concerns of the tower and were then returned to the Huddersfield Canal Warehouse in Piccadilly, Manchester. Nothing was further done and the Newton Health trustees eventually accepted that their Church tower was not suitable for the bells. They then placed the (above right) following advertisement in Wheeler' Manchester Chronicle.
Thomas Osborn was foreman for Joseph Eayre at the bellfoundry in St Neots and when Eayre died in 1772 his successor, Edward Arnold, appears to have taken Osborn into partnership. In about 1779 Osborn started casting bells on his own account at his home town, Downham Market in Norfolk. At some time in the 1790s Osborn's grandson William Dobson joined him in the foundry. His name first appears on the ring of five bells cast for Crimplesham, Norfolk, in 1798. Dobson's name does not appear again on bells until 1803.
From then until 1806 the joint names of Osborn and Dobson occur on bells cast at the Downham foundry. In 1806 Dobson succeeded his grandfather in the foundry, an advertisement to that. effect appearing in the Bury and Norwich Post of Wednesday 18th June 1806. Osborn died on 6th December 1806. Another advertisement by Dobson appeared in the Bury and Norwich Post in July 1807. This lists "peals" of bells cast at the Downham foundry since 1779. Dobson states that the last 15 “peals” were cast under his own immediate direction. The earliest of these rings of bells was a ring of six cast for Walsoken, Norfolk in 1795 opened on 27 January 1796. However at that time Dobson was about 16 or so – he died on 11 July 1842 “in the 63rd year of his age. Thus while this claim is possible it seems rather more likely that Dobson was exaggerating for the purpose of drumming up business. In 1808 Dobson cast a 29 cwt ring of eight bells for St John’s Peterborough. His greatest ring however was the 41 cwt ring of twelve bells for St Nicholas Liverpool in 1812/13 to replace the bells broken in the fall of the steeple on Sunday 11 February 1810 just before morning service. Dobson’s bells were opened on 4 June 1814 and on that occasion a silver cup valued at 20 guineas was presented by the churchwardens for the best performance while Dobson gave a set of handbells for the second best performance.
The tenor bell at Liverpool was not Dobson’s largest bell. The Norfolk Chronicle and Norwich Gazette for Saturday 15 November 1817 contains a report of the casting of five clock bells for the General Post Office in Dublin the largest of which weighed 43 cwt. Clearly Dobson had a good reputation which was probably due to the good tonal qualities of his bells which was well above average for the period. There is evidence that thought was given to bell design in a manuscript dated 20 December 1800. This is now among the records of the Whitechapel bell Foundry. Rings of bells cast by Dobson were supplied to most English counties and even as far afield as the West Indies. He clearly had a good reputation and he was well aware of the value of publicity. In 1819 he cast seven bells to add to the old tenor at Birstall, Yorkshire and the advertisement for the opening on 18 August in the Leeds Mercury included an up-dated list of rings of bells cast at the Downham foundry.
In 1832 Dobson sold the Downham foundry to the London founder Thomas Mears and he worked in a solicitor’s office in London. He eventually became a brother of Charterhouse where he died in 1842.
Liverpool Corporation was in need of a peal of bells for their 'show piece' Church and purchased the bells in a sale at a later date. It was fortunate for them that the inscriptions on the bells were not centered towards Newton Heath. Their inscription reads:
Treble - PEACE AND GOOD NEIGHBOURHOOD
Second - THE LORD TO PRAISE MY VOICE I'LL RAISE
Third - WILLIAM DOBSON FECIT 1818
Fourth - O GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD FOR HE IS GRACIOUS
Fifth - FEAR GOD HONOUR THE KING
Sixth - WILLIAM DOBSON DOWNHAM MARKET NORFOLK FOUNDER 1818
Seventh - THESE EIGHT BELLS WERE CAST BY WILLIAM DOBSON ANNO DOMINI 1818
Tenor - I DO THE CHURCH THE LIVING CALL AND TO THE GRAVE DO SUMMON ALL. W. DOBSON FECIT 1818
We are indebted to Chris Pickford who has sent me a copy of slides he has come across on his past visit to St Luke’s. You can now finally see the first metal bell frame and the inscription: G Gillebrand – Bellhanger - 1828
above right. In the second half of 1828. George Gillebrand was employed by the Corporation to hang the bells in a new cast iron bell frame within St Luke's. This was the first ever metal bell frame in the world - and still survives to this day!
It is not known when the bells were last rung, as they were not fully rung throughout the life, and suffered lots of periods of silence but a Mr William R Birchall, a surviving ringer of the bells in 1995 says that the bells were used for the meeting of the Lancashire Association of Change Ringers in February 1938. For the brief remainder of their life, they were never to be rung full circle again.
TO BUILDERS OF CHURCHES
TO be SOLD by AUCTION by private contract:
A PEAL OF EIGHT NEW MUSICAL BELLS.
Cast by the celebrated Mr Dobson, of Downham of the following weights: (C. Q. lb.)
Treble - 5 - 1 - 15
Second - 5 - 2 - 23
Third - 5 - 2 - 27
Forth - 6 - 0 - 27
Fifth - 6 - 3 - 19
Sixth - 9 - 1 - 10
Seventh - 11- 0 - 6
Tenor - 16 - 2 - 16 cwt
"..SOCIETY OF CHANGE RINGERS.."
St Luke's Church - The new peal of bells in the tower of St Luke's were rung on Thursday, in celebration of
St Geroge's Day and appear to be very powerful, and of a sweet and
Change Ringing - On Monday morning last, the Society of Change Ringers of the Collegiate Church, Manchester, paid a friendly visit to the Liverpool
company of ringers.
They ascended the new tower of St Luke's Church and rung a true and complete peal of Kentish treble bob major, consisting of 5056 changes, in three hours and two minutes.
The first all metal bell frame in the world:
G Gillebrand - Bellhanger - 1828
Copyright - Chris Pickford.