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14 Whitechapel Bell Foundry Poems

October 16, 2020
by the gentle author


The Bell Foundry Public Inquiry continues at 10am today, with live-tweeting at @savethewbf.


Dan Thompson wrote these fourteen short poems about the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and its bells, as part of his project to write one hundred poems about one hundred places in England. These are complemented with photographs by Charlotte Dew


The Whitechapel Sound



The clapper strikes the place-bell’s rim,

a 1930s tune by Mears and Stainbank.


Down in a spireless church on the coast –

Captain Sophie Littlechild leads the band

in a Kent Treble Bob Major,

ringing a Kentish rag.


The changes are heard up in the Cinque Port.

Eight still bells hold the peace

they’ve kept since before the Great War:


but the bells of St Clements sound,

‘Oranges and lemons, oranges and lemons.’




In the Arundel Tower at Canterbury.

Dunstan’s Bell sounds the hour

for pilgrims at the site of the martyr.


Thomas gave his will

to find freedom in the will of god.

He has been killed for his faith:

so we mourn –

he has been elevated to the company of saints:

so we rejoice.

He has been killed:

the bells will be silent for a year.


‘It is only in these our Christian mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once for the same reason’.




An old signalling-station,

a tower that flies the White Ensign,

the Prime Minister sung in the choir

as the bells brought by boat,

floated down the Estuary,

pealed over war graves

and Bones’ fields.




Along the Estuary, on the hour,

promenaders at Herne Bay,

and pleasure-trippers boarding Thanet wherries,

ghost figures on a ghost pier,

set their watches by the bell in

Mrs Thwaytes’ Clock Tower.


The hour drifts on the tides

to sea forts, pirate radio stations,

across the windfarms.




On the line between English and Danish,

Christopher Wren built a church,

German thunderbolts destroyed it –

the spire burning like a candle-

the Royal Air Force restored it.


Sign and countersign, fall and rise –

‘They held out their arms for you to pass under’


The man who burnt

Hamburg and Dresden

stands outside.


‘Lord, do you want us to

call fire down from heaven

to destroy them?’




Two Sticks and Apple,

Ring the Bells at Whitechapple


When I am Rich,

Ring the Bells at Fleetditch


We were made in this place

Ring the Bells at Boniface.




Big Ben in

The Elizabeth Tower,

St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey –

London rings.


The bells in Wren’s

St Mary-le-Bow

would have been heard

six miles to the east,

five miles to the north,

three miles to the south,

four miles to the west.


In St Andrew by the Wardrobe,

the bell rings by itself

when the vicar in Avenbury dies.




Be not afeard,

the isle is full of the

noise of bells –


Work No 1197:

All The Bells.


The wide bell

rings low and so loud,

nine hundred million people

can hear it.




Before each service,

the tenor rings seventeen times,

once for each of the Lewes martyrs:


one ring more than

the years of protestant

Thomasina Wood’s life.




Target 53.

The Kampfgruppe dropped marker flares

at the corners of the city.

From 20,000 feet, a cathedral looks like a factory.

St Michael’s burned, a magnesium flame

melting lead, catching in the oak roof.

The water ran dry before midnight.


Churchill stood on the

Air Ministry roof, waiting

for bombs that never fell on London.


The old Pack & Chapman bells,

‘each bell of good, bold and pleasing tone,

a very fine peal of ten’, recast,

rang as the bombs fell.




Habemus vicarium at Granchester –

‘we have a vicar, we have a vicar’



Wind the handle,

a turn for each day of the year,

and Great Tom will mark the hour.


Cover the fire.

Two bells call the curfew,

one hundred and one rings.

Cover the fire.

Cover the fire.




The edge, the Borders,

St Andrew’s in Penrith,

where Kathleen Raine

sat out the war.



me a piece about the

grave, James Joyce’.


Ken Twentyman will

show you the Fire Bell,

the Market Bell,

the Curfew Bell –

the Morta Bell for death.




After each round of bells

is a moment of silence,

change, before the bells

ring round again. In the

peace after and before

you can hear Whitechapel.




I St Mary’s, Walmer, Kent: St Peter’s, Sandwich, Kent (where the bells last rung in 1913), St Clement’s

II Quote from TS Eliot Murder In The Cathedral.

III St Peters in Thanet, Broadstairs: the local farmer is Mr Bones.

IV Herne Bay Clocktower

V St Clement Danes, the RAF church. Quote from George Orwell Nineteen Eighty Four and Luke 9:54.

IX St Thomas, Lewes

Dan Thompson, Peace Poet



You may also like to read about

A Bell-Themed Boutique Hotel?

Nigel Taylor, Tower Bell Manager

Benjamin Kipling, Bell Tuner

Hope for The Whitechapel Bell Foundry

A Petition to Save the Bell Foundry

Save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

So Long, Whitechapel Bell Foundry

4 Responses leave one →
  1. October 16, 2020

    A very touching Post. Have a look at the History of Kassel, the Town I live in today — it was completely destroyed in WW2:

    Kassel After 1943 – A Documentation:[]
    Kassel’s Church of St.Martin and it’s Osanna-Bell:

    Bomb Night 1943: When Kassel Was Destroyed (Contemporary Witness Report):

    Love & Peace

  2. October 16, 2020

    Beautiful, I can hear the chimes of the bells as I read the poem and see the pictures, this is a sound poem indeed!

  3. Jennifer Newbold permalink
    October 16, 2020

    So much history evoked by a few spare, ringing tones. Our heritage and our legacy… if we are wise.

    Thank you, Dan Thompson and G. A.

  4. October 16, 2020

    Nice to see the reference to Herne Bay Clock Tower. Despite being a proud Northerner, I love my family in Herne Bay and Thanet.

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