Wellington Combined Society of Bellringers

The Marycrest Handbells


In 1982 Derek and Mary Williams bought several cardboard boxes of old handbells at an auction in Levin, NZ for NZ$1000. 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.

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.

The bells were sent to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 1983 for evaluation and for a quote for the renovation work. 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:-

Dear Sir/Madam, In the early 1980s I left 67 Warner handbells with your company. Nine bells were sold to a third party and possibly a further two dozen were scrapped. There should be 30+ bells remaining and I wondered whether you still have them. The reference on the letter I have is MB/76/84. I do appreciate a long time has passed and they may have been lost. If you do have them I would try and arrange for them to be picked up. I still live in New Zealand, but my postal address has changed. I look forward to hearing from you in due course. Yours faithfully, Derek Williams

The following reply was received.

Dear Mr Williams Thank you for your email. After much searching we find we do have four boxes here containing old bells. The boxes are marked with the name Derek Williams and the bells are covered with newspapers dated 1983. We have not counted the bells or looked further at their condition as yet but it would certainly seem that these bells are yours and still with us. We look forward to hearing from you further as to how you wish to proceed now. kind regards Kathryn Hughes

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: a diatonic 12 in 21D, with a flat 6th and a sharp treble (the sharp treble was a new casting). This set is now in the possesion of Frank and Mary Sluter of Hamilton, New Zealand. These are shown on the right.

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. These are shown on the left.

Gerald's Bells. With two new bells added, four bells were suitable for a 6 in 13E (shown on the right) : these four bells 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.

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.

39 of the original 67 bells have been saved. The remainder, which were cracked or of poor tone, were sold for scrap.

The Malmark Handbells

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. The resulting set of 20 bells consists of two diatonic octaves (F4-F6) plus F#5 B5 C#6 and includes two additional bells F#6 and G6. 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."