‘Oranges and Lemons’ – a traditional English nursery rhyme and singing game – refers to the bells of several churches in and around London and it includes a verse which goes ‘You owe me five farthings, Say the bells of St. Martin’s.’
And it’s those very bells that make the Bell Tower such a captivating place to visit.
Let’s go back in time to discover how these massive and ancient royal bells found their way from one of London’s most famous churches to their new home on the shores of the beautiful Swan River in Perth.
The history of the 12 bells of St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square dates back over 600 years to before the 14th century. They were recast in the 16th century by Queen Elizabeth 1 and then recast in Gloucester sometime in 1700 by order from the Prince of Wales, who was later crowned King George 11.
The peal of the swinging bells have rung out across the square for centuries, beckoning believers and celebrating many major historical moments. From England’s victory in 1588 over the Spanish Armada and the end of World War II in 1942 to hundreds of New Year countdowns and royal coronations, the bells have chimed their joyful celebrations for centuries.
And it’s interesting to learn that although these bells have only called Australia home in recent times, their connection to the land down under goes way back to our very early history. In 1771, their majestic chimes rang out to celebrate Captain Cook’s homecoming after his first voyage of discovery in the Endeavour when they became the first Europeans to reach the east coast of Australia.
But let’s go back to the bells themselves.
They’re rare and special for many reasons. They’re one of the few sets of royal bells and the only ones that are known to have left England, and they’re said to be the largest musical instrument in the world.
Of the 18 bells at The Bell Tower, 12 are from St Martin-in-the-Field and they were gifted to West Australia as part of the 1988 Australian bicentenary celebrations. Interestingly, there’s a story behind that event which cements the link between ‘us and them’ even further.
When Laith Reynolds, a local bell ringer and businessman learnt of the London church’s plans to upgrade their bells and melt the old ones down, he started what became a very lengthy campaign to bring the unwanted bells to Perth. After much negotiation and visits to Whitechapel Bell Foundry to arrange for the bells to be tuned and restored and supplemented with an additional six new ones, the bells were donated to WA in exchange for 7½ tons of copper and tin which was used in the casting of the church’s new set of bells.
And so a full set of bells, weighing around nine tonnes arrived in Perth in the late eighties. A ceremony was held on 13 April 1988 for Anglican and Catholic Archbishops to hand over the bells after more than 700 years of Christian use, to their new secular future. But there was nowhere for the bells to go.
The bells were banished to a decade in storage after landing in Perth because there simply wasn’t a tower big enough to house them. That was until the decision was taken to build the 82.5 metre high Bell Tower as part of the Barrack Square redevelopment to preserve and show off these magnificent historical bells for generations to come. At another nod to their fascinating history, the bells hang at 16.5 metres high in a spectacular copper and glass campanile which is the same height that they were at St-Martin-in-the Fields, allowing visitors to witness the ancient art of bell-ringing in all its glory.
Having endured centuries of history and thousands of miles across the oceans, the bells of St Martins finally took up residence in Perth when the Bell Tower opened officially on 10 December 2000. With such a fascinating history, it’s no wonder that The Bell Tower is one of Perth’s favourite destinations so why not come and experience the world’s largest musical instrument for yourself by booking online at www.thebelltower.com.au or by calling 08 6210 0444.