John Law: Bell Maker and Inventor

This archival photo shows John Law’s cottage at 121 Clarence Street as it was during his lifetime. His brass foundry, smelter and chimney can be seen on the right hand side of the photograph. Photo: UWO Archives.

For $132,900, someone with a passion for history can purchase one of the treasures of SoHo’s past. That treasure is the aluminum-sided cottage at 121 Clarence Street, the long-time home of John Law.

Law, a pioneer plumber, gas fitter, brass and bell founder and inventor, operated one of SoHo’s more interesting businesses. His final foundry was located right behind his home, at the end of Hill Street beside the river. That factory eventually became the Canadian Smelting and Refining Works – operating at least into the 1950s.

The bell maker, who emigrated from Leeds, England, arrived in London in 1854 as a young man. His first foundry was at Richmond and Dundas Streets, but he eventually moved his business close to the family home. One of Mr. Law’s more notable achievements was casting the largest bell ever hung in Canada (up to 1890) – a 650-pound bell for London’s Covent Garden Market House. During his career, he manufactured a general line of bells for the hand, door, table and house, winning a diploma three times at Western Fair for his exhibit of bells. He also manufactured numbers for houses and repaired electric machines.

What made John Law’s career so outstanding, however, was the fact that he was also an

Law’s historic cottage at 121 Clarence Street survives today as a private residence. Photo: Alice Gibb.

inventor. One of his first inventions was Law’s Patent Oil and Spirit Can. He was also one of the first people to develop the use of tar and petroleum refuse to provide fuel for steam engine boilers. His tar burner was used in engines on the Toronto Narrow gauge railway. Hand-drawn designs for some of his inventions can be viewed at the J.J. Talman Regional Collection, Weldon Library, at the University of Western Ontario.

Another of his creations was a drinking fountain, erected in honor of one of his young employees. Henry Deiner, 17, drowned on July 1, 1869 while fishing at Hunt’s Dam with his brother. Law, who joined the party that searched for the young man’s body, was so saddened by the loss that he created a fountain in Deiner’s memory. It is believed the fountain was located near Blackfriar’s Bridge, but no photo of the design has survived.

John Law died in August 1914, aged 86, at his Clarence Street cottage. He was a member of the Wellington Street Methodist Church (now United Church) where his funeral was held. Mr. Law was survived by four daughters and a son. His business letterheads featured a sketch of his foundry on Hill Street and his business cards featured his face superimposed on a brass bell.