Sorocold's close links with the town of Derby and with All Saint's Church (now Derby Cathedral), where he married Mary Francis in 1685, are reflected in the first of his professional projects for which some information has come down to us. He was commissioned to re-hang the church bells in 1687.
The present Cathedral of All Saints (or Derby Cathedral) largely dates from 1725, when it was rebuilt. However, the tower and its bells are older and would be familiar to Sorocold as part of All Saint's Church. Indeed, according to the Derby Diocesan Association of Church Bellringers, the tower holds the oldest ring of ten bells in the world — though it's more likely that it is the oldest such ring in Britain. Most have been in place since 1678, when their number was increased from six to ten. The largest weighs 965kg, is over 500 years old and is thought to have come from nearby Darley Abbey.
Exactly how Sorocold came to win the commission is unknown, although during 1685 he had been elected a member of the Ancient Society of Collegiate Youths (ASCY), a bell ringing society that is still in existence today. He was member number 185. On the wall in the vestry of Derby Cathedral is a polished brass plaque commemorating early works on the bells. John Baxter is named as the person who carried out the works directed by Sorocold.
The plaque reads, "Anno Dni 1677. These tower bells were bought by the endeavors of Francis Thacker of Southwood, Esq., and hung above the rest ... Anno Domini 1687. John Baxter of Laxton in Northamptonshire Bell hanger built this frame and hung the bells new. The same being undertaken By George Sorocold of Derby, gentleman John Bowler, Joseph Heywood, Church wardens".
The works are also recorded in All Saint's Book of Orders. The entry for 28th July 1687 states that, "the bell work, frames and wheeles' are decayed and out of repair and that 'Mr Sorrocolde is to bee ymployed for £15-00 for their repair".
In William Wooley's History of Derbyshire, which dates from 1712, the bells of All Saint's are described thus, "There is in it a ring of ten as fine and tunable bells, as most in England and much repaired to for ringing and a clock with very good chimes, which the before mentioned Mr. Sorocold improved and has hung the bells to be much more easy both for ringers and the steeple. He has also set the chimes to five tunes".
Bell number two, at least, was re-cast and carries the inscription "God save His Church 1687, F Thacker, G Saracold", illustrating yet another inconsistency in the spelling of his name.
Sorocold's link with the bells must have continued, as he became the ASCY 'steward' for Derby in 1696. In their Sorocold and Baxter set-up, the bells would continue to be rung regularly until 1926 when it became necessary to rebuild the frame because of an attack by death watch beetles.
Although it's unclear whether Sorocold's mechanical expertise with church bells provided him with a significant source of ongoing work, he is mentioned in the records of St Mary's Church in Wirksworth, north-west of Derby. The Church Warden's Accounts record that a sum of two pounds three shillings was paid to "Mr Sorowcold for his paines and care about ye bells" in the year 1702.
main reference BDCE1
image courtesy William Salt Library, Stafford