AT this time it's nice to remember a new story with a happy ending.

And this one, with a happy conclusion as recent as 1998, harks back to latter half of the 19th century, when tools and machinery were being churned out at Fordington's foundry.

This foundry, described as a 'place of great character' in Dorchester befell the misfortune of its iconic bell going missing.

And it wasn't until 1998, when the mystery of the county town's missing foundry bell was solved.

Local residents John and Sylvia Herring pondered the whereabouts of the bell in an edition of the town's Parish Magazine.

Mr Herring, a partner in Frank Herring and Sons' art and craft shop, said: "I used to go to the foundry as a schoolboy for various bits and pieces. It was a place of great character and the workers used to let me in with my paintbox and easel. I wrote the piece about my memories and my wife mentioned the foundry bell, so I added a question at the end asking if anybody knew what had happened to it."

The couple were then flooded with letters and telephone calls telling them where to look.

It turned out that the bell, last heard ringing in Fordington could be located a few miles away. It was hanging above the premises of Melstock AG Ltd, an agricultural engineering company in Puddletown.

Of the revelation, Mr Herring said: "It is quite nice to find out that the bell is still around as it is an interesting part of Dorchester's history and something which people may like to know about."

Tony Birchenough, managing director of Melstock AG Ltd, had saved the bell from the grasp of looters after he bought the foundry.

Mr Birchenough said: "Bits and pieces were beginning to disappear. A plough went missing and tiles were being taken from the roof. So I gave some equipment to the Dorset County Museum and asked one of my men to take the bell down."

He added: "It sat around for a while then came with us to our current premises when I started Melstock AG Ltd in 1990. We are very pleased that it has survived and is with us here today."

The foundry in Fordington passed through many hands over the decades. It is thought that Mr John Gaplin, born in 1813, was the original owner, who in the early 1860s had hired more than 40 employees to work at the factory, including four apprentices.

Mr Gaplin went on to become Mayor of Dorchester in 1861/62, but by the 1870s appeared to have sold his interest in the business.

From 1875 to 1890, the foundry belonged to Crocker & Co, before it was taken over by Foster Lott & Company in 1891. The latter was headed up by John Green Lott, an agricultural engineer who lived in the town with his wife and four children.

By 1901, John James Walne, a mechanical engineer, had appeared on the scene, and the foundry began trading as Lott & Walne Ltd.

The Lotte and Walne foundry in Fordington closed down in the 1980s after many years spent forging farm tools, machinery and industrial equipment. The Grade II listed building, which has a crane at the far end, dates from the early 19th century and workers there also produced much of the ironwork, such as drain covers, in Dorchester - some of which still bear the company's name.

Lotte & Walne also made water pumps for surrounding villages.

In 2001, plans were put forward by developers Coranhall Ltd for five houses on the site of the former foundry and Noah's Ark pub, which closed its doors in the 1970s and had remained derelict ever since.

The company, which said the buildings had fallen into disrepair and made the area look "shabby", claimed their plan would preserve the historic buildings and create much-needed homes in the heart of the town.

Although the scheme was initially rejected by councillors - who argued that there were no parking spaces - the foundry building went on to be converted into flats.