Bellringing at St. John's Leytonstone

Civic Uses For Bells

I am sure that you are familiar with role of the bells in the story of Dick Whittington, Boris Johnson’s predecessor, and how to be a real Cockney means to be born within earshot of Bow bells.


Before TV, radio, electric clocks and alarms (internal combustion engine also), the loudest and most compelling voice in any city or town was the voice of the bell.


From the hand bell of the town crier, to the bells hung in the church tower but rung for every conceivable civic happening, bells have informed, summoned and organised humanity.


Functioning as ‘newspapers’ bells have announced births, deaths, victories and defeats.  When to rise, open shops, come to market, put bread in Lord of Manor’s ovens and fire.


Not that long ago in our towns and cities vendors used to ring bells – a different bell for each vendor – dustman, rag-and-bone man, and I know you know the muffin man – he comes from down your way.


These bells worked in a similar way to how the chimes of an ice cream van irresistibly bring to mind ice cream.  It is a testament to the efficacy of bells in alerting people to their presence that in 1850 a law was passed, banning vendors’ bells.

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