The bell illustrated is a medium sized hand bell. There is no maker’s name or model number to help with dating it. It appears to be made of brass and does not look modern. It is in working order for it has its clapper inside. This strikes the side of the bell to make the ringing sound. There is no indication of its purpose, but it has a fancy handle surmounted with a cross.

Was this a school bell? This is unlikely as, judging by the picture, school bells are larger and normally have strong wooden handles so that they can be rung vigorously and be long lasting. They have to be loud, so that the sound travels around the playground or corridors when lessons are about to begin. The Christian symbol of the cross could be linked to a church school, but an alternative use seems more likely.

Could this be a bell for home use? Large mansions summoned servants with bells, but not usually hand bells. In a modern home someone bedbound might choose to ask for assistance by ringing a bell, but this one is quite large for a small home. There are many daintier ones.

Is the bell essentially an ornament?  It could certainly appeal to a collector of brass items, but apart from the handle it is not particularly decorative. Did it have a more practical purpose?

Could it be an altar bell? This is a distinct possibility, though how many would leave the care of the Church? An altar bell or set of bells is rung at significant, holy moments during Catholic Mass or High Church of England Holy Communion. It does not require the vigorous shaking of a school bell and can therefore have a more delicate handle and one featuring a cross would be appropriate.

Key theme(s):


More information:

Date 1960s
Material(s) Brass
Item number MBPO123

Questions to help you remember using this item

  • What do you think was the purpose of this bell?
  • When and where have you rung a bell or bells?
  • Do you have an ornamental bell?
  • What memories do you have of hearing bells?

User Stories

My mother had a small brass bell as an ornament. It was shaped like a lady with a wide skirt. It was very similar to the one pictured below.

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