The Ancient
Society of
College
Youths
Est. 1637

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50th Anniversary of the casting of Bow Bells
and farewell to Mark Regan as Tower Secretary
Thursday 1st February, 2007

Report and Pictures by Dickon Love

On Thursday 1st February the church of St Mary-le-Bow held a mass to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the casting of the Bow Bells and at the same time, thank Mark Regan for his work as Tower Secretary and Steeplekeeper. The service was led by the Rev'd George Bush, Mark Jones played the organ and the London Ringers Choir led the singing under the baton of Alan Wilson. There was a ringing theme throughout the service with the Bow Bells Mass used (based on the chimes at Bow) and Purcell's "The Bell Anthem". A vegetarian spread was laid on afterwards as the mediaeval crypt was filled to capacity with ringers, parishioners and friends.
We were then treated to some reminiscences from Alan Hughes of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry concerning the casting of the bells. He recalled that the last fifty years at Bow were less eventful than the preceding fifty years when the bells received the attention from both Cyril Johnston and Adolf Hitler ("one of whom," he said "tried to improve the tone of the bells"). He saluted the vision of Sir Cuthbert Lowell Ackroyd in launching the appeal to restore the sound of Bow Bells to the tower. Alan himself was present at the casting of the tenor having been pulled out of school for what proved to be quite a ceremony on a hot day attended by the Lord Mayor himself in all his regalia. This was the first bell Alan had ever witnessed being cast! The tower at Bow had always been somewhat rocky, even more so since the bombing, so it was decided to bring the weight of the bells down from over 2 tons to 2 tons, and therefore to the key of C. Alan recounted that this potentially caused another problem as the only gauges used by the foundry for C bells normally resulted in bells just under 2 tons, and his grandfather did not think that London or the College Youths in particular would consider any bell less than 40 cwt worthy enough for the tower. So the foundry set about making up new gauges. To this day the gauges for Bow tenor have never been used for any other bell. It is unique. The result was a bell that came out just under 42 cwt. The other challenge that the foundry faced was the requirement to have the bells ringing before the end of the Lord Mayor's year in office - a tough challenge as the 12 bells needed to be tuned, the frame designed and built and the tower fabric itself restored. This is where Alan saluted the ingenuity of his uncle, Douglas, who at that time had just restored the Carter Ringing Machine. He realised that with a little ingenuity, he could adapt the machine to chime changes on the bells. So it came to pass that all 12 bells were laid out in a circle, upturned in the foundry yard and simple changes were rung upon them, and the Lord Mayor was able to announce to the people of London that the sound of Bow Bells was alive again, and within his year as he had promised. With the time pressures off, the frame was then designed and built in the restored tower and the bells tried out by the College Youths. Things were not well. The springy ropes made the opening rounds almost impossible, with the second set being not much better. The asbestos that had been sprayed inside the tower to moderate the sound was too effective so that there was no majesty. As far as the Foundry was concerned, the installation was a great disappointment, and the bells were therefore not frequently rung. However things changed when Mark Regan took over as steeplekeeper, and despite a rather cold start to their relationship, he worked well with the Foundry to address all the problems one by one. Alan therefore saluted Mark for realising that there was a fine ring of bells in that tower and for working hard to produce the excellent results that we all enjoy today.

Mark has now retired as Secretary and Steeplekeeper at Bow, 25 years after his election by the ASCY and presentation to the church. In gratitude, the Churchwarden, Michael Wainwright, presented Mark with a handsome set of cufflinks bearing a likeness of the pre-fire tower of St Mary-le-Bow. After the remaining votes of thanks, drinking went on well into the evening as those remaining made a fair stab at demolishing the three barrels of London Pride that had been laid on by the church and by Fullers.

Photo DrL

Photo DrL
Alan Hughes recalls the story of the casting of Bow Bells... ...to an attentive audience in the crypt of
St Mary-le-Bow.
Photo DrL Photo DrL
The Rector, Rev'd George Bush (right)
enjoys a joke.
Mark Regan (left) is presented with some cufflinks from the churchwarden, Michael Wainright.
Photo DrL

Mark Regan thanking the assembled company.

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