Rapid and joyous bells
‘Oranges and lemons
Say the bells of St Clements’
…is or used to be well-known as the first couplet of a nursery rhyme which featured seven churches close to the City of London. The bells of St Clement Danes ring out the tune every day. The Danes built a church at Aldwych, hence the name of the later church which stands there now. Built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1682, it was badly damaged in the Blitz but restored thanks to the RAF, whose church it became when it was reconsecrated.
The BBC has generously made available for free sixteen thousand sound effects, including these recordings, via bbcsfx.acropolis.org.uk
They’re described as ‘Church Bells, ringing down with rapid, joyous & random ringing for last minute of recording’; ‘Church Bells, firing the bells. (St. Clement Dane’s Church, The Strand, London.)’; ‘Church Bells, Stedman Triples rung. (St. Clement Dane’s Church, The Strand, London.)’
In bellringing, to fire bells is to ring them almost simultaneously. It’s a joyous peal particularly associated with weddings. Stedman triples is another technical term, one of several devised by Fabian Stedman, a seventeenth-century printer. He published the wonderfully named manual Tintinnalogia (1668), and wrote his own handbook, Campanalogia (1677).
From the Strand’s three Anglican churches (St Martin, St Mary-le-Strand and St Clement Danes) the tune of Oranges and Lemons is still best known, but these rapid and joyous bells are sounds to celebrate.
Clare is co-Director of the Centre for Life-Writing Research, and Professor of Eighteenth-century Literature & Culture in the English Department at King’s College London.