In the medieval parish church of St Bartholomews in Tong, Shropshire, hangs a massive bell which is one of the 150 heaviest bells in the country. Other bells hang in the church and do the job of calling the faithful to prayer, so why this was commissioned in 1518 is a mystery. At a weight recently calculated at 46 hundredweight one stone – or well over two tons – this is totally unsuitable for a church of this size. The Church has a plethora of mediaeval tombs built between 1410 when the church was commissioned and 1518 when Sir Henry Vernon was buried here, in a new chapel called the Golden Chapel built to take an extra tomb – his own.
But why he wanted a big bell is a mystery. Bells over two tons are normally for Cathedrals or large public buildings. The Tong Bell was not fit for purpose, broke in the Civil War and was recast in 1720, seems to have been broken in 1848 and was recast by Taylors of Loughborough in 1892.. So perhaps it was never much used as it is so heavy the vibration and pendulum effect of a bell swinging to and fro in a small belfry could well be dangerous. A major refurb in 1892 went well beyond simply fixing the bell, the vicar drew up a list of rules still operative today. They read as follows.
The Great Bell shall be rung on the following occasions:
On Christmas Day, Easter Day, Whitsunday, St Bartholomews Day
On the birth of a child to the Sovereign
“ “ “ birth of a child to HRH the Prince of Wales
On the birth of a child to the Earldom of Bradford
Whenever a member of the Royal Family visits Tong
Whenever the head of the Vernon Family visits Tong
On the institution of a new vicar.
THE BELL SHALL BE TOLLED
On Good Friday, New Year’s Eve,
On the death of the Sovereign Heir apparent
On the death of the Earl or Countess of Bradford
On the death of the Viscount of Newport or his heir
On the death of the Bishop of the Diocese
On the death of the Vicar of Tong
The Reasons Why
Rationing the sounding of the bell is a sensible precaution, but why commission it in the first place? Why Henry Vernon wanted it is not only mysterious, but how it was paid for is obscure. The best I have come across is the view that if there was money left over from building the Golden Chapel, it might have been spent on a bell.
It has become perplexing that five centuries after the bell was hung it is so obscure. I can speak from personal experience that when the bell is installed in the bell tower, there is no room to move, no way to get the bell in camera shot and nothing which explains why Sir Henry Vernon decided to make this mark on the history of his burial place.
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The picture shows George Dawson, archivist at John Taylor’s foundry, inspecting the bell when it was taken to the foundry in 2020.