A brief summary of the history of bells and bell ringing at Canterbury appears on the cathedral web site (details below). The following notes relate to bells at the present time. Ignoring smaller bells and the HMS Canterbury bell, the cathedral has 21 ringing bells, of which fourteen are in the south west or Oxford tower, six in the north west or Arundel tower, and Bell Harry is on the roof of the main tower.
The fourteen bells in the south west tower were cast in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 1981, making use of the metal of earlier cathedral bells. Each was sponsored by an organisation or by individuals, and at a ceremony of dedication and ‘baptism’ in July 1981, each new bell received its name (Simon, Crundale, Alphege, Thomas, Mary, etc). The rim of each new bell shows a pattern of Canterbury bells, interspersed with Canterbury crosses. The smallest of these, the Extra Treble named Simon, weighs just over 5 cwt, whilst the largest, the Tenor named Trinity, weighs over 34 cwt. The north west tower houses bells needed primarily to sound the clock chime (five bells weighing from 6 to over 9 cwt) and sound the hours (for this the Dunstan at over 62 cwt is the largest bell in Kent). All these bells date from the 18th and 19th centuries. Finally, the Bell Harry itself weighs 8 cwt and was cast in 1635. It stands on the roof of Bell Harry tower, and is rung electrically each weekday for morning services and every night at 8.55 pm for curfew.
What to see:
- visitors normally have no access to the bells or to the bell ringing platform, but some supervised access is granted on special open days
- the list of cathedral bells appears on a pillar close to the entrance in the south west porch (Image 1)
- the Bell Harry itself, for those who get to see it, is rather disappointing – it sits on the lead roof of the tower in a metal cage (Image 2)
- an earlier separate campanile stood in the precincts from Norman times until it was badly damaged by earthquake in 1383 and finally demolished in the 17th century – a small mound remains