Silver Ship's Bell

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    Frank Scott

    In Chichester Cathedral, West Sussex, you will find the ship’s bell for the 1929-49 heavy cruiser HMS Sussex, which has been ‘on loan’ in what is now the sailor’s chapel since 1951. The unusual thing about it is that it is silver (what grade I do not know). It cost the people of Sussex just over £2,000 at 1928 prices, and my on-line calculator puts this at the equivalent of between £110,000 and £862,000 at 2018 prices, which is serious money by any standards.

    Worth saying that it is well established that the best material for bell founding (manufacture), in terms of tone, resonance, longevity, etc., is ‘Bell metal’ which is a bronze alloy in approx ratio of 80% copper to 20% tin. The legend that the faithful added gold or silver coins to bells being cast for churches is considered dubious, and these precious metals would degrade the tone. Of course a ship’s bell was not required to be musical, unlike those used for the British tradition of ‘Change ringing’.

    The only other silver ship’s bell that I know of is that which was given to the 1955 HMS Ark Royal, and later used by the 1985 Ark Royal. Anyone know of any other examples?

    Frank Scott

    Courtesy of British Pathé news I have tracked down two more silver ship’s bells.

    1. Battleship HMS Nelson, presented 1928 & paid for by the people of Tyneside (where she was built), stated then to be largest silver bell at 1½ cwt.
    2. ‘Town Class’ light cruiser HMS Newcastle, presented 1937 & paid for by the people of Newcastle.

    Both bells looked of similar size to the HMS Sussex bell.

    Frank Scott

    More bells information.

    I have confirmed that the HMS Sussex bell is sterling silver (925), and the silver mark is for London, 1928.

    The ‘Town Class’ light cruiser HMS Belfast was built in Belfast, and commissioned in August 1939, but did not gain her silver bell until October 1948. The civic pride in the ship is unsurprising, and in the normal course of events the bell would have been presented on commissioning, however, with war on the horizon it was kept safe ashore until the ship visited Belfast on completion of her post-war refit. The silver bell is still in its rightful place onboard.

    Another unusual bell is that given to the ‘Town Class’ light cruiser HMS Sheffield, which was made of stainless steel, and cast in 1937 by Hadfields Ltd., East Hecla Works, from a pattern lent by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. This bell was presented to Sheffield Cathedral when she decommissioned in 1964, and it hangs there today.

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