The East London Bells That Ring Across The World

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 14 months ago
The East London Bells That Ring Across The World
Photo: Konstantin Binder

Bells have historically formed a metallic backing track to London. As much as they peal for joyous occasions like weddings, they also toll for London's dramas. The Oranges and Lemons rhyme is a tale of debt and execution, while in Dickens's Little Dorrit, Arthur Clennan remarks on "Maddening church bells of all degrees of dissonance..."

Scores of London's bells — including two of the churches from Oranges and Lemons fame — were brought into this world by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. But it's possible to feast your ears on the sweet sounds of east London across the globe. Here is a selection of Whitechapel bells that went far.

Montreal Cathedral, Canada

'Jean-Baptiste' is the very French name of a very Londony bell, made for Montreal Cathedral in 1841, by Thomas Mears. The 'Great Bell' as it's also known, is indeed great in heft — weighing in at just a couple of thousand kilos lighter than Big Ben.

Eight years after the Jean-Baptiste bell was installed, the cathedral got a new organist... one Jean-Baptiste Labelle.

Distance from Whitechapel: 3,250 miles

Washington National Cathedral, USA

Most people know the Liberty Bell was cast in Whitechapel, and can now be ogled in Philadelphia. Alas, there's a massive crack in it, and it's no longer a-pealing. Fear not, those venturing into Trump's Brave New America: you can soothe your ears in the president's own city, at Washington National Cathedral. The 10 peal bells here were made in Whitechapel, and installed in 1963. The cathedral's carillon bells were cast in Loughborough.

The cathedral is famous for its Darth Vader grotesque — wouldn't it be wonderful if the bells belted out the Imperial March once in a while?

Distance from Whitechapel: 3,600 miles

Armenian Church, India

Photo: Paliakara

Six huge bells swing from the belfry of the Armenian Church in Chennai, south India. Two of them, dating back to 1837, were cast in Whitechapel, under the name Mears and Stainbank. In fact, a good number of Whitechapel Bells are stamped with various monikers; the brand as it is now didn't exist until 1968.  

Distance from Whitechapel: 5,100 miles

St Mary's Cathedral, Australia

Photo: Jeremy

The oldest bell ringing society in Australia handles the 14 bells of St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney. That said, the bells were only cast in Whitechapel in 1985 — the same year that the first episode of Neighbours was aired. The cathedral's just a mile away from the Sydney Opera House, meaning it's possible to hear Whitechapel-made bells while looking at the antipodean world's most iconic structure.

Distance from Whitechapel: 10,500 miles

Various bells, UK

Keep your ears peeled (sorry) for the sounds of London while closer to home too; you'll hear them ringing from churches and cathedrals in Liverpool, Birmingham, Lincoln, Guildford and Canterbury, to name a few. That's not to mention countless other hand bells, clock bells, ship's bells... it goes on. To paraphrase It's a Wonderful Life, every time a bell rings... remember it may well have been cast in east London.

Attaboy, Whitechapel.

Last Updated 06 February 2017