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The sound of bells ringing is the sound of celebration -
of momentous events.
It can be the sound of grief, and sorrow.
It's a sound we've heard so many times,
that we've almost stopped listening.
But it's a sound with a story,
and it's an extraordinary one.
For 1,500 years, bells have provided the soundtrack to our finest,
and our darkest hours.
The story of bells is the story of greed - a story of magic,
a story of invention.
It's a story of war.
It's a story of holy men and women, and some very unholy ones, too.
The lives of people and the sound of bells have been so intertwined
for so long, that the story of bells is the story of us.
# I'm getting married in the morning
# Ding-dong, the bells are gonna chime... #
In April 2011, Westminster Abbey played host to a Royal Wedding.
# But get me to the church on time... #
When William and Kate were married here, in this extraordinary,
vivid, grand, amazing space, you felt like all that was left
was the need to be filled with something equally grand,
vivid and extraordinary, although this time,
not a feast for the eyes, but a feast for the ears.
The bells sounded a timeless, historic and grand accompaniment.
As the couple left the building, this sound engulfed everybody.
It was almost physical.
You felt you could scoop handfuls of it out of the air.
There was no better expression of pure joy.
And you wondered - why?! What is it about bells?
Why do bells provide the soundtrack for our historic events?
How did they become so rooted in our culture, and entwined
with our national identity?
The story of our relationship with bells has coloured
more than a millennium of British history.
And it all began in the 5th century,
with the patron saint of Ireland.
There are many miracles associated with Patrick -
banishing snakes from Ireland, even raising people from the dead.
But he's also credited with introducing handbells
to these islands.
For Patrick, the bell was an essential part
of the missionary's toolkit,
and whenever he introduced one of his disciples
to a new missionary area, he'd give them a bell.
He even imported three blacksmiths
to help craft these heralds of God's word.
From the 6th century, Celtic missionaries crossed the Irish Sea
to Britain, to spread the Christian message.
They carried with them the tools of their trade.
Some sources say that when the Celtic missionaries
roamed the British mainland, they carried with them a bag,
in which were a copy of the Gospels, and a small bell,
just like the one St Patrick had used in Ireland.
They worked in tandem with the bell summoning the people
to hear the word of God.
It's just like a cowbell, really, a piece of metal bent around,
another piece over the top,
and then the whole thing riveted together
with a good space for your hand.
It would have operated a bit like the chimes of an ice-cream van -
when you heard this sound coming at you, across the hills,
or through the valleys, or along a coastal path,
you'd have known blessings, masses, maybe healings of the sick,
were on their way. The man of God was coming.
It was soon believed that these bells held special powers.
Sacred oaths were sworn upon them.
Bells which had belonged to holy men
were carried into battle as a sign of God's protection.
And most importantly, bells were believed to have the ability
to banish storms and terrify demons.
It wasn't long before these roaming missionaries and their bells
settled in permanent communities, such as here at Whitby,
where there's been an abbey since 657 AD.
These spectacular religious buildings were filled
with monks or nuns praying for the salvation of mankind,
and bells took on a vital role,
signalling the start of all their devotions.
At monasteries like this one at Whitby,
the bells would be sounded every three hours
to mark the passage of the prayers during the day.
It was the first sound the monks heard
when they woke up at 3am to begin their devotional duties.
The people around the monastery
could hear the sound of the bells too,
and so over time, it became a way of marking the passage of the day,
both for religious people and laity alike.
The Irish word for "bell" is "clog",
from which we get the English word "clock".
Our modern clocks linguistically derive
from those ancient Celtic bells.
The practical use of bells didn't diminish their magical qualities.
St Hilda was the first abbess of Whitby Abbey,
and she was one of the great strong women of the Anglo-Saxon era.
Kings would travel for miles to receive her advice,
and she was so revered that local legend has it that the seagulls
still dip their wings in her honour when they pass over the abbey.
So, when she died, it was a momentous event.
It happened in AD 680, and according to the Venerable Bede,
the bell that tolled her passing could be heard over 13 miles away.
A huge distance, even in the days before noise pollution.
What Bede was suggesting was the supernatural power of the bell
to be heard over such a great space.
By the 10th century, British bells were no longer made of iron,
but bronze, and they'd grown in size.
Towers were specially built to house them, and in those towers,
the bells were chimed by ropes attached to levers at their head.
These towers spread, not least because a Saxon freeman
could become a noble by building a chapel and a belltower on his 600 acres.
Bells were crafted by specially trained monks in foundries,
hence the term, "bell-founder".
And the most famous of them all was based here, at Canterbury.
Years before the Norman Conquest, in the late 10th century,
England underwent a kind of cultural renaissance, and the man
at the heart of it was the Archbishop here in Canterbury.
His name was Dunstan.
Dunstan was a diplomat, an illustrator, a silversmith,
and a bell-founder.
He's so important in English history that he's commemorated here,
right next to the Archbishop's high seat.
And he's important to bell-founders, too,
as he was named their patron saint.
Dunstan's influence can still be heard today.
From the 14th century on, many churches had clock bells
to chime out the hours of the day,
and when Canterbury hung a new one in 1762,
they named it Great Dunstan.
There's a legend about St Dunstan,
that when he was working in his foundry,
the Devil tried to sneak up behind him,
and Dunstan whipped around with a pair of red-hot tongs,
and grabbed the Devil by the nose, and wouldn't let him go
until the Devil ran shrieking out into the night.
Never mess with a man when he's making a bell!
None of Dunstan's bells remain.
They've all been melted down - recycled.
But we've a fairly good idea of what they looked like.
Probably, Dunstan's bells would have looked like that. All one thickness,
straight the way through, very tall, and...
HE RINGS BELL
Do we know whether Dunstan had an impact, a legacy on bells?
Certainly, he did. His influence carried on,
and not only were his successors casting bells, but they were casting
better sounding bells, bigger bells.
It was a case of "make me mightier yet."
So he's the father of the sound of England?
I think so. I think so. That's how I'd see Dunstan.
Canterbury soon had six bells,
the largest of which needed 32 men to ring it.
David believes this means that the bells were rung
in a rather unusual way.
On the continent, great bells were often rung by treading the plank.
Instead of a lever, you had a great wooden plank
and you could get ringers who would actually stand on the plank
and press down with their feet
while they held onto a rail and they would start the bell swinging.
You would have had 32 men, 16 on each side, all lined up,
pressing down on a plank and holding on the rail on the other side.
And their friends on the other side would release
-and they'd go down.
-They'd go down. Yes.
It would be something of a seesaw.
But if you're ringing all of them you'd have had 105 men
all pushing, pushing up and pushing down and ringing the bells that way.
There were lots of pubs around as well, always have been.
So you'd have a few drinks and go, come on lads.
I think you'd need them. I think you'd need them.
Some 200 years after Dunstan, Thomas a Becket became
Archbishop of Canterbury.
He had a stormy relationship with King Henry II
which broke down completely in 1170
when Becket excommunicated bishops loyal to the King.
Henry is said to have cried,
"Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?"
which spurred four of his knights to take action.
In December 1170, the four knights burst into Canterbury Cathedral
and hemmed Thomas a Becket here where they hacked him to the ground.
According to legend, the bells of Canterbury began to ring violently.
The terrified knights fled the building
when all at once the bells fell silent...
and refused to be rung again for another year.
There's actually some truth in the legend inasmuch as
following the murder of Becket, the whole Cathedral and the bells
had to be reconsecrated
and they may not have been able to be used until they were.
Becket's murder and the posthumous miracles
he is said to have performed, shown in these windows,
make Canterbury Britain's most visited pilgrimage site.
This is where the shrine of Thomas a Becket lay
and here is where the pilgrims would kneel before it.
You can still see the furrow in the stone,
worn down by all those knees.
Just like tourists today, the pilgrims wanted
mementos of their visit, which would often be small pewter badges.
Here at Canterbury, they would carry the image of Thomas a Becket
or the image of one of the Canterbury bells.
By the 11th and 12th centuries, alongside their religious uses,
bells were starting to take on secular functions.
Bells announced the big moments, like when the master's oven
was hot enough to bake the village bread.
From 1066 on, William the Conqueror used bells
to control his new kingdom.
Each evening, when the Norman bell rang, people had to cover the fires.
Or couvre feu, and get inside.
And that's the origin of our word curfew.
Before the Normans, most churches were owned and run by local lords.
But by the 13th century,
they had become the focal point for everyone in the community.
All Saints Leighton Buzzard
was built at the end of the 13th century.
Before the 13th century, there actually hadn't been that much
contact between ordinary men and women and the Church,
apart from baptisms and funerals.
There was a sort of division of labour.
The workers looked after the community's physical needs
while the Church looked after its spiritual needs
with the prayers of the devout monks.
But the fact that this parish building was erected
shows that from now on, the Church and its bells would take on
a far more central role.
A surge in individual spirituality
saw ordinary people praying for their own salvation.
And it was the chiming bell which summoned them to church.
Once there, other bells played a key role in the service.
Church bells in the Middle Ages were sacred objects.
So much so, that they underwent a ceremony not unlike baptism.
Not at the font but usually at the base of the belfry.
They were first washed in holy water in which salts had been dissolved
to exorcise the devil. They were anointed with oil.
The bells were put on a tripod and incense was lit underneath them
to fill their mouths with sweet-smelling smoke.
And finally, they were given a name, just like a person, before
they were winched up into the tower to watch over the village below.
Often, individual bells were named after individual saints.
And the idea was that each chime of the bell was a request
to that saint to pray for the village.
One of the most important bells in the church was the Sanctus bell.
Sanctus from "Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus",
Latin for "holy, holy, holy",
which was sounded in greeting at the moment
in the mass when the bread and the wine became the body
and blood of Christ and Christ physically entered the church.
And the bell told everyone, whether they were in the church
or in the fields, to fall silent, to kneel or bow their heads,
and at that moment, the entire community was bound together
by the sound of the Sanctus bell.
Fire ravaged this beautiful church in 1985, destroying ten bells.
But incredibly, the Sanctus bell survived.
And there she is. Golly, you're lovely.
Look at that.
The smooth, elegant shape.
You can immediately tell that it's a medieval bell
because it's more Twiggy than Mae West -
it's got this slender shape, rather than flaring out at the top.
It's absolutely lovely.
Now, I've got a special privilege which is that this bell
hasn't been lifted and hasn't been put in place where it can be rung
since the fire in the church 25 years ago.
And I'm going to ring the bell for the first time in 25 years.
So let's see how you sound.
That is the sound of the Middle Ages.
'Bells sounded at baptism and death, the key moments of medieval life.'
The death knell was particularly important
and it's still powerful today.
This is especially true in Royal Wootton Bassett,
where the repatriation of fallen soldiers
was marked by a tolling bell, rung by Roger Haydock.
The initial reaction is silence. Hush falls over the crowd.
The traffic is stopped.
There is a big hush and the sound carries.
More people hear it than they would normally,
with the background noise of everyday life.
I think the tolling bell has so much impact
because it's going through that silence
and reaching everybody.
And it seems to me that it adds a whole extra layer
to the solemnity of what happened here.
I think it does too.
I think the effect it had on the people of Wootton Bassett
or whoever's here on the high street
is probably very similar
to the effect it's had on people over the centuries.
That we've had the tolling of the bell as a,
as a mark of respect for the people who have passed away.
And there's something deep inside people
that is responding to the sound.
There must be something
in the human psyche to keep it going that long,
because it isn't just tradition, there is something people feel.
And maybe it is the sombreness of it that helps people remain silent.
'As John Donne wrote,
'"Never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
'"It tolls for thee."'
Whether accompanying someone's final journey,
starting their working day or providing chimes for city clocks,
every aspect, religious and secular,
of medieval life was governed by bells.
They regulated lives as much as the sun and the moon,
which meant plenty of work for bell makers.
Remarkably, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry
has been making bells for over 440 years.
It's the oldest manufacturing facility in Britain.
It looks more like a Dickensian shop front.
Inside, it's a different, magical world, little changed in centuries.
Workers here still craft bells in much the same way
as Dunstan did, back in the 10th century.
-Hello, I'm Richard.
-Hello, Richard. Hi there.
Andy, tell me. How do you make a bell?
Well, as you can see, we use these...
'Andy Smith is going to take me through the start of this
'ancient process, creating a bell mould
'using a device called a strickle.'
We use these moulding gauges, or strickles, as they're called.
-I've got one here.
-So this is the line of the inside of the bell.
And that's the line of the outside of the bell.
This is the space where the metal goes.
That is the shape of the bell
and that is the thickness it will be on this one.
It's quite thick up there and it becomes thinner
and it becomes thicker down the bottom again.
So that's the thickness of the bell.
And what are you using to make the, to make the mould?
Ah, we're using loam.
We used sand, we use clay, we use horse manure.
-Yes. And we use goat's hair.
-Goat's hair and horse manure.
-That's an old tried and tested...
On all bells? That's what they use?
-Yes, we use this to make the loam.
So this is goat's hair. It's quite fine.
It's quite nice, actually.
Yes, it is. And last but not least, manure.
I don't think you want to put your hand in that. There we go.
-It's pretty dry, actually.
-You're very brave for touching that.
There we go. And we mix all this together.
Then we put it in our milling machine
and it mills it up to a fine paste and then it's ready for moulding.
-And what does the end product look like?
-I'll show you.
This is the product.
Quite dirty and it's very sticky, because you can...
-Yes. So that is good for...
-Can I have a go?
-You can, yeah.
Oh well, there you go. That's why I'm not a bell founder.
'The mould formed by the outside of the strickle
'is baked hard inside these metal cases
'and then the inner mould, also baked, is placed inside.
'The two moulds are clamped tightly together
'and the bell metal is poured into the space between.
'The bell metal is made up of 77% copper and 23% tin,
'more or less the same ratio that it's been for 1,000 years.
'The metals melt at an incredible 1,170 degrees Celsius,
'nearly the temperature of lava.'
This is intense.
The concentration of the men doing the foundering is absolute.
It's dangerous, molten metal pouring into these moulds.
How they did this in the Middle Ages, God only knows.
'It will take three days for this golden liquid to cool and solidify,
'and then the cases will the opened to release their newborn bells.'
In the Middle Ages, bells weren't made in city foundries like this.
Itinerant bell makers travelled the country,
set up their furnaces and cast the bell on the spot in the churchyard.
It was a huge local event.
People would throw in their copper and tin to make the village bell,
which led to a really neat con.
When a bell makes a nice sound, it is said to be silvery.
And so the bell makers would tell the lady of the manor
that they needed silver to put in the mix.
Total moonshine! Silver doesn't help the sound.
The silver would go in the back pocket and tin would go in the mix.
In the early 16th century,
bell founders travelled the country,
crafting bells to chime out the daily hours,
summon people to civic events or mass and call monks to prayer.
They built their furnaces at the base of the bell tower,
or just beside the church,
and then cast and cooled the bells in pits.'
When Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509,
England boasted thousands of churches
and probably more than 500 religious houses,
of which this one, Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire,
is a spectacular example.
Most of the churches and religious houses
would have regularly rung their own bells,
and so wherever you went in the country,
you'd have heard the sound of their music.
Fountains really is amazing.
They have these great columns here,
still standing, and those arches, from hundreds of years ago.
And it's spaces within spaces within spaces.
You feel like you can hear the sound of the monks
and the chiming of the bells.
CHANTING AND CHIMING
It's like God's doorway.
The bell tower at Fountains is one of the last parts of the Abbey to be completed.
It is magnificent.
It pushes 167 ft into the air.
And it's striking that as a landmark for the Abbey
and of all the means at their disposal for worshipping God,
the monks chose to give greatest prominence to their bells.
'The tower housed 10 bells, hung high in the belfry.
'Time has destroyed the evidence,
'but experts believe
'that they were still being rung by the traditional lever and rope.
'By now, bells was synonymous, internationally, with Christianity,
'and England, the home of bells and monks,
'seemed a devoutly Catholic land.
'But change was afoot.
'King Henry VIII wanted a male heir
'and fell for a younger woman in Anne Boleyn.
'So, against the wishes of the Catholic Church,
'he got rid of his first wife and married Boleyn.
'The Pope wasn't best pleased
'so Henry declared himself head of the Church in England.'
MUSIC: "Personal Jesus" by Johnny Cash
In 1534, when Henry became head of the Church,
the royal finances were in a sorry state.
In the wealthy monasteries and abbeys,
the King saw a chance to get his hands on some money.
So he dissolved all the religious houses in the country
and appropriated their property to himself.
A good day for the royal coffers,
not so good for hundreds of monastic bells.
'The nation's great monasteries were stripped bare,
'the monks' prayers and their bells, silenced.
'Archaeologist Mark Newman
'is an expert on how the dissolution affected Fountains Abbey.'
When you heard the sound of the bells outside the monastery,
you would know that the monks were also praying for you,
your soul and your salvation,
and suddenly you don't hear the sound of the bells any more.
Yes, that's really shocking.
The idea that Henry's prayers will suffice
in place of all of these monasteries was, you know, quite a leap of faith,
literally, for contemporary communities to grapple with.
So your soul was meant to simply be protected
by the prayers of the King?
I'm afraid so.
Here you have these wonderful institutions,
factories for prayer, doing their very best for you and the world
and they are substituted by the King saying his prayers
as head of the Church of England.
-A pretty poor substitute, I'd have thought.
-Not the best.
Henry VIII praying for my soul would not be something
I'd feel a great deal of comfort in!
-Not a great substitute for 100 monks or so.
-Yes. Quite, quite.
'In 1540, Henry sold Fountains to a wealthy noble,
'Sir Richard Gresham.'
So what happened to Fountain's bells?
Well, they are part of the assets that Gresham buys,
along with the rest of the monastery, of course.
We know that a number of them seem to end up in parish church towers
and the tower at Ripon Minster.
And the logic of it is he's either selling or giving bells locally
to make them part of the religious life of the local communities.
So the churches were getting some advantage
from the dissolution by taking on a lot of their bells?
People didn't like what the dissolution brought,
the change to the new religion.
Whereas if their parish church benefits
from receiving one of the bells,
maybe there's some small compensation for the other changes taking place.
So the bells actually could have smoothed the way
for Henry taking over the English Church?
There's certainly that aspect of bribery
that you've had some direct gain.
And also a feeling of involvement
in the processes of change that had been sweeping the country.
'The dissolution may have destroyed the monasteries,
'but it opened up a new future for bells.
'Indeed, it was the first step towards modern bell ringing.'
Local churches ended up with more bells in their towers,
which meant more young men had a chance to ring them
on the new-style half wheels.
Because it took a lot of muscle to swing the heavy bell,
there was no shortage of volunteers wanting this opportunity
to display their strength...
and no shortage of people outside
to appreciate the man who rang the loudest.
I have come to St Magnus' church in London to meet ringing expert
Dickon Love and find out what it was like to ring bells
in the 16th century.
How hard could it be?
OK. Do you actually want to see what it might have felt like? There we go.
I have never actually done this before. This is my very first time.
Really? Well, first time for everything.
Hold your hand on that, I've coiled it for you.
Just start giving it a pull.
It's...ooh, hold on!
I'm sure I've heard this before...
This thing is whipping around like a...
-That's good! You see, the bell is...
-You're just being nice!
But the bell is, kind of, ringing itself in a way.
-It's deciding when it's going to ring.
-It is, isn't it?
And that's exactly how it would have happened in the 16th century.
'So in the 16th century,
'if my efforts are anything to go by,
'bells were impossible to control.
'But by the mid 17th-century,
'that had changed
'and it's all down to the clever use of a rope and wheel.'
So tell me how this does work.
Well, let's use this model of a bell as it is hung these days.
You'll see, in particular, it has a round wheel,
and a rope that comes out to one side of it.
And when a bell is rung,
it starts by swinging higher and higher,
with the clapper hitting both sides,
until such point that if you really start pulling higher and higher,
actually get to that up position
and that's known as a bell being up. And you see it stops,
it is held there.
The reason it's held there, if I just turn it round,
you will see that there's a piece of wood
that sticks out at the top of the headstock,
which engages with the horizontal piece of wood
and it engages on one side to allow
the ringer to then turn it,
round to the other side.
-And it stops.
-They can hold there for as long as they want?
Yes. And that is the control that enables change ringing.
-And you don't need to be so beefy and brawny to do it?
-It's a question of balance.
-But that's beautiful.
It's, balance and control,
which is a bit more than the olden days,
when it was just brawn and brawn.
So this meant that
if you've got 12 bells, as you do here,
one of the 12 can stop.
You've got an order of 12, someone can stop
and move their chime
to a different place in the order.
Yes, that's exactly what they do.
They don't move by much,
they'll only move the distance of one bell away,
so you won't find somebody ringing at one point
and then ringing five bells later.
They will always only move by one point.
It's a slow, subtle, way of ringing.
Bells ring naturally from lightest to heaviest.
The wheel let ringers control the bell's pace
and change the order in which they rang.
This skill became known as change ringing.
The first change ringing rules were published in 1668
and they're still followed today.
Ringers can change position by one place in each sequence,
achieved by balancing their bell.
Each change must create an unique new arrangement,
so you can't have 1,2,3,4, twice.
This transforms the ringing into mathematical permutations.
On six bells,
there are a maximum of 720 permutations,
which would take about half an hour,
but on eight, you're looking at about 22 hours
to get through the 40,000 or so changes,
and on 12,
try 30 years!
Most bellringers can't spare 30 years,
so they strive to master shorter patterns, called methods,
and although the bells still sound for church services,
from the start,
change ringing was considered a sport.
Change ringing is a complex team effort.
It's not just yanking on a rope to make the biggest racket
you can, you're following a pattern, using your physical
and mental agility to ring your bell at precisely the right moment,
so that it flows through with your crew.
The mathematics of change ringing
might, on its face, seem to rob it of some of its joy,
but it's really no different to a sport like rowing.
It's the precision of the stroke that makes the difference between
a bad boat and a good boat, and between a bad peal and a good peal.
Since each bell has its own complex set of internal notes,
like a chord, the shifting of those chords
constantly engages the ear,
as well as the mind.
The 17th century craze for ringing
spread across England's major cities,
although not those of Scotland, Ireland, or Wales.
Indeed, around 95% of today's bellringers
are still based in England.
With its high number of churches, London was at the heart
of this new ringing mania,
with one important group pushing it forward.
The gentry started ringing bells too.
They regarded it as a sport, on a par with hunting or hawking,
and with all classes of society now ringing,
London was alive to the sound of the bells.
London's 17th and 18th century ringers
guilded themselves into sporting societies,
practising their strenuous exercise in churches.
The earliest one is the Ancient Society of College Youths,
which formed in 1637 and still meets today.
Originally, you had to be a well-placed gentleman to join.
Now, you just need to be an expert in the art of the bell ringing.
It was the Ancient Society of Youths, these people here,
way back when, who turned bellringing away from being
a purely religious activity.
It became something social, it became the exercise.
And the team that plays together, stays together.
For centuries, after they had rung the rounds,
ringers have headed to the pub and bought them!
Sweaty ringers and beer could be a hairy combination
in the 18th and 19th centuries.
People turning up drunk was a real problem?
In the 18th century,
when ringers were a law unto themselves,
they'd have barrels of beer or cider in the tower to drink,
they were just locked the door behind them, get up there
and drink, and the vicar would have very little to do with it.
Where would they go to the loo?
I dread to think!
Oh...God, yes! So do I!
That's why you've a sign saying,
-"No urination on the church bell"!
-I expect so.
The bellringers would be going out the...
Oh dear! They're kind of...hooligans!
There are stories of vicars being locked out of their own towers
by the ringers, so they could ring to their heart's content.
-They'd lock out the vicar?
We've got the opposite as well, where vicars would lock the ringers out.
There's a story in Leicestershire, where a church warden
barricaded the door to stop the ringers getting in,
because they want to ring for a local hunt meeting.
The ringers broke the door down and rang anyway,
were arrested and thrown in jail.
They wouldn't pay the fine, so they stayed in jail for a month.
A month, until the vicar came and paid the fine
to get them all out.
I should think so, too!
-He must have been embarrassed by that!
-I expect so.
I suppose by that point he wanted his bells rung again!
Ringers versus clergy! The face-off!
The church belfry was increasingly becoming
the place were ringers went to get their exercise.
That's where the belts were, so that's where they went,
like going to the gym to use the equipment.
There's no finer example of the separation of religion
from bellringing, than here in Kent
at Quex Park.
When John Powell-Powell
unexpectedly inherited a fortune in 1813,
he decided to enjoy himself.
He built the house he'd always dreamed of,
and he indulged his hobbies,
yachting, collecting cannon,
but most of all, it seems,
he loved bellringing.
And so he fulfilled every ringer's dream,
to build your own bell tower.
You can't ring alone,
and John Powell-Powell's purse bought the answer to that too.
He had his staff trained to ring alongside him.
This ready-made band practised their sport far from any church,
in this unique building,
which Powell-Powell named Waterloo Tower.
Now that's just silly.
It's like the Eiffel Tower
has been dropped on a mediaeval battlement made out of red brick
in the middle of the English countryside.
I also quite like the way
it looks a bit like the RKO tower on those old newsreels,
as if it's beaming out its sound to the countryside all around.
Really, it's bizarre.
'Hazel Basford is archivist at Quex Park,
'and a keen bellringer too.'
This is the tower that John Powell-Powell built.
-This is the Waterloo Tower.
-What's it like for you, ringing here?
It's always been magical.
It really is the most intriguing place to come and ring.
There is nowhere else in the country for ringers to come that's like this.
In winter, you walk across a field in the dark.
There might be cattle, so you have to dodge the cow pats.
And then when we arrive here,
there's no electricity, there's no heating,
so we ring by a light suspended from the middle,
from the ceiling in the middle of the ringing room.
And it's a bit chilly on occasions as well.
Hmm. And what does it feel like down here?
I've got very used to it.
Some people think it's haunted and a little bit spooky,
but I've never had that problem.
I've always felt that it's quite a friendly place,
and John Powell-Powell is around somewhere
and approving that we're still ringing his bells.
-Well, I think I like John Powell-Powell.
I'm glad you do. I like him too.
Look to, treble's going, she's gone.
From up here, all you can see is fields and trees.
There's no-one around to hear the bells ring,
but that's the point.
They're not here to be heard.
They're here for the pure pleasure of ringing.
By the mid-19th century,
churches had long lost their monopoly on bells.
Bells had become symbols of civic power,
from the chimes of city halls
to the ringing of town criers, so it was fitting
that the heart of government should house Britain's most famous bell,
Westminster has had a chiming clock since the 1300s,
and when the palace was rebuilt in the 19th century,
this new clock bell became a symbol of Parliament.
Big Ben weighs more than 13 and a half tonnes.
It's hard enough hauling myself up here.
It took teams of men 30 hours winching it up by hand
before it finally settled into the belfry.
Oh, that's so cool.
I'm behind the clock face of Big Ben. Amazing.
And it's just flooded with light. Look at all the light bulbs.
That's how they light it up. They're gigantic.
I feel like I want to turn all the light bulbs on
then start casting shapes down for people below.
The great bell of Westminster
rang out for the first time on 11th July 1859.
Things didn't go that smoothly for Big Ben.
After just a few months, the bell started to crack.
It fell silent and they had to ring the chimes out
from this larger of the four bells here.
It took a while for them to find the solution.
They turned the bell around, put in a smaller hammer
and they had to cut a small piece out of the bell
to stop the crack running any higher.
You can see the bit that they cut out just down there.
And that's why Big Ben doesn't ring true and clear.
It's slightly discordant, like hitting on a dustbin lid.
And it's slightly flat.
It takes five bells to ring the famous Westminster chimes,
although they were originally composed for a church in Cambridge.
BELLS CHIME THE HOUR
Big Ben's bongs sound out at a massive 118 decibels.
That's a loud as a jet plane taking off.
Or sticking your head in the speakers at a rock concert.
That's an incredible feeling.
You can feel the vibration in the pit of your stomach.
And it's such a thumping great piece of Victorian engineering.
You really see it here.
Just this big clump of metal that's thwacking the side of the bell.
I feel like I'm listening to every New Year's Eve party
that I've ever been to.
'The reason why these chimes are so well known worldwide
'lies upstairs from Big Ben.'
These are the slightly grubby microphones
that the BBC World Service uses to broadcast the sound of Big Ben
to the world, live, every day at midnight and six.
The first broadcast was in 1923
and they used to broadcast them more often than twice a day.
The story goes that a sound engineer one day
forgot that the microphones were on.
And what the world heard was language
not quite suitable for the World Service.
So, from that moment on, they trimmed it back.
By the end of Queen Victoria's reign,
England was alive with bells,
perhaps more than at any other time in her history.
Tower bells and hand bells rang out in pleasure across hill and dale.
They called people to work, schools and meetings.
And bells still called Christians to worship.
But World War I brought a more sombre sound...
the widespread tolling of the death knell.
Here in Loughborough,
the town erected a very special memorial to its dead.
Inside this tower is a grand musical instrument -
the Loughborough Carillon.
It's based on instruments from Flanders,
where so many of the town's 478 dead had fallen.
Carillons hold at least 23 tuned bronze bells,
making them the world's heaviest musical instrument.
Unlike church bells, the bells remain stationary.
Only the clappers move, and these are operated manually.
The Loughborough carillon is the result of a great
pulling together of the town to commemorate its fallen.
Most of the £19,000 that it cost was collected in pennies
in classrooms and factories, but the largest and saddest donation
was £2,000 from John Taylor, owner of the Loughborough bell foundry,
who dedicated the largest bell
to the memory of his three sons,
all of them fallen in battle.
-Hello, I'm Richard.
-Caroline, you're not quite what I was expecting!
It's funny you should say that. A lot of people say that.
In fact, people come up here
and don't expect to see a person here at all.
-They think that it's all automatic.
-Oh, fully mechanised.
-I can see that. Well, it clearly isn't.
How does it work? This is how you operate it - how's this working?
Right, these keys - or batons, as they're called -
you depress them with your clenched fist.
They come down, they pull the wire,
which is attached to the clapper in the bell in the bell chamber.
OK, so you're not turning the bell?
Nope, the bells are static.
-Right, clapper gets pulled - yank, bang.
-And there's how many of them 40...
I'm not a musician, but is there anything which a complete duffer...
-Chopsticks, for example.
Come and sit down.
All I need you to do is to make a fist...
..and press that.
-And press that one?
Right and let's do it quite slowly,
rhythmically...dah...dah...and just keep doing it.
BELLS CHIME: "The Skye Boat Song"
I just played the carillon!
You're a carillonneur!
A carillonneur! I don't think I'll take that title very easily.
Thank you, that was terrific.
The Loughborough carillon was
and still is a source of huge civic pride.
Its great height meant that in the days before amplification,
the music could be heard far and wide and as time passed,
it became a site for free concerts,
rather than a focus for grief.
BELLS CHIME "EASTENDERS" THEME
The peace lasted barely 20 years.
World War Two erupted in 1939
and by early June 1940,
most of mainland Europe was under Nazi control.
The German invasion of Britain seemed inevitable.
When you think of the early years of the Second World War,
you tend to think of frenzied activity, of planes flying
and bombs dropping and sirens wailing...
but what you don't tend to think about is silence.
But that's exactly what happened to Britain's bells.
On 13th June 1940, the Government issued
the Control of Noise Defence Order -
an immediate and total ban on the ringing of church bells.
Bells were to be rung on one occasion only -
in the event of a German invasion.
This silence was devastating.
As one newspaper reported, for the first time in over 1,000 years,
not a single church bell was heard anywhere in the land.
I was only 12 when bans were put in
and I did miss the sound of the bells.
Peter and Gill Staniforth remember the silence clearly.
The idea of the silence descending on a Sunday...sounds horrible.
Yes, it was.
It was the same as the school bells at that time.
We had a lovely bell, on a wheel, properly hung
and that of course also was silenced.
The nation was hushed, waiting for the invasion.
On the 17 September 1940, the British military chiefs issued
the code to get ready - Cromwell.
Codeword Cromwell meant that there was an imminent risk of invasion
but some in the home guard made a mistake and began ringing
the church bells which meant that the invasion had actually started.
In the few towns where this happened, the effect was immediate.
Some people responded by destroying equipment,
disabling cars and the like, and it took a little bit of time
for people to work out that they'd made a mistake.
The bells remained silent for two long years
until a great Allied victory in North Africa in November 1942.
The victory at El Alamein was the major turning point in the war
and Churchill wanted to celebrate in style.
He ordered that all the church bells in England
which had been silent for two years should ring out.
The people loved it.
I think it was quite a cacophony of sound.
But at least the villagers knew that we were ringing for a very,
very special occasion.
I suppose it was a bit of a thrill, really.
By 1945, Britain and her bells were finally safe from the Nazis.
During the war, all sorts of metals
were melted down for use in armaments - railings, scrap,
even people's teapots...but they never touched the bells.
Contrast that with what happened on the continent
because in Nazi-occupied Europe, almost 150,000 bells
were melted down for the Nazi war effort.
It's almost as if British bells were an untouchable symbol of hope.
Britain has changed a great deal since the end of the war.
It seems a long time since only church spires commanded our skyline.
Today offices, apartments and tower blocks
all stretch upwards to join and dwarf them.
We live in a 24/7 consumerist digital superhighway
rolling-news world nowadays,
so is the story of bells coming to an end?
I don't think so.
40,000 enthusiasts still ring regularly up and down the country
and there's a drive to engage the next generation of ringers.
At eight o'clock on the first morning of the Olympics,
people of every faith and no faith
will have gone out to churches, to schools, to town halls,
and for three minutes they'll be ringing on the bells.
It'll be a cacophony of sound,
celebrating in the way we've always celebrated momentous events.
Designed to unite and cover the entire country,
we'll be welcoming the world with the sound of our bells.
And is there really any sound more fitting?
There something about the sound of bells that's lodged
deep within the British soul.
When you hear that sound -
whether its a peal of joy, a sound of grief, a ring of alarm
or just for fun - you know what it means
and you know how to respond to it.
It's the sound of our past, it's the sound of our present
and it's the sound of our future too.
WEDDING BELLS RING
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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