In 1982 Derek and Mary Williams bought several cardboard boxes of old handbells at an auction in Levin, NZ for NZ$800. There were several dozen bells, all in a poor state. The clapper leathers and leather handles were hardened and cracked beyond use or had disappeared altogether. Several clapper mechanisms were missing completely, others had springs missing and many were immovable. Some bells were cracked or of poor tone. All needed extensive renovation.
It is believed the bells came from the Marycrest Convent and Catholic Girls Boarding School located at Te Horo, between Waikanae and Otaki. The Convent and School was run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. The Convent was founded in 1946 and the School began about 1956. Marycrest closed in 1980. However, the bells appear to be from the firm of John Warner and Sons, which ceased manufacture in 1910, well before the opening of Marycrest. The bells may have originally been at the Sisters of the Good Shepherd establishment at Mount Magdala, Christchurch. Some inmates were transfered from Mount Magdala to Marycrest and the bells may have been similarly moved.
Steve McEwan, handbell foreman at the Whitechapel Foundry, noted that the bells had leather work and profiles typical of the Whitchapel Foundry around 1900. At this time Warners and Whitechapel co-operated and Whitechapel made bells that were marketed by Warners. It is likely therefore that the bells are actually from the Whitechapel Foundry.
Derek and Mary were part of a tune-ringing handbell group (The Atawhai Handbell Ringers) at that time and intended to use the bells to augment the group's bells. They were sent to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 1983 for evaluation and for a quote for the renovation work. As there were several duplicates, a few bells were sold to another Whitechapel client. For several reasons no work was done on the bells and they remained in storage at Whitechapel.
Derek and Mary had no contact with the Foundry until 2013. In that year, Derek, Gerald McIlhone and Peter Bill began change ringing on the Malmark bells. Because the Malmark bells have plastic handles and adjustable clappers, they are not entirely satisfactory for change ringing. Consequently Derek contacted Whitechapel with a view to having some of the Marycrest bells restored, via the following email:-
The following reply was received.
We were impressed that the Foundry had kept the bells stored for 30 years during which there had been no contact.
Derek and Mary arranged for 14 bells to be renovated for themselves (shown left): a diatonic 12 in 21D, with a flat 6th and a sharp treble (the sharp treble was a new casting). They also gave 8 bells to the Wellington Ringers for renovation to form a diatonic scale in 15C.
Subsequently Derek and Mary visited the Whitechapel foundry to inspect the remaining bells. They were assisted over three visits by Steve McEwan, who was a fount of knowledge. A further 6 bells were selected and given to the Wellington Ringers to extend their 8 to a diatonic 12 in C with a flat 6th and a sharp treble (shown above).
With two new bells added, four bells were suitable for a 6 in 13E (shown left), : these four were given to Gerald McIlhone. In 2014 Gerald added two new trebles to make an 8.
Finally, a very light 7 were identified that would make a pocket set. These were renovated in 2014 and a new tenor bell (C6) added to make an 8 (shown right).
Steve McEwan with The Pocket Set on the Whitechapel Stand at the 2014 Ringing Roadshow.
One larger bell was given to Alan Caldwell for use in a scale model of a tower bell. Note the stiffened handle, indicating the bell was used for tune ringing. The note is A#. The stitching on the strap is typical of that done by the Whitechapel Foundry around the turn of the 19th/20th century.
48 of the original 67 bells have been saved. The remainder, which were cracked or of poor tone, were sold for scrap.
Eight Malmark handbells (C5-C6 in the Malmark numbering system) and a carrying case were purchased through the Adelaide firm, Bagot Bellfoundries, which arrived in May 1984. This was considered cheaper and quicker than renovating a set of 8 handbells that had been given to the Old St Paul's ringers. In 1986 an order for a further 12 bells and a second carrying case was placed through the Bagot Bellfoundries. In 1987 the Annual General Meeting noted that "Discussion over purchase of additional handbells was deferred for 12 months as there had been little call for tune ringing.