Glasbury Man made Clyro Bells
This Article was initially published in "The Messenger" for the Wye Valley Parishes - Feb/March 2003
It is printed below by permission of its local author - Colin A. Lewis


There must have been great excitement in Clyro in I708. The existing four bells in St Michael's Church were recast hy Henry Williams. the bell founder from Glasbury, into a ring of five bells. The work was apparently paid for by the owners of two of the great houses in the parish Cabalva and Lloyney.
Little is known of the four bells that existed in Clyro before Williams began his work, although they appear to have been larger than the five bells cast from their metal. The four bells swung side by side in a wooden frame in the tower of the church. This frame was altered in 1708 to accommodate bells of smaller dimensions and a fifh bell pit was added at right angles to the others.
Henry Williams made bells in the period between at least 1677 (when he cast two for the church of St Gwennog, Llanwenog, Cardiganshire) and I719, when he cast bells for Crickadarn, Llanbedr Ystrad Yw and Penderyn in Breconshire.
ln 1722 Williams made his will in which he described himnself as "Henry Williams of ye pish of Glasbury in ye County of Radnor Bellfounder". At that time Radnorshire extended across the River Wye and included the area towards Little Lodge farm ( nowadays belonging to the Havards), Coed y Bolen Common (where Glasbury school is situated) and the vicinity of Three Cocks.
In his will Williams left "unto Anne prichard my Daughter all my rights and title unto all ye Leasehold Lands held by me from Sr Edward Wms, of Gwernevett in the County of Brecon". The Williams family of Gwernyfed were the main landowners of the Glasbury area and their seat was the present Old Gwernvfed, in Felindre. Henry Williams also left "all the rest and residue of my psonall Estate unto Ann prichard". He made no specific mention of the tools of his bell founding trade, but perhaps that was because he was "sick of body" and no longer interested in such matters.
Henry Williams marked many of his bells by casting a shield with the capital letters H and W in the top bell and right hand corners respectively. on either side of an open calipers that framed a bell. Calipers were used by bell founders to measure widths and were an important tool of their trade. He also cast a border of flowers below the inscription line on some of his bells, as at Clyro.
Most of the inscriptions on Williams' bells were in Latin. which he did in wax letters that he then fitted onto the moulds of the bells before pouring metal into those moulds. In many casees Williams appears to have had dittculty in fixing the wax letters, and they are not always straight or evenl The second bell at Llanwenog (which no longer exists) bore the inscription GLORIA SIT DEO HENRICVS WILLIAMS ME FECIT ANNO DOMINI 1677. One can imagine the relief and pleasure, and even the pride, with which Williams fixed this inscription on the bell. HENRY WILLIAMS I MADE [it] 1677.
On the fburth bell at Clyro, which still exists. Williams cast the inscription 1708 GLORIA DEO PAX HOMINIBVS, which translates as Glory to God. peaceto all men. On the second he cast an inscription in English: CabALVA AND : LLOYNEY OF VS FOVR MADE FIVE H W 1708 :: Perhaps he thought it prudent to remind the donors that thev had to pay him for his work!
The greatest number of bells cast by Williams as a ring appears to have been the five bells at Clyro, two of which, the second and fourth. still exist. The other three bells were recast in 1887 by John Warner and Sons of London, presumably because they were cracked or out of tune.
Unfortunately one of Williams' existing bells at Clyro, the second of the ring, is cracked slightly in the crown. Both it and the other Williams' bell in the ring should really be attended to by a professional bell hanger and engineer. The crown staples, which pass through the top of the bells and from which the clappers are suspended, need to be drilled out of the bells and to be replaced by steel crown staples that do not rust. The existing staples are of iron, which expands as it rusts and therefore cracks the bronze bells. The crack in the second bell needs to be welded by Soundweld, the only firm in Britain that specialises in repairing bells by welding. Although at least thirty two bells are known to have been cast by Williams, the site of his foundry has not been located. Where was it? There is oral record that a foundry used to exist at Pipton, beside the River Llynfi,just upstream of Pipton farm house. Was that, perhaps, the site of Williams' bell foundry? And if it was, how did Williams manage to transport bells as far as Bleddfa in Radnorshire, Bettws in Carmarthenshire, Penderyn in Breconshire and Mansell Gamage in Herefordshire? And where did he acquire the tin and copper that were needed for the production of bells. Above all, where did Williams learn his trade?
Parishioners of Clyro may take pride in the fact that their church contains bells made in Wales in the early eighteenth century and that those bells are still rung with reasonable regularity. Glasbury folk may be proud that an inhabitant of their parish cast those bells of Clyro. Now it is up to the Wye Valley Parishes to look after those historic bells and to ensure that they continue to sound God's message of salvation over our beautiful valley for generations to come .

Colin Lewis