Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Casts of English bell marks

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

The Pitt Rivers Museum's collection of bell marks reflects the interests of Dr Hélène La Rue, the former Curator of Music collections of the museum and co-director of this research project, who sadly died quite soon after the start of this project. She had many contacts with the musician and campanology communities as you might expect, and these often resulted in donations or bequests to the collections from interested amateur collectors.

Bell mark casts

Each church bell is marked by its founder to show who made the bell and where. Many bell historians collect this data and one way to record it is to take a plaster cast of the bell mark. The casts of bell marks currently held by the Pitt Rivers Museum come from two sources, Frederick Sharpe and George Philip Elphick.

George Philip Elphick (1911-1993)

Elphick was a keen bell historian with a particular interest in the bells of Sussex. He published two books about them:

  • Sussex bells and belfries Chichester: Phillimore 1970
  • The craft of the bellfounder Chichester: Phillimore 1988

He bequeathed his collection of Roman and Anglo-Saxon handbells to Ranald Clouston, and also 'all my plaster casts for disposal as he sees fit together with all my papers relating to my bell researches', as Clouston records that Elphick's will puts it.  Ranald Clouston concluded, with Hélène La Rue's agreement, that the best place for the 2,642 bell marks at the time was the Pitt Rivers Museum music collections. Elphick's other collection of Sussex bell mark casts was probably given to the Sussex Archaeological Society who had expressed an interest in them. The Elphick collection in the Pitt Rivers Museum records bell marks from all over England, Wales, and Scotland, but most come from England. Details of each of the bell-marks can be found by consulting the databases on this site about the English collections.

Frederick L. Sharpe (?-1976)

Sharpe is described as  'one of the World's leading authorities on the history, technology and music of bells'. As the website of his trustees records:

For many years he was a consultant expert on the subject and inspected many hundreds of towers and belfries. He also researched and wrote books on the church bells of Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Herefordshire, Cardiganshire and Radnorshire, and was a frequent lecturer to professional, learned and other bodies.

Find out more about Frederick Sharpe and his trustees here.

As his trustees also state, on their website:

In the course of his life he collected a unique body of material. His library of books on bells and ringing is very extensive. He acquired several comparatively small bells of various periods from the Middle Ages on. There are plaster casts and rubbings from bells; items of bell fittings and gear of various ages; photographs and information mounted for display in exhibitions, and slides for lecturing. The details of many hundreds of tower inspections are filed in loose-leaf books, all in his beautifully legible handwriting, and many hundreds of photographs are similarly mounted and arranged, those (the majority) of his own taking being accompanied by their negatives...


To find out more about the Sharpe collection see here, this site sadly is not quite up-to-date, as it does not record the sad death of Dr La Rue. It does record, however, that the Sharpe collection would be loaned to the Pitt Rivers Museum, the position at the time of writing. There are a total of 226 bell mark casts loaned to the Museum at the present time.