The Festival of Bells 2021

A few weekends ago, I was out early in London, practicing a walk along some of the ghostly lanes and secret passageways that make up the old Roman City and I didn’t know that my day would be hijacked but not this time by a ghost (for I have a photo of two I met last year) but almost the opposite of a ghost, the sound of Angels from across the City.

The day started at 9:20am with the ringing of Great Paul at St Paul’s Cathedral in the presence of the Lord Mayor and the Bishop of London. This is the largest swinging bell in the UK and has not been rung for over 10 years. Great Paul is the largest bell ever cast in the UK and the largest church bell in the British Isles. Its total weight is 16.7 tonnes.

You can see a video of the ringing here, this is actually not even St Pauls at its finest as later on in the day the great bell was supplemented by some of the other bells in the cathedral.

At 9:30am, the cries of Great Paul were answered by the ringing of the 12 Bow Bells at St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside and then one by one, other churches in the City.

Throughout the day 165 bells from the towers of 19 churches rang out. This included the Royal Jubilee Bells at St James Garlickhythe, the ancient 16th century bells at St Bartholomew the Great, and the Coronation Bells at St Olave, Hart Street. The day included full peals of over 5,000 changes lasting 3½ hours at St Magnus the Martyr and St Michael’s Cornhill, and 2 carillon recitals at All Hallows-by-the-Tower. Over 150 ringers came into London to take part in the day’s festival.

It’s not the first time that I have stumbled across the Festival of Bells without expecting it but this time was better as I wasn’t working and could stay and enjoy the bells and without cars or planes, in a similar way to how they must have sounded centuries ago.

Doing several unique tours in the City or Square Mile such as my Secret Gardens or Roman tours means I’ve become familiar with what all the church steeples look like from far off and even recognise the differing sounds of the peels of some of the church bells.

Of course Bow Bells are a little bit special as it is said that you can only be a true Cockney (Londoner) if you are born within earshot of the bells.

Anyway, I got well and truly diverted from my planned walk as I spent almost an hour, experience the full majesty of the most famous bells in the City of London. The funny thing is that when you listen to the bells in person for a extended period of time, they seem to take on a vocal like quality. I spoke to one or two others who agreed that it sounded like we were listening to Angels.

If you’d like a little look around this very old but virtually unvisited (by tourists at least) part of London, then click on my new free video below.

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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