Bell from warship that took part in raid on Hartlepool during WW1 expected to fetch thousands at auction

The bell from SMS Grosser Kurfurst
The bell from SMS Grosser Kurfurst

THE bell of a warship that was among a fleet of six that raided the town during the Bombardment of Hartlepool is expected to fetch thousands at auction.

The bell of the German Konig class battleship SMS Grosser Kurfurst is anticipated to sell for at least £5,000 when it goes under the hammer in Southampton in March.

Astonishingly the piece has been sitting in a garden in Bristol for more than 70 years, where a family had used it as a decoration.

The grandfather of the family had bought it along with other nautical memorabilia from a scrapyard in the late 1930s, shortly after the ship had been sent for dismantling.

Grosser Kurfurst was among half a dozen battleships to descend on Hartlepool during the Bombardment on December 16, 1914, which saw 118 town fatalities and many more injured by shelling.

It was also involved in raids in Scarborough and Whitby around the same time.

Auctioneer Stephen Booth, of Atlantic Crossing maritime auctioneers, which is responsible for the sale, said he knew the bell was special as soon as he and a colleague unearthed it from a bush in the family’s garden.

He said: “These bells are very hard to find. I know of one other in a church in Scotland.

“As soon as I saw the name on the side of the bell, I knew it was special.”

During the conflict, the ship was also involved in The Battle of Jutland, fought in 1916 between the Royal Navy and the Germany Navy in waters at Jutland, Denmark.

Although she was untouched during the Bombardment of Hartlepool, she was hit eight or nine times at Jutland.

At the end of the First World War, in 1918, the German fleet surrendered and sailed to Scapa Flow in the Outer Hebrides.

Then on January 21, 1919, an order was given to scuttle and sink the ships.

Most were successfully sunk, but Grosser Kurfurst remained submerged until April 29, 1938.

She was towed to Rosyth, in Fife, and was scrapped there and that is where the Bristol man, a wine merchant, bought the ship’s bell.

The 22in-high bell has been in the family ever since.

Mr Booth went along to look at some other maritime memorabilia belonging to the family and spotted the bell.

He added: “I’m extremely confident it’s going to sell for at least £5,000.”

Mr Booth added that a lot of interest has already been shown in the bell from naval enthusiasts, museums and from Germany and that with the anniversary of the start of The First World War, on July 28, 1914, and that of the Bombardment of Hartlepool approaching, this had added to its appeal.

The auction will be held at the Avenue St Andrew’s United Reformed Church Hall, in Southampton, at 2pm on March 22.