"Anvil Rings" - a story of Soundbeams, Bells and inadvertent Blacksmiths
(by David Jackson)

In March 2000, I was asked by The Anvil Basingstoke to work at Lord Mayor Treloar's School near Alton as part of their schools programme. That day, a van delivered 4 enormous boxes full of beautiful bells - a gift from an unknown benefactor. Bells have always been a personal passion and I have a varied collection of my own. Excited by the possibilities presented by the contents of those large boxes, I came up with a plan to write something for the Bells and my Tonewall Soundbeam Rig. The Bells would be played by a mainstream school in a collaborative project. I called the Bells "The Stockham 86". There were 86 and they were dated 1876 and made by G. Stockham. There are 6 octaves, the middle 4 octaves being paired, and were in amazing condition with a magical sound. Christine Bradwell, director of The Anvil, decided to commission the music, find another School and organise a grand Concert.

Feeling rather grateful, I decided to research anvils. The naming of The Anvil Theatre itself must have been something to do with the famous Wallace & Smith foundry once sited in this Basingstoke place. Whilst on the North York Moors, I got extremely excited about the Yorkshire tradition of "firing the stiddy". This custom involves setting explosives inside the hole in an anvil, standing well clear and igniting it with the red hot end of a 20 foot iron pole. This is done typically when the local squire has a first born! I thought this might well be an appropriate stunt for my first born Bell Concerto!

So I decided we must have an anvil! It turned out that The Anvil had one once, but lent it years ago - and now it was mislaid! As I had by now already scored for one, and borrowing was proving impossible, I set about buying my own. Whilst at The Maltings in Snape (Britten/Suffolk) on New Years Eve, the antiques dealer Caroline Yeomans said a man had just phoned saying he had just come back from Florida to sell his business - and it included an anvil. She told him they didn't deal in heavy stuff, so he rang off - without leaving a number. This was extremely frustrating and little hope was extended. Well, I disappeared into the enormous site seeking solace in the hat department. Some time later Caroline managed to track me down and said - he had rung back, was on the line - and did I want it - what unseen? - £50 - okay, done!

At 11 o'clock on 1/1/01 - I met my anvil. Caroline (disabled herself) had told the Florida man the story of the piece and that it was for disabled children to whack in the Concert - at a place called The Anvil. The retired Blacksmith, suitably inspired, decided to spend his New Years Eve making a stand for it so it could be easily and safely played. For me, it was love (and relief) at first sight. By the fortuitous chance I was beginning now to expect, the anvil when struck with the handy hammer, actually played an A440 - the note musicians tune to! (At the QEH , the piano tuner said it was in fact an E - with overtones of A440.)

With just a few weeks to go to the February Concert, we decided to invite our mysterious Bell benefactor to the concert. Judith Lazell, (Music at Treloars) told him all about the children involved from her School and Vyne Community School; about The Anvil in Basingstoke and my Suffolk anvil; about how we were all loving the project - all completely inspired by his spontaneous gift.

Well, Clifford Riley, of very senior, but unknown years, has just written back saying how disappointed he is as he is now so frail he cannot possibly manage the trip from near Huddersfield. He explained how the bells had been originally found in a "clapped out state" and were given into his care because of his special interest and special skills. He explained how he had spent 5 years of his retirement completely refurbishing the Bells - and used them extensively - and now could no longer manage them - and wanted them to go to a good home.

Clifford Riley finished his wonderful letter with the revelation that he, like his father before him, had spent 50 years of his working life as a Blacksmith!

We shall not be "firing the stiddy" after all - unless Clifford Riley can come and show us how! Maybe he will tell us how it is done when someone from the Treloar network visits his home and delivers his personal recording of this unique event - sometime in the New Year.
David Jackson 15/11/2001

Postscript (27/2/01)
My anvil at Basingstoke in "Anvil Rings" was played throughout by a charming disabled 'Scouser' boy called Matthew Gunning - chosen for both his strong arm, great timing and deadly accuracy! After the Concert, his grandmother came up to me to say she had come down especially from Liverpool and how truly proud she was. She also added, with a special poignancy, that her own father had been a Blacksmith all his working life - a fact she was about to reveal to Matthew for the first time.

Postscript (8/10/01)
Matthew Gunning left Treloar's School in the Summer and his post for the QEH anvil was chosen by audition from the Treloar Team. The new Blacksmith was the young David Smith. The name says it all.