THE WELLINGTON CARILLON
Ring out the old, ring in the new
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Inscription from Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’ inscribed on the bell ‘Grace’, known as ‘Aroha’
The Wellington carillon is housed in a 50 metre campanile. It is an integral part of the National War Memorial, located in Buckle Street, in the suburb of Mt. Cook. This elevated site was chosen to meet the criteria that it should be visible from most parts of the city, and from ships entering the harbour.
The suggestion for a carillon to be built as part of the War Memorial came from a Wellington jeweller P.N. Denton in about 1919, but his idea was postponed due to Government financial restraints.
In 1926, the Wellington War Memorial Carillon Society raised £9600 for the purpose of purchasing 49 bells. The original design was for 69 bells, but funding only allowed for the 49 originally cast. Subscribers could pay between £30 and £1440 for a bell which would be engraved with a dedication bearing the name of a World War one casualty, the name of a military battle, or a military unit. All bells were fully subscribed within one week and were offered to the Government for inclusion in a new War Memorial.
The Auckland Architects Gummer & Ford won the 1929 competition for the design of the carillon, the National Museum, & National Art Gallery. The tower and campanile was to be built in the then popular Art Deco style.
Delays due to funding in those depression years meant that Work on the memorial was only started in 1931. The Christchurch builders P. Graham & Sons won the tender.
The first bells were cast in December 1927 by the British firm Gillett & Johnston of Croyden. The author and Evening Post correspondent Nelle Scanlon was present. Her emotional witness report read...
‘Wellington’s sturdy fight to have a memorial carillon ringing out across the harbour and hills was this day crowned in triumph. As the bell metal in the great cauldron was swung high to be poured into the prepared mould I borrowed a sixpence which I tossed into the mould where the stream of flowing metal, like a river of flame, swept it along in its tide. This was the first bell of the Wellington Memorial Carillon, number 38, Sari Bair.
Silently, almost reverentially, we watched at the birth of the first six bells. It was after sunset when they were cast. At noon the next day the outer covers would be removed, gradually, for fear the sudden fierce cold might crack the bell. In less than 20 hours the metal would be set, though not cold... In fancy we could hear those bells ring out and echo among the hills.’
The bells were tested by the makers in 1931, with the spokesman for the company saying
‘I think that it’s the most perfectly toned carillon we have made.’
The dedication and opening ceremony took place on Anzac Day 25 April 1932 by the Governor General Lord Bledisloe, witnessed by an estimated 50,000 citizens. The lamp of remembrance, placed on the top of the tower, was lit, and the Carillon bells sounded for the first time.
The first recital was played by the English Carillonist Clifford Ball, and the European trained Gladys Watkins of Wellington.
Since 1984 the Carillon has been considerably rebuilt and enlarged, with 20 mid-range bells replaced, and 21 smaller treble bells added. In 1995 the Government donated four large bells Grace (Aroha), Hope (Tummanako), Remembrance (Whakamaharatanga) and Peace (Rangimarie). The current National Carillonist Timothy Hurd donated 5 smaller bells. These additions brought the total number of bells to 74, ranging in weight from 10kg to 12.5 tonnes. The combined weight of the bells is 70.5 tonnes, making it the 3rd largest carillon in the world. The Peace Bell is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere
Timothy Hurd has held a number of master classes, attracting performers from both within New Zealand and overseas. A Carillon Festival was held in Wellington in 1990, with twelve performers from seven countries taking part
In 1955 the Hall of Memories was added, constructed by the same builder who was responsible for Carillon tower 24 years earlier. The campanile was strengthened to withstand the frequent Wellington earthquakes, and then re-clad in Canaan marble from Nelson. The original cladding of Putaruru Stone had been seriously corroded.
The National War Memorial, Hall of Memories, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Carillon are all being incorporated into a Memorial Park, currently under construction.
PLAYING THE CARILLON
The carillon is played by a keyboard (clavier) consisting of rows of wooden keys which the carillonist plays with hands and feet. The bells themselves do not move as they are bolted to a frame. Under each bell there is an iron clapper, more like an arm, that is attached by a system of levers and wires to the carillonist’s clavier. The sound produced is controlled by the amount of energy used. The National War Memorial clavier is one of the most modern in the world, designed and built by the current carillonist Timothy Hurd, who explains-
‘The carillon is a highly gestural instrument. The dexterity required is more one of limbs than of finger skills. It is like dancing to your own music.’
WELLINGTON CARILLONISTS PAST AND PRESENT.
Gladys Watkins 1932-1936
John Randal 1937-1950 and 1954-1983
Selwyn Baker 1950-1954
Timothy Hurd QSM from 1984
Ministry for Culture and Heritage website.