Step outside at midnight on December 31, and you are sure to hear a familiar sound – church bells ringing-in the New Year.
It’s a joyous sound, and one that will be repeated around the country as the clock strikes 12, marking a new beginning, a time for casting off the old and looking forward to the new.
For those in and around Lancaster, this quintessentially English sound of change ringing will emanate from the cathedral, as its 10 bells sound across the city.
Lancaster Cathedral is one of only 200 buildings with a tower housing this number of bells, while only 90 towers can boast 12 or more bells. The bells tend to be described in relation to the largest one, and at Lancaster this weighs 19cwt (almost one metric tonne). Go to Wells Cathedral, however, where there are also 10 bells, and the heaviest bell is 56wt (almost three tonne).
The different weights of the bells determine, to a large extent, the note they will make, and the number of bells in the tower dictates the number of changes that can be rung. So, with four bells, there are 24 possible orders that the bells can be rung in, producing 24 different changes. With seven bells, there are 5,040 different variations.
Bells, which are made from bronze, were originally tuned by hand, using a chipping hammer to literally chip pieces of metal off the inside, until the correct note was achieved. Now, technology allows a fine layer of metal to be precisely removed by a lathe, until the bell is perfectly tuned.
But even bells of the same weight can sound different and this can be down to something as simple as the foundry that made them.
So, listen out for those bells on New Year’s Eve and enjoy their uniqueness as they mark the beginning of 2013.
Let’s hope it’s a good one.