What is a Carillon?
The carillon is an extraordinary musical instrument with a history as rich as it is long. For more than five centuries the carillon has been a voice for the hopes, aspirations and joys of mankind.
Few people in St Helens could have failed, at some time or other, to have been stopped in their tracks by the sheer tonal beauty of the bells of St Mary’s, Lowe House, whether they be sounding out the cheerful bells of Christmas, or a splendidly rendered version of some religious or celebratory tune.
Carillons range in size from two to over six octaves, or from a minimum of 23 bells to as many as 77. A range of four to four and one half octaves (47 – 56 bells) is most desirable since almost all carillon music can be played on such an instrument (by comparison a piano has 88 notes, whilst an organ keyboard has 61). Most contemporary carillon music and much historic music is written for carillons with a range of four or more octaves.
The carillon at St Mary’s, Lowe House is one of the largest in the British Isles with 47 bells. The largest bell weighs 4 tons 4cwt. It is known as the “Thanksgiving” Carillon because it was erected in the centenary year of Catholic Emancipation and therefore is a celebration of religious freedom.
The bells are played by hand for which purpose a clavier or keyboard is provided, not unlike that of an organ.
History of Lowe House bells:
On Thursday 3rd January 1929 a party of 28, led by Fr Riley (Parish Priest of Lowe House) travelled to Loughborough to witness the casting of the great tenor bell. On Wednesday 17th July 1929, Fr Riley and a small party from the Community travelled to Bold to see the arrival of the bells from Taylors of Loughborough prior to their journey through Liverpool before coming to St Helens.
The bells were carried on 2 lorries which travelled to the Liverpool docks and offices and then through the main streets to St Francis Xavier’s Church, where a stop was made for lunch. After a short break the convoy continued through the streets of Liverpool, on to Prescot, and then finally to St Helens where great crowds lined the streets to see the convoy, and mounted police were required to control them.
On Sunday 21st July 1929 the bells were lined up in 2 rows on a platform and then blessed by Archbishop Downey of Liverpool. These ceremonies were attended by a crowd in excess of 10,000 people. The carillon was played for the first time at a series of concerts, commencing on Christmas Day 1929.
On Sunday 16th March 1930 the bells were broadcast on the radio, the carillon being played by Mr Jordan (Carilloneur of Loughborough). The Evening Service was played on the radio for the first time. Before and after the service the bells were played by Madame Dora Dennett and were also broadcast. The BBC were so pleased that they permanently wired the Church for further broadcasters which were continued intermittently for about three years.
Every year Madame Dennett would ring out the old year and ring in the New Year and a special address was given to the crowd assembled below the 127 ft tower.
Several world famous Carilloneurs have played, at their own request, on our carillon. Apart from Mr Jordan of Loughborough,m Mr Anton Brees of Antwerp and Mountain Lake, Florida in 1932, Mr Percival Price, Houses of Parliament, Ottowa in 1933 and 1939, Mr Clifford Ball of Bourneville and Mr Holden of the Armagh Carillon have also given recitals.
Each bell is personalied and sponsored by families in the area, and also by local schoolchildren. Names are clearly visible on the bell.
The great clock, donated by Pilkingtons, prominently fixed in the centre of the tower chimes on eight bells of the carillon at the quarters and hour a portion of a 12th century “Salve Regina” hymn tune. This is the only known clock in Great Britain to do this.
The carillon plays a special part in the history of St Mary’s, Lowe House and St Helens.
Can you help?
Do you remember the bells of St Mary’s? Not the film starring Bing Crosby – but the 47 bells which 75 years ago travelled from the foundry in Loughborough, through Liverpool, and to their final resting place at St Mary’s, Lowe House.
The bells, which range in size from 14 lbs to 4 tons 4 cwts, were brought to St Helens in July 1929. Carried on 2 lorries, they travelled through Liverpool and Prescot and finally arrived in St Helens to be blessed by Archbishop Downey on Sunday 21st July 1929.
Today, after major building work to ensure that the tower is now in prime condition and the bells are all pristine, we have finally completed the restoration work on the clavier (the special keyboard which is needed to play the bells) and the mechanisms to each bell.
We hope to be able to open the Church for special tours and provide music lessons for students. We are looking for photos and stories regarding the bells, to ensure that our rich heritage can be shared by all.
Did you stand and watch the bells on their journey? Were you one of the 10,000 people who saw the bells being blessed? Or maybe, your parents or grandparents told you the tales of the bells of St Mary’s.
Please contact us :
By Post: The Carillon, Lowe House Heritage and Development Group, c/o Holy Cross Presbytery, Corporation Street, St Helens, WA10 1EF.
By Fax: 01744 23416
By e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org