The founder’s mark on the bell cast by Robert Norton

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The founder’s mark on the bell cast by Robert Norton

In the late middle ages the casting of bells was a complicated and sometimes dangerous craft skill. In each casting large quantities of molten bell metal were poured into an underground casting pit where a cavity corresponding to the final shape of the bell had been prepared between clay moulds. The tone of the bell depended on the precise thickness of its various parts; in a successful casting its different notes are in harmony.

The particular interest of the bell lies in the founder’s mark in the inscription band, which incorporates the initials r and n, flanking a bell and enclosed within a cabled circle. These allow the maker to be identified as Robert Norton of Exeter, who became a freeman of the city in 1423 and was still working in the 1440s.

Norton was a prolific founder: more than twenty of his bells are known in Devon, with a scatter of others in the adjacent counties of Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset. This example came from Halse, near Taunton in Somerset. The bell which hangs above St Pancras church in the Guildhall Shopping Centre is another example of his work.

Acknowledgments: RAM Museum Rev. John Scott