Hitting a high note: new bells herald carillon's anniversary

28 February 2003

University bells
University bells

The University of Sydney carillon will soon be sounding better than ever as it celebrates its 75th anniversary. Already considered one of the finest carillons in the world, it is being restored with the replacement of 32 newly cast high notes.

The carillon, which commemorates the 197 undergraduates, graduates and staff who died in the Great War of 1914-1918, was dedicated on the afternoon of Anzac Day, 25 April 1928.
In keeping with the spirit of remembrance, the exact names inscribed on the original bells have been re-inscribed on the new ones. The Whitechapel Bell Foundry in the UK, where Big Ben was manufactured, was chosen to cast the new bells in 80 per cent copper and 20 per cent tin, carefully blending the sounds to match the existing larger bells.

The same foundry replaced one of the higher bells in 1999 after it developed cracks. "They did it superbly," University carillonist Dr Jill Forrest said, as she awaits the installation of the new ones.

The University of Sydney carillon is highly regarded by visiting carillonists. "The current director of the Belgian Carillon School, the oldest carillon school in the world, enthused about the instrument when he visited in February and expressed a desire to come back and play it again," she said.

About $2 million worth of heritage work has recently been carried out on the sandstone neo-Gothic Clock Tower of the University's oldest building, and the new bells, which will be craned into place in the top of the tower 34 metres above the ground, are considered integral to the project.

"This is an active war memorial and it needs to be kept in good order," said carillon manager Mr Graham Findlay. "The new bells are replacements for poorly performing items. Their replacement is linked to the University's responsibility to manage its heritage and history in a practical way."

The old bells are to be melted down, with the exception of the three largest ones, which will be set up in a frame in the playing room so visitors can see how they work without having to climb up to the bell chamber.

The bells arrived by ship on the Columbus New Zealand early on February 10, but their installation depends on their release from customs and the availability of New Zealand national carillonist, Mr Timoth Hurd, who maintains Sydney's instrument.

The carillon has a total of 54 bells with a range of four and a half octaves. The lowest note (the Bourdon) is G on the bottom line of the bass stave, and weighs more than four tonnes.