The Town Bell is displayed in the foyer. This was captured from the French frigate La Necessite during the Napoleonic Wars by HMS Horatio and presented to Alyth in 1810 by its Purser, John Warden, a native of the town. It was hung in the bell-tower and was regularly rung until the Millennium celebrations of 2000, after which it was discovered to be damaged.
Here is the article about the bell in the Alyth Voice of Winter 2006:
It was a winter morning in the Atlantic, February 21, 1810, about 650 miles northwest of the Canary Islands, when HMS Horatio, bearing 38 cannon and commanded by Captain George Scott, spotted a prize in the form of the French frigate Necessite’.
Consulting the Naval History of Great Briton, by William James, we learn the stores ship carried 138 men; but only 26 guns, less than the 40 she was built for. Under the command of Lt. Bernard Bonnie, Necessite’ was on a supply mission from Brest to Mauritius, or Ile de France as the French called it during their possession of that island. Their possession was to end shortly, after the defeat of the French at Cap Malheureux.
Captain Scott had Horatio fall in behind their prey for the chase. Once within range, shots were fired, Horatio suffered some minor damage, but after about an hour of this running gun battle Necessite’ surrendered. No lives were lost on either side.
As mentioned in the July 2006 issue of the Alyth Voice, in the National Archives of Scotland is contained a ‘Letter from John Warden of H.M.S. Horatio to James McNicoll sending a bell captured by the said ship from the French frigate la Necessite for the use of the inhabitants of Alyth; with draft reply.’
The letter received from John Warden is a single page and so faded as to be virtually unreadable. It announces the arrival of the bell in Alyth and the gifting of it to the town and its inhabitants as follows:
Alyth 11 June 1810
The Bell of the French frigate La Necessite’ captured by His Majesty’s Ship the Horatio has arrived here. Through you I present the same to the inhabitants of the town of Alyth, trusting they will find it a useful article.
With respect, I am Sir, Your most obedient servant, Warden
James McNicoll immediately drafted a reply:
I am immeasurably favored with your letter of this date advising of the arrival in Alyth of the Bell of the French frigate La Necessite’ captured by His Majesty’s Ship Horatio, and through me presenting said bell to the inhabitants of the town of Alyth .I shall take an early opportunity of communicating to the inhabitants this particular instance of your attachment to them, and I flatter myself they will be proud to accept it and in a proper situation to erect the piece not only as showing their gratitude & respect to you, but as celebrating in their town a tro- phy of the superior valour of [B__?] Seamen over the Enemy of their country.
That you have the good fortune to be a sharer in an action which enables the inhabitants of your native town to display the bell of a French Ship, is truly gratifying and assuredly gives real pleasure to your friends and acquaintances con- nected with the town of Alyth and to none more than My dear Sir, your faithful humble servant.
The bell, as we know from previous articles in the voice, was that “of St. Tay, in the parish of Poullan, not far from Brest”, where, in fact, Lt. Bernard Bonnie was sailing from on his ill-fated supply mission. So we have a bit more history of how the famous Alyth bell came into proud possession of the town.
History, always confounds our discoveries with new mysteries. La Necessite’ was captured in February. John Warden was in Alyth in June to announce its arrival. What happened in the interim? Other traditions about the bell say that it was gifted by William Warden, the ship’s surgeon on HMS Northumberland, who became acquainted with Napoleon during that emperor’s exile and wrote a book of the experience and his impressions. One version places the gift of the bell as late as in the 1820s.
We see less conflict in the stories if we note that William and John were brothers. John was born in 1782 and William in 1777 to Adam Warden, owner of the Bamff Arms in Alyth. Being brothers and both serving in the Navy during the war with Napoleon, we can imagine that someone retelling a handed-down story might confuse which brother donated the bell. Or it is even possible that both brothers were involved in its delivery or subsequent official presentation. John Warden, however, is believed to have been the purser onboard Horatio when the capture occurred. And clearly from the letters he makes the initial gift.
How did I come to delve into this fabled bell? Another sad case of addiction to genealogy. Innkeeper Adam Warden was the son of Janet Mitchell and Hugh Warden, brother of my 6th great grandfather James Warden, an Alyth schoolmaster. Brothers Hugh and James were the sons of Jean Jervay and Adam Warden, who had been a minister in Larbert and preceded his son James as schoolmaster in Alyth. There is more to tell about this family, but that can be done at a later time.
Wythe Sims, Orlando, Florida