Andrew Gurny, Bell founder of Bury St Edmunds 1643
Whilst looking for something else in the Bury Strong room I was intrigued by the will of Andrew Gurny, bellfounder of Bury St. Edmunds. Bells were sometimes named and the maker is identified by marks/crests cast onto the bell. A bell founder would serve a long apprenticeship as knowledge of metal alloys, mould-making (consisting of a core and cope), casting techniques and setting the pitch of a bell is complex. Who was Andrew Gurny and where did he work?
In his will of 1643 Andrew left his son Robard (variously recorded as Robart) “with all my tooles and moulds for to worke with all, as to my trade belongeth.” Andrew also left money to his son Thomas, daughters Ali[ce], Barbara and Mary, and grandson Thomas. His household goods are listed in the inventory (1647), including feather beds, bolsters, cupboards, skillets and a gridiron, providing a snapshot of the household of a master craftsman of the 1600s. SRO (B)/IC/500/3/2/17
Bell furnaces were often temporarily set up near to the Church (or a fuel source) because the weight of the resultant bell would be too heavy to transport. Sometimes bells were cast in a pit at the tower end, the tower was then built and the bell raised from the floor. There is a bell pit at Hadstock, Essex; and a Norman bell pit in Winchester. The bell founder’s window at York Minster shows a referberatory furnace in use in the 14th century.
Andrew Gurny, with J. Draper of Thetford, his Master, produced bells at:
Hinderclay St. Mary: bell 4 inscribed ‘I.D. and A.G made me 1621’(5), which is still in use today (7),
Thurston St. Peters’: bells 1 and 2 inscribed ‘John Draper and Andrew Gurney made me 1630’ (5), still in use (9). The Thurston treble bell has a stop of four dots between each word and the impression of four coins on the soundbow. The second bell was re-cast in 1857 (4).
At Rushbrook St. Nicolas’: the Second (bell) is Inscribed ‘Andrew Gurny made me 1636’ (5).
Robard produced bells for:
Little Badley All Saints: 1 bell of 1, 1652,
Stanton Downham St Mary the Virgin: 1 bell of 1 1663,
Stanningfield treble 1664,
Worlington: Second bell, inscribed ‘Robard Gvrney made me 1665’, still in place but no longer rung today (8),
Tuddenham St. Mary: 2 bells both inscribed R.G 1666 and [the treble]1672,
Alpheton St Peter and Paul: 2 bells both inscribed ‘Robard Gurney made me 1667 [Crown]’,
Bradfield St George: 2 bells: treble and second of 5 bells 1668 (Raven (5) claims the second and third as Robards’ bells),
Poslingford treble second and third (5),
Wangford S. Denis bell 1668,
Elmswell St. John the Divine: treble inscribed ‘Robard Gurney made me [Crown] 1670,
Fakenham Magna: bell 3 inscribed ‘R.G. 1667,
Felsham St. Peter: treble of 6 inscribed ‘Robard [Crown] Gurney made me [Crown] 1668’, which is still in situ (9),
Little Welnetham St. Mary Magdalene: tenor inscribed ‘R [crown] G [Bell] 1671 [Crown] O’)
Tostock St. Andrew: tenor, described as bell 4 by Raven who recorded the inscription ‘1671 [Crown] R [Bell] G [Crown]’ (4), still in use (8)
Onehouse St John the Baptist: 1 bell of 2 1673 The treble at Onehouse is Robard’s latest known bell. It is stamped with bells with early lettering between, ‘[Bell] R [Bell] G’ (5), there are impressions of three coins on the soundbow.(4)(5).
Please note, these bells were recorded at the publication date of the references listed below.
Through the will we have an insight into a family of this period passing on wealth and trade skills whilst Andrew and Robard’s legacy can still be heard in Parishes throughout Suffolk.
1. Will of Andrew Gurny bellfounder of Bury St Edmunds (1643) Bury Record Office. Ref No: IC500/1/104
2. Inventory of Andrew Gurny bellfounder of Bury St Edmunds (1647) Bury Record Office. Ref No: IC500/3/2/17
3. National Bell Register, Diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich. Accessed online at: www.georgedawson.homestead.com/nbr.html
4. Hawkins, C. H. Suffolk Church Bells: Notes from a collection of inscriptions on ancient and interesting Suffolk Church Bells. (1930), Bury Record Office Local History Collection, Dewey No: 789.5
5. J.J. Raven D.D. The Church Bells of Suffolk (1890) Jarrold and Sons p.131, Bury Record Office Local History Collection, Dewey No: 789.5094264
6. Tylecote R. F. A History of Metallurgy. The Metals Society (1976)
7. Accessed at: www.hinderclaychurch.org.uk
8. Accessed at: www.suffolkbells.org.uk
9. Accessed at: www.dovecccbr.org.uk