On December 2017, a new work of art was unveiled in Peterborough City Centre at Lower Bridge Street, just a few hundred yards from the main shopping centre and Peterborough Cathedral. The Voice of the City’ is a depiction of a bell in the stages of being cast and is a monument and tribute to Henry Penn (1685-1729). Penn’s life was relatively short, just 44 years, but he cast bells for as many as 100 churches and houses. Most of these places are shown on the map in the bronze upright case which was drawn by local historian, bellringer and Henry Penn enthusiast Michael Lee.
The sculpture was created by artist Stephen Broadbent and is situated close to Penn’s foundry at Bridge Street where he cast over 250 bells. It was located near to where the Peterborough Magistrates' Court stands today. The underpass running between Lower Bridge Street and The Lido has been re-named Foundry Walk in his honour, and a canal called 'Bell Dyke' ran to the rear of the foundry joining the River Nene on which many of his bells were floated to their destinations.
In 1709 at the age of 24 he cast the first ring of 10 bells in Northamptonshire for Peterborough Cathedral. The largest of these 10 bells, weighing 30cwt, is now called 'The City Bell'. This is the ‘Voice of the City’ of the sculpture and strikes the hour on the Cathedral clock and is swung electronically before most services as a call bell. It is the only one of his bells remaining at the Cathedral, the other 9 having been sold at various times. The five lightest bells were sold in the 19th century, and four more when the current ring of bells was transferred to the Cathedral from St John the Divine, Leicester.
Penn was apprenticed to his uncle, bellfounder Henry Bagley at Ecton, Northamptonshire and came to Peterborough to establish his foundry. He and his wife Diana had eight children who were baptised in St John's Church, Peterborough, just behind the Market Square. The end of Henry Penn’s life was controversial; in 1723 he had cast a ring of 8 bells, tenor 18cwt, for St Ives, Huntingdonshire. The churchwardens did not pay him the full amount owed as they said the bells were not properly in tune. The subsequent court case was not resolved until 1729. The judge found in his favour as the church had been ringing the bells during that time. In the courtroom Penn's last words were said to be: 'I am sick to death. The whole thing will do me no good’, which proved correct, as he died while mounting his horse shortly after . These bells were subsequently destroyed when a plane crashed into St Ives spire in March 1918, but many Henry Penn bells still remain at various churches. He was known for his colourful bell inscriptions; the old 5th at St Ives said ‘ When backward rung we tell of fire, think how the world shall thus expire. This year Peterborough Cathedral is celebrating its 900th anniversary, so if you are visiting this wonderful building, do walk the few hundred yards and see the sculpture; it is well worth a visit.
The project was supported by The Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership & the City Council.