Ding Dong Merrily On High
Merry Christmas, Phantom Friends! I’m going to be taking a break from the blog after this post for a couple of days, enjoying the many delights of the season, but I wanted to get you mulling over the wine on a fun little poll while I’m away – on the festive joys of the many bells of Greenwich.
I’ve been collecting them over the past week or so, standing around in a suspicious manner with my Walkman in sub-zero conditions waiting to catch them ringing (I had a couple of false attempts – it’s only when you’re actually trying to record them that you realise that they’re not always in sync either with their own clocks or , indeed, anyone else’s…) and thanks to the Phantom Webmaster, I’ve got some recordings to play you here. The poll will be at the end.
I’m pretty sure these bells are recordings, though they’re nice and clear and still a welcome sound – loud enough to be heard from a fair old distance. The old clock used to be kept in a glass window in the Forum, but the mechanisms disappeared a couple of years ago – I understand it was given away, which is a real shame. The window looks very empty now.
Moving along, the melancholy chimes of Trinity Almshouses on the river. I’m always reminded of the bells in Mission chapels in Hollywood westerns by this eerie little sound, or perhaps of ships’ bells on foggy nights – appropriate, I guess, being a cough and a spit from the Thames.
The next bell is probably the loudest of the lot – and not where I expected it to be. The chapel of St Peter and St Paul – better known as the Old Royal Naval College Chapel, has a magnificent bell-tower, but as I recorded the bells on Sunday morning, at around ten to eleven, calling the faithful to church, I realised that the bell being rung – I could even see it vibrating – was in one of the little Hawksmoor towers; the one closest to the church, not the domed bell tower.
It rings for about 15 minutes on Sunday mornings and on the hour the rest of the time. A clear clang, it gives a wonderfully timeless feel to the ORNC – especially if you’re the only one around…
Last, but not least, the parish church itself, St Alfeges.
This was the one that gave me the biggest headache to record – and I’m not even convinced that I’ve got it now. It’s the most elaborate of the peals – playing the Westminster Chimes before the hour-markers – but the whole thing is so quiet that it almost feels as though it’s coming from another church, even though I was right underneath the bell tower as I recorded it. It’s almost as if they’ve been muffled or something. Maybe so as not to disturb the neighbours. The other odd thing is that the Westminster Chimes seem to be out of sync – we get the three-quarter, followed by the first, then the second, then the third again – then instead of playing the last bit, it goes straight to the bongs.
I know that it still has all 10 bells and there are real bellringers – though I guess it’s mostly automatic nowadays. I’m told part of the mechanism is the medieval original, but I don’t know much more. Maybe someone can tell me if this (very bad – sorry I had a lot of extraneous noise and I had to turn the levels up to get the bells) recording is actually of St Alfege’s bells. Even having stood beneath them I’m still not sure.
And so to the poll…
Which of these bells is YOUR favourite? Vote here.
If you fancy hearing a really festive peal, get all the recordings playing at once.
Thank you for keeping me company during 2009, for all your questions, tips, news and comments – stay warm, safe and happy over the festive period, eh…
Merry Christmas, One and All!