Collection AR856 - Records relating to Gillett and Johnston and the Berlin Freedom Bell

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Records relating to Gillett and Johnston and the Berlin Freedom Bell


  • c.1950 - 2000 (Creation)

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Extent and medium

5 items

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Name of creator

(1884 - 1957)

Administrative history

Gillett and Johnston (clockmakers and bellfounders) traced their origins to the clockmaking business of William Gillett in Hadlow, Kent. In 1837, Gillett moved his business to Clerkenwell, London; and in 1844 to the site in Whitehorse Road, Thornton Heath, which it was to occupy until 1957. In 1854, Gillett was joined in the business by Charles Bland (d 1886), the firm subsequently being known as Gillett Bland. By 1875, the firm was advertising cathedral and church clocks etc., and patent carillon or chiming machines.

In 1877, Arthur A. Johnston (?1851-1916) bought a partnership: the firm became known as Gillett Bland Co., and then, from 1884, as Gillett and Johnston. Johnston extended the firms business into bellfounding. His son, Cyril Frederick Johnston (1884-1950), joined the business about 1903, and took it over after his fathers death in 1916. He greatly expanded the bellfounding side of the business, being responsible for the installation of a large vertical tuning lathe and the redevelopment of the site in 1905. The firm became a limited liability company in 1925 as the Croydon Bell Foundry Ltd, reverting to the name Gillett and Johnston Ltd in 1930.

In the 1920s and early 1930s it was at its peak: its prestigious contracts included carillons for the Metropolitan Church, Toronto (1921); the Peace Tower, Houses of Parliament, Ottawa (1926); Riverside Church, New York (1928); Louvain University Library (1928); Chicago University Chapel (1930); Wellington War Memorial, New Zealand (1929); and Bourneville (1934); clocks for Selfridges, London (1931); and the Shell-Mex building, London (1932); and the recasting of Bow Bells (1933).

Subsequently (and especially following World War 2) the company diversified into other engineering interests, and new division companies were established: Microcastings Ltd (specialising in precision industrial castings) and Bourdon Tools Ltd (specialising in precision toolmaking). Cyril Johnston retired in 1948 (after some disagreement over company policy), and died in 1950.

In the 1950s, the firm began to run into financial difficulties, and in 1957 the works were closed down. The business was sold to the Bath Portland Group, partly for the sake of the office clock side of the business (the Group already owned the Synchronome company, a rival firm), and partly for asset stripping. The turret clock side was sold on to Cyril Coombes, who had worked for the old company. He carried on business first in Wembley as Gillett and Johnston (Clocks) Ltd. In 1963, the business moved back to Croydon as Gillett and Johnston (Croydon) Ltd. This business was based from 1963 to 1970 in Clarendon Road, and from 1970 onwards in Sanderstead Road. The old companys non-clockmaking activities (including its bellfounding interests, although bellfounding was never again undertaken) were purchased by Cope Allman Ltd, and moved to Portsmouth as Gillett and Johnston Ltd. This firm was subsequently absorbed into Cope Allman Plastics Ltd, a subsidiary of Cope Allman International Ltd.

Archival history

William Bennett (d.1992) was the father of the donor. He worked as a rigger for GJ and had formerly been a merchant seaman

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Scope and content

Photograph with negative of Gillett and Johnston staff, including William Bennett (2nd right) with Berlin Freedom Bell prior to installation in Berlin.
Other photographs of William Bennett installing GJ bells.
GJ brochure.
Limited edition GJ bell made for Coronation in 1953.
Photocopies of correspondence between Barry Bennett and the authorities in Berlin for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the installation of the Freedom Bell in 2000.
CD of Freedom Bell (to be transferred to Local Studies Library) at Rathause Town Hall in Schoenberg, Berlin.

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