Big Ben’s bongs bang on for 150th birthday bash

THE 150th anniversary of Big Ben’s first bong’ is being marked by the BBC with the premier of a musical composition celebrating the bells of London. It features every bell in every church mentioned in the Oranges and Lemons nursery rhyme

By Mike Brooke

THE 150th anniversary of Big Ben’s first bong’ is being marked by the BBC with the premier of a musical composition celebrating the bells of London.

It features every bell in every church mentioned in the Oranges and Lemons nursery rhyme.

But the centrepiece, of course, is the main bell known as Big Ben in the clock-tower of the Houses of Parliament that was cast at the Whitechapel bell foundry in London’s East End, which the Queen visited in March.

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Composer Benjamin Till had to clamber into church-towers across London to hear the bells, then recruited a 60-strong choir of keen amateurs and novice singers who live or work within earshot of the bells to record the finished work.

He also got kids aged six and seven at Virginia Primary School behind Shoreditch Church—one of the two East End churches mentioned in the nursery rhyme—to provide children’s voices.

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The 10-minute composition based on the original children’s song delves into the darker meaning behind the bells of Old Bailey’ and the chopper to chop off your head.’

FIVE FARTHINGS

The rhyme speaks of the bells of St Martin’s invoicing for a debt of five farthings, apparently owed by Shoreditch, and the bells of the Old Bailey demanding to know when payment is being made.

When I grow rich,’ say the bells of Shoreditch. When will that be?’ ask the bells of Stepney.’

A snatch of the composition is being broadcast on the eve of Big Ben’s first chime’ anniversary on the London regional news on BBC1 on Friday (July 10). The full premier is performed that evening at St Mary-Le-Bow Church in the City, home of the great bell of Bow’ which ends the rhyme before children participating in the rhyme have their heads chopped off.

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