The Bells of St Mary, Oatlands

The Church of St Mary Oatlands, completed in 1862, had acquired its tower in 1905 but it wasn’t until 1911 that the finances were sufficient to consider acquiring a peal of bells to make it complete.

Programme for The Miracle - Olympia 1911In December of that year, the Vicar (Rev John Hands Townsend) and several parishioners attended a ‘Christmas spectacular’ at London’s Olympia. Staged as a collaboration between the Austrian director Max Reinhardt and the English impresario C. B. Cochran , “The Miracle” was a religious epic with a cast of 1,000 actors and extras, a chorus of 500, 25 horses, an orchestra of 2,000 and saw the huge arena turned into a vast Gothic cathedral. It told the story of a nun who relinquished her vows to experience life in the world and then returning penitent to discover that her place had been taken by a statue of the Virgin Mary which had come to life.

Within that performance was a peal of eight bells that had been cast by John Warner & Sons at their foundry at Spelman Street, Spitalfields, which was commonly known as the Crescent Foundry. Warners had several foundries including their original one at Stockton-on-Tees where the original “Big Ben” was produced in 1856.

The set of bells that Rev Townsend and the parishioners heard at Olympia, and were so impressed with, were originally cast for the 1911 Durbar (the Indian event to celebrate the proclamation of the recently crowned King George V and Queen Mary as Emperor and Empress of India) but the order was cancelled when the announcement was made that India's capital would be moved from Calcutta to New Delhi – the new site for the Durbar not being suitable for the bells.

The Bells had also featured at the Festival of Empire at the famed Crystal Palace at Sydenham earlier in the year and, although they are not mentioned specifically in the catalogue, they were displayed by John Warner & Sons as being destined for the Durbar.

Following the epic “Miracle” performances, Warners were eager to sell the bells and accepted the offer made by St Mary’s in early 1912 – by the time they were hung, they had cost the church a total of £550 10s 0d.

To help defray the costs, it had been decided to start a fund for a “Baptismal Bell”. This was organised by Mrs Adeline Townsend, the vicar’s wife, and those who had been baptised at St Mary’s (or their parents) were asked contribute. Originally it was intended to designate the Treble bell as the Baptismal Bell, but when the funds raised exceeded expectations, the no.2 Bell was chosen instead.

A special booklet was produced for the dedication of the Bells on 2nd March 1913, entitled “List of Subscribers to the Baptismal Bell Fund”, with an insert sheet that gave an outline of the dedication service and the words of the “Special Hymn to be Sung at Dedication of Bells”.

We have now reproduced this booklet but were unable to make it available to coincide with the centenary celebrations at St Mary’s Church – it will be available from our stand at the Oatlands Village Fayre on the 18th of May and copies can be obtained from our treasurer.

Read more about the story of the first “Big Ben”
here (opens in new window)

Read more about the Indian Durbar here (opens in new window)

John Warner & Sons