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History of Classic Grandfather Clock Chimes

Jan 21, 2008
If you own a long case clock such as a grandfather or grandmother clock, you no doubt have come to love the beauty of its tolling chimes. The classic chime tones that toll from many grandfather clocks have roots in history.

Many of us have heard these beautiful melodies without really knowing much about their origin. The variety of clock chimes is fairly wide but there a few classics that have become standard favorites of clockmakers and owners alike.

Some makers of grandfather clocks have been know to incorporate more than one chime tone, giving owners a choice to change the chime. Most standard grandfather clock movements utilize either a twelve or a sixteen chime configuration. The twelve chime arrangement is thought to be the most common. The chimes or tubular bells are struck by hammers at very precise intervals creating the desired melody.

Some grandfather and other long case designs may use just a simple, repetitious chime to mark the hour and half hour segments. Those floor clocks with multiple chime designs make use of several familiar and historic melodies.


The historic clock tower at the Palace of Westminster in London has tolled, with very few exceptions, since 1859. Known in popular culture as Big Ben, the clock is the largest four face chiming clock in the world.

Featuring the largest bell ever cast at 13 tons, the chimes and the great bell rings out a melody that has become known simply as Westminster. The most famous clock chime melody in the world was quickly adopted by chime clockmakers. There are several variations of the melody with some minor changes in pitch and rhythm.

Saint Michaels

While many chime clockmakers adopted the classic Westminster as a chime tone, another equally beautiful clock chime has its origins in the New World. A little known church in South Carolina became the home of bells that were originally cast in England in the 1760s. The bells were hung in the steeple of Saint Michaels Church in the city of Charleston, South Carolina.

During the Revolutionary War, the British Army captured Charleston. Along with other spoils of war, the British removed the bells from the church and sent them back to England. When the hostilities ended, arrangements were made to send the bells back to Saint Michaels. In the early 1820s crack were found in the bells, and once again found their way back to London to be remade.

During the American Civil War, there was an attempt to keep the bells out of the hands of the Union Army. In spite of being hidden away in Columbia, South Carolina, the fortunes of war were not kind to the bells of Saint Michaels. During the Union invasion of Columbia, the armies of General Sherman destroyed the bells. Since the original molds still resided in England, the bells were once again recast and the new set sent back to Charleston. In 1867, the bells were hung in the church where they have been to this day.


The origins of the Whittington chime are thought to be much older than the popular Westminster chime. Located in the Cheapside area of London, the Church of Saint Mary Le Bow has been home to the bells since 1392.

Ave Maria

The chiming of Ave Maria follows that melody of this beautiful song. Written by the classical composer Franz Schubert as part of a larger work, the song has long been a favorite of church choirs and operatic performers for many years and is one the most recognizable and beloved melodies in the world.
About the Author
Mitch Endick is the staff writer for the quality online storeFineWebStores.com.
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