Festival of Bells
March 21 @ 1:00 pm - 5:00 pmFree
We welcome you to the 2020 Festival of Bells!
All are welcome!
Be a part of history in your own neighbourhood!
Come and learn about the oldest church — and the first bells to ring — in Melbourne!
• History tours
• Kids’ activities
• Come and try bellringing
• Sausage sizzle
Saturday, 21 March, 1-5 pm
St James Old Cathedral
Corner of King and Batman Streets (across from Flagstaff Park)
The bells at St James Old Cathedral were the first to ring over Melbourne, in 1853, and were rung during the funeral cortège of Burke and Wills. They are still rung by a band of volunteers in the centuries-old tradition of change-ringing.
The Festival of Bells at St James Old Cathedral on Batman Street will be presenting new music from some of Australia’s pre-eminent composers. The compositions, which include and evoke the sound of bells, will involve the tower bells, the Federation Handbells, singers from the Newlands Choir, and the Roslyn McKenzie Mini Ring, a portable set of full-circle change-ringing bells that is the only mini-ring in Melbourne.
We’re volunteers who practice and love the fascinating art of change ringing: the historic English style of bellringing in which massive bells are swung on huge wooden wheels to produce intricate and beautiful patterns of sound. Bellringing brings together history, mathematics, physics, engineering, music, culture, teamwork, physical fitness, and (for some) spirituality in a complex and challenging art that stretches back hundreds of years.
The Tower Bells
The eight bells of Melbourne’s St James Old Cathedral, cast in England in the mid-nineteenth century, were the first in Melbourne to be rung in the style of change ringing: they were installed in 1852 and rung for the first time in 1853. The bells immediately assumed a significant role in the cultural and religious life of the new City of Melbourne and the colony of Victoria. They’ve continued in this role ever since, as the bells have been sounded without significant gaps not only in the Cathedral’s original location on (or near) the current Collins Street, but in its new location on King Street (where it was moved, stone by stone, in 1913). For over 160 years, the bells have proclaimed the living Church beyond its visible boundaries, called worshippers to services, marked significant moments in the personal lives of thousands upon thousands of Melbournians, and served as vibrant and emotionally significant signals of important civil and historic occasions. As well, these bells attract the attention of many groups of English bellringers who travel to Australia for the sole purpose of ringing unique rings of bells.
The St James Old Cathedral Bellringers practice every Friday night (except for Good Friday) from 7:30 to 9 p.m., and ring for Sunday morning services starting at 9:15 a.m. on the first, third, and fifth Sundays of each month. We are happy to welcome ringers from around the world, and to introduce curious newcomers to bellringing. If you would like to visit the tower or find out more about bells, ringing, or learning to ring, please contact Bill Cook on 0419 540 581 or Laura Goodin on 0432 695 505.
St. James Old Cathedral is also home to the Roslyn McKenzie Mini Ring, donated in 2018 to the Victorian branch of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Bellringers by John Martin. The eight bells — the heaviest of them only 20 pounds (about 9 kilograms) — have a light, ethereal tone, and their small size makes them an excellent entry into bellringing. Children over the age of nine are particularly suited to mini-bell ringing, and it’s terrific for helping them build coordination and teamwork in a supportive, non-competitive environment; many children and teenagers who have felt uncomfortable participating in team sports have found their niche, as well as lifelong friendships, in bellringing. It’s also a great family activity where everyone can participate as equals — in fact, children often learn more quickly than their parents!