Pouring a Bell in Villedieu-les-Poeles

P1550529 755063 The town of Villedieu-les-Poeles has been famous as metalworking mecca for 900 years. It began because in this part of town, the land was not owned by the king, and thus not subject to taxes. So artisans like bellmakers and copper forges thrived.

The Fonderie de Cloches Cornille Havard is where teenagers begin apprenticeships and end up as seasoned bellmakers. Our timing was perfect–we arrived just before they would be doing their weekly casting.

Here we watched as molten bronze and tin is poured to form bells. Behind us a throng of French tourists moaned as Shoul and I got in their way, closer to the hot action, owing to our status as visiting American journalists.

We asked our guide Geraldine Lorin how the bell business is faring these days. “There are only three bell makers left in France,” she said, “and 30 across Europe. So that keeps us very busy.” What is the largest bell you’ve ever made?

“We are working on a bell for the church at Mulhouse, it will be six tons,” she said. We looked down at the 10-foot wide bell, encased in a mold of goathair, horse manure and mud. They would create another layer above this and then it would be used to hold the molten bronze, copper and tin alloy. “We don’t make the clangers,” Geraldine said, “Those are stainless steel and are make in a different factory.”

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