An intrepid group of ringers and friends set out for Ruther Glen in beautiful rural Virginia to visit the B. A. Sunderlin Bellfoundry on the last Saturday in October 2017. This foundry is a very exciting development for North American ringing. It has been going just two years and already has a long list of projects in hand. Ben Sunderlin became interested in the traditional art of bell-founding as he attended the Herron School of Art and worked on his master’s degree at the University of Notre Dame. A variety of grants made it possible for him to study foundries in the U.K. and throughout Europe. He got to know Peter Hayward and was able to work with him for a time – long enough to be able to cast his very own bell, which we saw at the foundry. If you want to know more about the history of the foundry, go to their web page at http://www.sunderlinfoundry.com/, or to their Facebook page.
We were fortunate enough to watch Ben and his team pour a small bell, which was then left to cool for about a day. He used a willow branch to dip into the molten bell metal to burn off certain impurities. He and his wife Kate and assistants (Abby, Alissa, Hei, and Miranda) were very gracious in answering all our questions and showing us into every nook and cranny. Some of the projects they are looking forward to can’t be announced yet, as they are still under negotiation, but suffice it to say that they will be of great interest to ringers, and that Ben will keep us informed if things come to fruition. At the moment, they are attempting the delicate task of matching the tone of new bells to a Gillett and Johnson set and to a carillon cast in the Netherlands. They are also recreating two bells for Jamestown after bell fragments were found there, fortunately enough to figure out the basic properties. There is documentation showing that the settlement did possess two bells. Furthermore, they are making plans to cast their own mini-ring, so maybe we’ll be ringing quarters and peals down there before too long!
For those of you familiar with Whitechapel and Taylor’s foundries, there will be a lot that you recognize (although we noted that the facilities were not yet anything like as dirty). We heard how materials for the cope and core could be sourced locally; farms were happy to provide them with plenty of horse manure. We saw the wooden strickles used to shape the outline of the bell, and the machine that created the strickles. In fact, it’s impossible to list all the things we saw that day!
The foundry welcomes visitors by arrangement, so get in touch with them if you would like to have a tour. We found it a fascinating experience and heartily recommend it. And if you’d like to have your own mini-ring, or are looking for installation or maintenance assistance, they’d be delighted to help you.
Report on a tour of the B.A. Sunderlin Bellfoundry in Ruther Glen, VA by members of the Washington Ringing Society (WRS) on Saturday, October 28, 2017.