Jason Clarke Antiques

Late Victorian Cased Set of Twelve Handbells by Warners of London


For sale, a late Victorian set of twelve Handbells by Warners of London in their original pine packing case.

This rare and exquisite set is comprised of bells with notes ranging as follows from largest to smallest G/A/B/C/D/E/F#/G/A/B/C/D. All are beautifully mounted with leather hand straps and circular leather pads to avoid the hand interfering with the resonance of the bell when in use. The pads are impressed with star motifs around the edge circumference and the end of the hand loops are stamped with “Warners London” at the top and the associated note to the side.

The handbells are secured within their original pine packing case with hinged lid and a blue felt interior. A fixed shelf within the interior allows for the handbells to be stowed upside down for carriage whilst the soft felt provides further edge protection.

Records for the Warner company are unusually scarce given their historic significance in bell manufacture, this is due to the fact that their sites at Cripplegate and at Spitalfields were both destroyed during the bombing campaigns of the Second World War.

The Warner company was founded in 1739 by Jacob Warner but it had transferred to his sons, John & Tomson Warner by the 1760’s. Initially based in Wood Street in Cheapside, they later moved to Fore Street in Cripplegate. The lack of records creates some confusion from 1782 at the point where the partnership was dissolved and both siblings continued business on their own accounts. The likely reason for the split was the desire for each sibling to create a business to pass down to their offspring and although the firm of John Warner & Sons is the most recognisable today, it is thought that Tomson Warner or his offspring eventually became the responsible party for both operations.

With respect to bell making, the Warner foundries ceased their production in 1816, probably due to the effects of the Industrial Revolution where pumps and engines that demanded specialist casting were being invented at pace. It was not until 1850 that the single company, John Warner & Sons, reintroduced bell manufacture amongst its other industrial wares. They were awarded a prize medal at The Great Exhibition in the following year for a deep well force pump to give you some idea of the breadth of their manufacturing capability.

In 1852, following the completion of the Houses of Parliament after the devastating 1834 fire at the Palace of Westminster, Warners were commissioned to cast bells for the clocktower now known as Big Ben. Founded in Stockton on Tees, the Great Bell was put on test in 1857 during which time a large crack was seen to appear. Blame for the issues seems never to have been resolved but Warner later lost out on the contract to recast based upon price and the bell was finally recast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. This episode seems not to have affected the company since their advertisements of the 1860’s proudly present them as “brass and bell founders to Her Majesty”.

Warners continued to produce bells until 1924 after which time production was again ceased. They continued in other activities until the Second World War but the destruction of their sites during the bombing campaigns ultimately led to their final closure in 1949. Their bells still exist in numerous churches across the globe and it should be noted that the quarter bells of Big Ben remain those which Warner manufactured during their ill fated commission.

A fine and complete set of handbells from a very prestigious maker, my suspicion due to the condition of the dampening pads within the bells, is that a previous owner has had this set lovingly restored and most likely tuned to modern day concert pitch at some point within its more recent life so that they can be practically used under more modern standards. I hasten to note that I am not an expert in these matter though, it is merely an assumption made upon their fine condition. Inspections and trials are very welcome. Please feel free to contact me to arrange.

Circa 1890

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