Last Saturday, our Hands on History session on the theme of bells, brought together an eclectic mix of objects from the collections. In this post, I will share a selection of bells that caught our visitors’ attention.
Nuneaton’s last town crier, John Bosworth, known as “Jacko”, was news announcer to the townspeople from 1908. The sonorous ring of this powerful bell would have sounded through the streets of Nuneaton, accompanied by Jacko’s hearty cry of “Oh yay. oh yay, oh yay”, alerting citizens to the announcement of the latest news.
The captivating ruby glow of this Victorian glass bell with its delicate glass clapper producing a tinkly musical ring starkly contrasts with Jacko’s resounding, heavy brass bell. A decorative domestic object, this ‘gold ruby’ bell reflects the Victorian penchant for ornamental wares and highlights the popularity of cranberry glass, which was produced abundantly in 19th century Britain during the Victorian era. Bells of this type were often given as wedding gifts during the reign of Queen Victoria and came to be known as wedding bells.
Venturing further afield to Tibet, this beautiful brass and copper singing bell was used to aid meditation practice. The brass handle displays the head of the Buddhist goddess Tara, protectress of both earthly and spiritual travel on the path to enlightenment. The story of Tara’s creation is that she was born out of a tear shed by the buddha-to-be, Avalokiteshvara. His tear slid to the ground where it transformed into a lake. From the surface of the lake a lotus flower emerged. Its petals opened to reveal Tara.
Another bell involved in religious practice, is this pretty, hand-held brass bell from Nepal. The handle includes a representation of one of the principle deities in Hinduism, the god Vishnu. In Hinduism, Vishnu is the preserver and protector of the universe. A bell ordinarily hangs in the entrance of all Hindu temples. Upon entering temple, devotees ring the bell to inform the deity of their arrival and to prepare for worship. The bell’s sonorous ring functions to welcome divinity, disperse evil and disengage the mind from its babble of thoughts, therefore, assisting concentration on the deity.
Returning to Nuneaton, the last bell to consider from the ‘Ring Out the Bells Hands’ on History session is this fire engine bell. Thinking of bells in the context of emergency opens up another aspect of their functionality that is quite different from the uses seen in our previous examples. Here, bells take part in protecting and saving lives, alerting people to danger. This particular bell belonged to a fire engine named after George Eliot and was operated by hand. The George Eliot Fire Engine was unveiled in January 1888 in Nuneaton Market Place by Lady Newdegate of Arbury Hall. An article in ‘The Nuneaton Chronicle’ dated Thursday 26 January 1888, celebrated the engine for its ability to discharge a 90 foot jet of water and reported that its bell was ‘very loud’.
Our monthly Hands on History sessions assemble a diverse range of objects on a variety of themes and aim to appeal to a wide audience while offering intimate engagement with objects. Our next Hands on History session looks at objects echoing the theme of the colour green. ‘Green’ will take place on Saturday 16 March from 11 am until 4 pm. Check back here soon for a taster of objects appearing in our ‘Green’ session.