Clocks, Bells and Chimes

The sound of the Cathedral bells is unmistakable, but did you know that the clocks, bells and chimes have a fascinating story to tell?

The Cathedral's clock, bells and the chimes are referred to in a repair agreement of 1525.  This tells us that there were then at least eight bells, a clock and a chime machine.

The present clock, installed in 1898, is by Dent and Co, who built the clock for Big Ben.  There is no external dial, but there is a fine Art Nouveau clock face in the north transept, dating from 1903, designed by Henry Wilson.

The bells were rehung and augmented in 1978 to give a ring of twelve.  The two oldest bells date from before 1420, so they are older than the present tower.   In addition there is Great Peter, the largest mediaeval bell in Britain, weighing a fraction under three tons.  Great Peter is the hour bell and can also be heard ringing before the main services.

The bells are rung 'full circle' by the Cathedral's band of ringers from 1.30pm on Sundays, and from 7.30pm on Tuesdays for the weekly practice session.   Further details are given on the website of the Gloucester & Bristol Diocesan Association of Church Bell Ringers.

Listen out for the Cathedral chimes...

The chimes can be heard each day at 9am, 1pm and 5pm (4pm at weekends).  Electric hammers, since 2013 controlled by a computer, are used to play tunes on the bells. 

Usually two tunes are played.   On most days the first tune is as follows:

Sunday   "Easter Song"   A well-known hymn tune dating from 1623.

Monday  "Chorus novae Jerusalem"  (Ye choirs of New Jerusalem).  This is one of two ancient plainsong melodies which were played on the mediaeval chime machine and are referred to in the repair agreement of 1525.

Tuesday   Mr Jeffries’ tune.   This is the first of four eighteenth century tunes for the chimes, using an octave of bells plus Great Peter, the mediaeval hour bell.  Stephen Jeffries was the Cathedral organist from 1682 to 1710.

Wednesday  Dr Hayes’  tune.  William Hayes was a chorister at the Cathedral and later conducted the Gloucester Three Choirs Festivals from 1757 to 1763.

Thursday  Dr Stephens’  tune.  John Stephens was also a chorister at Gloucester, and later became organist of Salisbury Cathedral, where he is buried.  

Friday  "Christe redemptor omnium”  (O Christ the Redeemer of all).  This is the second of the two ancient plainsong melodies known to have been used on the mediaeval chime machine.

Saturday  Mr Malchair’s tune.  John Baptist Malchair was an Oxford academic and a regular performer at the Three Choirs Festival between 1759 and 1775.  

The second tune will be one of over a hundred tunes which fit the notes available.  These include hymn tunes, Christmas and Easter carols, plainsong, folk melodies etc.  Where possible the tunes are appropriate to the Church's seasons and festivals.

Join a Tower Tour to find out more!

The clock and the bells can be seen on the regular Tower Tours. In the belfry the derelict chime machine of 1764 stands next to an earlier clock, dating from 1797.

The 1764 chime machine