Bronze bell casting at Historic Kilbride
By Roz Adams
On Saturday 28th August, Irene Gunston, Roz Adams and Bryn Richards were able to demonstrate the ancient art of bronze casting on site at Historic Kilbride. The exciting and unusual event made possible with he help of Historic Environment Scotland and Tesco.
In 1795, a bronze bell was given to Kilbride. The live bronze casting event was to create a replica of this bell, rooting the replica bell to the historical site by casting it there. The replica is then to be permanently displayed on site at Kilbride.
The original bell is thought to have been cast in Glasgow in 1786 and was being shipped to Maryland when the ship carrying it was wrecked in the Sound of Kerrera. This bell was rescued from the sea bed and gifted to Kilbride in 1795, where it was hung on a tree near the Chapel and later moved inside the Chapel itself.
The original bell is a composite of materials. The handle is wrought iron, which is riveted onto the lug on top of the bell to form the handle. Inside and iron rod has been bent to form a triangle, and has then been fitted into the inside top to make a loop for the clapper (also iron) to hang from. An inscription reads ‘Dun McPhail 1795’ and was most likely added later than the bell was cast when the bell reached Kilbride.
To make a facsimile, the whole bell needed to be cast as a single unit in Bronze using the lost wax method. This is a slightly different method to a sand casting which is most likely the method used to cast the original bell section without the inscription and added parts. All the mould making was completed at Irene Gunston’s studio in West Wales and then transported to Kilbride for the event. Below you will see a diagram illustrating the lost wax method.
Once the ceramic shell has been fired, it is ready for casting and the mobile foundry got on its way from deepest West Wales. All we had to do was load the van and we’s be on our way!
Saturday 28th August - Pouring Day
To mark the occasion of the bell pour, the original bell was piped down the old Drove Road starting from the Barn Bar and ending up at Kilbride. The bell was then placed in a stand next to the pouring site. The weather, and the piper, were amazing!
The furnace was turned on when the bell reached Kilbride and it was about an hour and half until the metal was ready for pouring. In the meantime, the head of Clan MacDougall said a few words to mark the occasion as well as the trustees of Kilbride and Irene Gunston explained the process of bronze casting to the viewing public. After this people were invited to view the historic ruins and extensive restoration work that has already been completed. The original bell was to be rung as an indication of when the metal was ready to pour and people should come back to watch it.
With everyone gathered back round (at a safe distance), the crucible holding the bronze was lifted out the furnace and the molten metal was poured into the mould.
The metal was then left to cool slowly and, about an hour after the pour had completed, the shell was quenched and the bronze within inspected. Holding our breath, we chipped away the ceramic to see if the cast had worked.
Which it did! The bronze had caught the detailing of the engraving and the textures of the original bell very well. It will now be taken back to Irene’s workshop in West Wales to be finished and made so it can be rung.