London Bells, London Cars


          I have been reading Peter Ackroyd’s, London: A Biography when I have the time—on the treadmill, between trays at work, in bed, in the pre-dawn darkness of my kitchen as I eat my breakfast and one time—almost—during church announcement time. One day while reading I came across this sad little passage:

“In 1994 the Meteorological Office reported that, before the sound of motorcars entered the already crowded streets, the bells of St. Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside “would have been audible all over London.”. . . Citizens used to bet which parish could make its bells heard at the greatest distance and it was said that bell-ringing was a salutary way of keeping warm in winter. It was sometimes surmised that at the Last Judgement the angels would peal the bells of London, rather than sound their trumpets, in order to convince the citizens that the day of doom had truly arrived. The bells were part of the sound and texture of its life. When the protagonist of George Orwell’s 1984 recalls the famous song with its mention of St. Clement’s and St. Martin’s, Bow and Shoreditch, he seems to “hear the bells of a lost London that still existed somewhere or other, disguised and forgotten.[1]

           My grandparents, on their first date in 1945, watched a film called “The Bells of Saint Mary’s” staring Bing Crosby as a priest and the Catholic church as its regal self. It’s sad to think, if they had decided to go see the bells of St. Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside, London instead, they may not have heard them for all their looking.

           I like cars. I drive cars. I support the increase of cars (if the market will have it that way). Cars are imminently practical for anyone living in the Midwestern United States, but it is sort of tragic that they have drown out the bells of London.

          We’ve all heard the story of Sir Edward Gray staring out the window of the Foreign Office in London, at dusk, on August 3, 1914—the eve of The Great War—and saying sadly to a friend, “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” He forgot the bells! For that was they time they too were dying out, and have hardly been heard of since.


R. Eric Tippin
The Study on 8th Street
February 23, 2013

Tottenham Court Road, London c. 1908

[1] Ackroyd, Peter (2009-12-23). London: A Biography (Kindle Locations 1080-1088). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.