The bell shown below was stored in a barn in Ipswich by the owner of a local company that contracted frequently with the town of Ipswich in the 1930’s and 40’s.The bell was cast by G. H. Holbrook Jr., located in East Medway, MA. The inscription reads, “GHH 1841.” The contractor died in the 1960’s and never told family members where the bell had originally been located. It is approximately 20″ diameter at the bottom, and is still attached to its yoke.
Major George Holbrook mentored under Paul Revere, and began casting bells on his own in Brookfield, MA in about 1779.. In 1816 he moved his bell foundry to East Medway, MA. Major Holbrook was succeeded in the business successively by his son Col George Handel Holbrook, grandson Edwin Lafayette Holbrook, Esq., and great-grandson Edwin Handel Holbrook. The design of the Holbrook bells is similar to those made by Paul Revere. The foundry closed in 1880. A comprehensive listing of Holbrook bells does not include this one!
On Feb. 29: 1699, a group of leading Ipswich citizens donated a sum of money “For encouragement to all well & publick spirited persons for procuring of a bigger Bell for ye good of ye Towne.” When we look at old photographs of Ipswich buildings, we soon realize that bells were mounted on buildings all over town. It must have been quite a cacophony when they all rang at the same time. The curfew bell was rung at nine o’clock every evening beginning in 1769, and the noon bell began to be rung in 1827.
But where was this bell located?
One possible location is the Old Town Hall, which once had a bell tower. It was built in 1833 by the Unitarians. Their congregation was short-lived, and the building was sold to the town of Ipswich in 1843. Old photographs indicate that the bell tower was removed sometime between 1900 and 1940. However, Harold Bowen wrote that the bell was then installed on the Greek Orthodox Church on Lafayette Ave.
Another possibility is the former Jail on Green Street, constructed in 1828. It was demolished in 1933 to build the Ipswich High School, which is now the current Town Hall.
The former fire station at Lords Square is still standing. It once had a bell tower in the front, and a hose drying tower in the rear.
There were also school buildings throughout town. This bell seems a bit large for the one-room structures, and old photos of the former Manning School on Central St., and the Payne School at Lords Square (still standing) do not show a bell tower.
In 1847 the First Congregational Church built its fine Gothic sanctuary, which was destroyed by fire in 1965. According to Thomas Franklin Waters, the bell from the previous building was sold to the Linebrook Church, and a new bell was mounted in the towering steeple, below the weathercock that tops the current structure. At the service of dedication, the pastor alluded to the generous gift of a the bell by John Heard Esq.
The Methodist Church also had a bell in its steeple,purchased at a cost of $300 in the 1830’s. I am told that it was the town’s curfew bell before the South Congregational Church bell was used. The current steeple is a fiberglass replica of the original, which was removed after it was damaged by a storm in 1973.
The South Congregational Church, which burned in 1977, had a much larger bell. That bell is mounted on a stone in a pocket park surrounded by the foundation of the church, next to the Ipswich Museum. In the book Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Thomas Franklin Waters wrote that “the bell from the old Town House was placed in the steeple. John Pinder, the sexton, was instructed to ring the bell at one o’clock as well as nine, and enjoined to sweep the meeting house once a month at least. Mr. Isaac Dodge and Col. Rogers were appointed a Committee to act in conjunction with the Trustees of the South Parish in agreeing with Mr. Pinder about ringing the bell for the year ensuing. In 1769, the Parish voted that the bell be rung daily at half an hour after twelve.” It was announced in March, 1838, that the new bell on the South meeting house would be rung during the Spring and Summer at half an hour before sunrise.