Today our platform tutors took us on a field trip to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the Queen’s Bell Tower at Imperial and St Saviours Church, the Pimlico Bell.
The underlying reason of this trip was not to get us to do something with bell ringing in our thesis project, but to take us through this journey to see which aspect of the whole cult of bell ringing triggered or intrigued us the most and why.
“The bell tower is an example of a space that exists for an ultra-specific purpose. It has a rich narrative of ritual, landmark, iconic cultural status and, of course, the activity of ringing the bells themselves. The bell, its placement, movement and sound are inextricably linked to the space of the tower, its site, materiality and structure of the building itself. In a very physical way, the tower is a very eloquent amplifier of the object it houses, the bell, and the activity of ringing.” This reflects our project’s perspective well which is all about amplification.
Bell ringing includes buildings, structure, cultural, senses, … The whole day we talked with people who has an obsession with bell ringing, so this journey was to help us find our own obsession.
The first stop was the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which was founded in 1570 and is thereby the oldest bell manufacturer in Great Britain. First the foundry was located in Aldgate, but in 1670 they moved to Whitechapel Road, where the foundry is still located nowadays. The manufacturer made one of the most famous bells in the world, Big Ben is the biggest bell ever cast at Whitechapel, and the gauge used to make the mould for the bell still hangs on the wall of the foundry moulding shop to this day.
What intrigued me the most about the whole process of bell making is the number of people and processes that’s needed to make one big bell.
After the Bell Foundry, we went to the Queen’s Bell Tower at Imperial College to observe the master bell ringers ring the bells in honour of Prince Charles’ Birthday. The Queen's Tower is all that remains of the Imperial Institute, which was built to mark Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887. We did 324 steps from the ground to the base of the dome. The internal wooden structure of the dome is beautiful and is an interesting example of Victorian craftsmanship. From this floor, there is an astonishing, uninterrupted view of London in all directions. The belfry contains the Alexandra Peal of bells which consists 10 bells. The largeness of the bells is overwhelming. For the first part, we could stay on the stairs next to the bells, but I forgot my earplugs so I followed the bell ringing from the level below where 10 people were pulling up and down the ropes in a certain rhythm. The ropes have a Sally, which is the tufted handgrip on the rope, used to pull at handstroke. When the bells were ringing, the whole tower started shaking. I was surprised by the amount of strength, coordination and ritual that goes into the whole bell ringing.
After the ‘concert’, we went to the St Saviours Church in Pimlico where a lady explained the diagrams of method ringing. Each bell strikes once in every sequence, or change, and repetition is avoided. I still don’t really understand it, but I think it asks a lot of practice. We also rang a bell ourselves, which is more difficult than it looks, because there is a certain rhythm you need to obtain.
To end the day we talked about the bell ringing experience over a glass of wine with some nice jazzy tones in the background at Wilton’s Music Hall in Whitechapel.