ALFRED WHITE (1804–1876)
Innkeeper and church bellhanger
The Greyhound, Besselsleigh
Alfred White was born at Appleton in 1804 to William White, blacksmith, and his wife Sarah. He took an early interest in bell-ringing when the three bells at St Laurence church were recast with a ring of six by Thomas Mears in 1818. Perceiving the need to provide sturdy oak frames for hanging church bells, he made his first frames in 1824, the foundation of an enduring business.
His principal occupation in 1841 was that of blacksmith and he was living in lower High Street, Cumnor, with his wife Sarah and children Henry and Frederick. Around 1850 he became innkeeper at The Greyhound, Besselsleigh, where he was also blacksmith, baker, shopkeeper, and church bell hanger. At Appleton in 1854 he added two bells to the ring and constructed a lantern on the tower to accommodate them. In 1861 a further two were added, a gift from the Revd F. E. Robinson, involving a further strengthening of the tower with an iron band. He brought his sons into the business now designated Alfred White and Sons. From early days work was undertaken at churches all over the country and at colleges and cathedrals. An advertisement (here edited) survives from 1867:
A. WHITE and Sons Bellhangers were made,
And with his Sons he will come down,
Alfred died in 1876 and is buried in Appleton churchyard, a distinctive iron ring with ten bells made by Frederick marking the grave. Frederick succeeded him, continuing to run the business and the inn until at least 1881 before moving the operation to neighbouring Appleton. Frederick installed massive new oak bell frames at Merton and Magdalen and also created church clock mechanisms. He was succeeded by his son Richard and Richard by his son Francis. Francis’s nephew Brian White became head of the firm in 1969.
Alfred’s legacy is remarkable. Whites of Appleton is the oldest continuously trading bellhanging firm in Britain; it has also remained a family business. Operating from the same Oxfordshire (Old Berkshire) location for almost 200 years, it undertakes projects all over Britain from Cornwall to Inverness and Cromer to Liverpool The record of the last few years includes Romsey Abbey, Wimborne Minster, St Paul’s and Windsor Castle (Curfew Tower). In Oxford they have worked on major restoration at Magdalen College and the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, and created the beautiful oak tower for the Repatriation Bell at Brize Norton.
- Sources: www.whitesbellhangers.co.uk; ‘Old News from Besselsleigh’ produced by Cumnor and District Local History Society; census records
- Photograph of Brian White unveiling the plaque
- Photograph of members of the White family at the unveiling ceremony
- Speech made by Brian White at the opening ceremony (PDF)
The plaque was unveiled at The Greyhound, Besselsleigh, on 26 July 2014 by Mr Brian White, great-great-grandson.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
Founder of the famous business
lived and worked here
Whites of Appleton Ltd