The Tellers

David Cawley dave at d...
Sat Jun 14 19:32:01 BST 2003

And weren't the 19th-century bell historians careful to record the varying practice of tolling for the dead when recording 'local uses' - a feature now universally neglected by us.

At Canterbury Cathedral it was always the custom for the Curfew Bell (Bell Harry) on top of the central tower to toll (100 strokes at half minute intervals plus the age at 1 minute intervals) for the reigning sovereign or the incumbent Archbishop. Bell Harry only weighs about 8-cwt, note Bb and is (I believe) still reserved for this use, also for the Curfew and as a Sanctus bell on appropriate occasions. When I was at school in Canterbury it was also rung for the Daily Offices - memorably on one occasion for the breaking of the thick wire rope, whose route was tortuous in the extreme, since when it has never been swung, a succession of electric sloggers having been fitted. When retired Archbishop Fisher died, Bell Harry was called to melancholy duty - but not for long. An observant passer-by enquiring why Bell Harry was tolling was given that reason. A call to the Chapter Office caused almost immediate cessation - but not before the local paper had received a number of enquiries (and subsequently reported the mix up). So the use of the (wrong) passing bell was noted even in comparatively recent times.

Archbishop Fisher was duly tolled out on Great Dunstan, at that time hung dead upon the south-west tower roof and 'clocked' - indeed it was not used for anything else except as a passing-bell and to strike the hours. Even then you had to be a member of the Chapter or a former Archbishop, or any other member of the Royal Family than the Sovereign. Certainly the manual tolling of the age followed by half-minute strokes has been in use to within the last thirty years. How good that George observes the custom faithfully at Willoughby. It will be interesting to learn of the practice elsewhere.


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