[Bell Historians] Birmingham University

Steve Stanford steve.h.stanford at JWsV5Xa4YLcfKz4W8XRqipeUwUbIDbbzFAhustF9q_iCdATjvhcU9SbUC8LmJK0rvb9Qjaw7mcVdiUFIXwULUqUBCrGedIM5mA.yahoo.invalid
Fri Oct 22 18:28:35 BST 2010

Yes, indeed, what a (wonderful) distraction from academic life they were /are! I spent three happy years listening to the sound of those bells every quarter when I should have been listening to the lecturers! Now that I occasionally give the lecturers, I remain equally distracted - surely the best five in Birmingham! The last time I visited the campus (9 July 2010) sadly the clock was not striking. Perhaps there was some more work in progress, does anyone happen to know? 


Anyway many thanks, Chris, for providing some most interesting details that I was not previously aware of (especially the history of the clock). I did manage to get up to see the bells  - I think in 1978 shortly before I left, by accompanying some members of the abseiling club during a rag week fundraising stunt – on the way up, but not on the way down!   








From: bellhistorians at yahoogroups.com [mailto:bellhistorians at yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Chris Pickford
Sent: 22 October 2010 16:40
To: bellhistorians at yahoogroups.com
Subject: Re: [Bell Historians] Birmingham University




Here's my write-up on these bells


EDGBASTON – University of Birmingham, Chamberlain Memorial Tower

The founding of the University in Birmingham was a key element of Joseph Chamberlain’s vision for the City. He had originally envisaged developing the Mason College buildings for the purpose, but a gift of £50,000 from Andrew Carnegie, the American industrialist, brought with it a condition that the money should be spent on buildings. Carnegie also made it clear that he would like to see a campus-style university with lavish buildings like those of the new universities in North America. From this developed England’s first ‘red-brick’ University and its fine complex of buildings.

The charter was granted in 1900 and in July of the same year Lord Calthorpe donated the Edgbaston site for the new university. The first buildings on the campus were erected soon afterwards, the architects being Sir Aston Webb and E. Ingress Bell whose original scheme included a modest tower over the main building at the centre of the complex. The main builder was Thomas Rowbotham. The first phase of construction was completed in 1906 and the new University was opened by King Edward VII in July 1909.

The site is dominated by the tall clock tower. In November 1905 it was reported that an anonymous gift of £50,000 – presumably Carnegie’s - had been made to the University, "... to be applied in the erection of a tower." Eventually a modified design based upon the Mangia Tower at Siena in Italy, was accepted. Built of red Accrington brick with Darley Dale stone dressings, the tower stands to a height of 327 feet. In honour of the University’s first Chancellor, it was named the Chamberlain Tower. A carved inscription round the top of the lower stage of the tower records:


The tower was built in 1907-9 by Waring White of London whose tender (£14,189) was selected from the seventeen submitted. Thomas Rowbotham evidently bore no grudge about his failure to secure the contract for this phase of the University, as he made the very generous gift of some £2000 for the clock and bells for the new tower. The original electric lift, installed by Otis, still remains in use.

          The tower was built from the inside without the use of scaffolding. This had the advantage of keeping down the cost, but the lack of external pointing resulted in water penetration. This had to be remedied soon after the tower was built, and in 1914 Thomas Rowbotham was engaged to point the tower at a cost of £710. Again no scaffolding was needed, as the workmen operated from hanging cages. The tower has since been restored again in 1957 and in 1985 when a major refurbishment took place at a cost of £250,000.

The clock was made in 1908 by the Whitchurch firm of J. B. Joyce, although installation was not completed until after the official opening of the University in July 1909. It is recorded that on the opening day a workman was employed to operate the hands of the clock manually with a cranking handle! A contemporary account of the clock was given in the London and Provincial Magazine for February 1909:

“...The frame was made in one solid casting weighing half a ton, and divided into three separate trains - the hour train, the train operating the quarter-hour Westminster chimes, and the general driving train. The escapement is after the pattern connected with the late Lord Grimthorpe, the double three-legged gravity, and the wearing parts are jewelled as in a watch, which is noticeable in conjunction with the fact that the main wheels are 24in. in diameter, and weigh close on 1 cwt. each, The pendulum, which is 15ft. long, goes through to the floor below; it weighs 4cwt. and beats with a swing of two seconds' duration each way. The clock will go for a week on one winding, and an automatic arrangement throws the chimes out of gear during the night hours. The hour bell, weighing over 6 tons, and the quarter-hour chimes (4 tons) were cast by Messrs. Taylor, of Loughborough'. The total weight of the clock and bells when installed will exceed 20 tons. The cogged wheels in the mechanism, in addition to the bushes and pivot holes, are all of gun metal, polished and lacquered, and, needless to say, exactly fitting in with one another.” 

As noted in this account, the bells were cast by John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough. Details of the inscriptions are as follows: 

Bell                 Inscription

1.       131 / JOHN TAYLOR & CO. + FOUNDERS + LOUGHBOROUGH + 1908 + / (border all round)

2.       232 / JOHN TAYLOR & CO. + FOUNDERS + LOUGHBOROUGH + 1908 + / (border all round)

3.       132 / JOHN TAYLOR & CO. + FOUNDERS + LOUGHBOROUGH + 1908 + / (border all round)

4.       286 / JOHN TAYLOR & CO. + FOUNDERS + LOUGHBOROUGH + LEICESTERSHIRE + 1908 + / (border all round) 

5.       283 / + THE : CLOCK : & : CHIMES : IN : THIS : TOWER : ARE : THE : GIFT : OF : MR. : THOS. : ROWBOTHAM : J.P : BUILDER : OF : THE : UNIVERSITY : FROM : 1902-9 + (border) / + PROSPERITY : TO : ALL : BENEFACTORS + (border) + JOHN : TAYLOR : & : CO. + FOUNDERS + 1908 + (border)



Founder and date








John Taylor & Co, 1908








John Taylor & Co, 1908








John Taylor & Co, 1908








John Taylor & Co, 1908








John Taylor & Co, 1908








The notes of the bells are as nos. 1, 2, 3, 6 and 10 of a ring of ten in G. All five bells have flange-tops, those on the two largest bells having a pattern or border round the edge. The hour bell, also known as “Big Joe” on account of its association with Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914), ranks as the eleventh heaviest in Great Britain.

The bells were rehung in June 1981 by John Taylor & Co following the partial disintegration of the webbing of the steel grillage on which they were hung. The framework consists of four parallel main girders spanning the tower from north to south. The hour bell hangs in the middle, with no.1 to the west, no.2 to the north, no.3 to the south and no 4 to the east. Their deadstocks are formed from pairs back-to-back steel channels resting on the main girders, those of bells 2, 3 and 5 being raised from the girders on pedestals. They are all fitted with external clock hammers (with two on the fourth quarter bell). 

The clock is a three-train movement by Joyce of Whitchurch, 1908-9. It has a cast iron flatbed frame. The going train has a double three-legged escapement and drives four large dials (17 feet 6 inches wide). The clock strikes the hours and Westminster quarters. The present electrical drive system powering the original clock was fitted by Smith of Derby in 1982.

Visited: CJP, HEP, RLJ, 23 June 2003: Thanks to Christine Penney and Joe McKenna


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