Wednesday, 7 May 2008


"You owe me five farthings" say the Bells of St. Martin's – Folk rhyme

I’m still in Perth and this morning I enjoyed a walk down by the river. The Swan Bells, situated on the banks of the Swan River close to the city centre of Perth, are housed inside this futuristic tower with armadillo-like shells enclosing a glass and steel spire. It contains 18 bells, 12 of them (cast in 1724) from St Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London, and the Perth tourist bureau speak of this carillon construction as one of the world's biggest musical instruments. They really do sound majestic as one walks by and are a great focal point in the Swan River foreshore park. The bells had to be removed from the London church because they were vibrating so vigorously every time they pealed that they caused structural damage and would have shaken the old building into eventual ruination. They were then sent to Australia as a gift during the bicentennial in 1988.

The tower and the bells have become a monument synonymous with Perth, the sound of its success ringing proudly through the city. The tower is within the redeveloped cafe, restaurant and shop-filled Barrack Square. The square also features entertainment areas, offices, cycling and walking paths, boat ramps, jetties and function areas within a landscaped garden and has become a focal point for residents and tourists alike. The tower was designed by architects Hames Sharley and is highlighted by innovative illuminations that show it sitting in a pool of water lit at night and refracting sunlight during the day.

The noise emitted by the bells is such that it has to be controlled. Soundproof louvers and doors were used to muffle the sound and can be manoeuvred to direct the noise towards either the city or the river. The 18 bells have a combined mass of about nine tonnes and when rung, exert forces of several times their mass on the support structure. To achieve the required stiffness, the six-storey bell chamber is made with reinforced concrete that was cast in-situ.

The 80m high glass clad spire is designed using the same concept as a bicycle wheel, laid horizontally. The spokes radiate from the centrally-positioned axle, the form declining in width as it rises to a point. The solid steel columns of the spire are rectangular. The concrete bell chamber is enveloped in 30m high, armadillo-like copper sails and glass.

carillon |ˈkarəˌlän; -lən|noun
a set of bells in a tower, played using a keyboard or by an automatic mechanism similar to a piano roll.
• a tune played on such bells.
carillonneur |ˌkarələˈnər| |ˈkarɪljəˈnəː| |-ˈrɪlə-| |kə-| noun
ORIGIN late 18th cent.: from French, from Old French quarregnon ‘peal of four bells,’ based on Latin quattuor ‘four.’

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