Rochdale Town Hall Bells – Broadcast 2018

Civic Pride is not much written about these days. That is sad.

Often now the only mention of towns and their administration is negative. Pride in a town seems to stop at the football team if there is one. Sometimes local loyalties may also be diverse and point in other directions. (W. S. Gilbert had us all sussed out on that score).

So perhaps you can imagine how pleasing it was to read that Rochdale Town Hall bells are to be played – or rather broadcast – on the BBC radio four. This will happen at Christmas 2018. They are among others which are replacements for Big Ben whilst that machine is repaired.

So what is it that pleases me so?

It is personal really. These bells are amongst my very first memories. A cherished one too. For it was these chimes which made me aware of music.

Of course, I knew that there was music. Mother sang it – and played it. It – music – was also at church. It was in the park. Grandfather played it on his violin and on his trumpet and cornet. There it was on the wireless as well. Every day.

But this was special.

Rochdale is a fine town. It is true that it has had more than its fair share of knocks. It has also – like many other places – changed a lot. But not so much that it is no longer recognisable.

Rochdale was a place we went to for special things.

Good shoes. Very smart clothes from shops on Drake Street. We bought our standard lamps from Ivesons’ on Drake Street. We had our Minty suite re-upholstered by Ivesons’. We took part in the Rochdale Festival of Music and Drama at St. Chad’s. We played in festival concerts in the Champness Hall – also on Drake Street.

We travelled by Rochdale Corporation buses too.

They purred along the main roads in and out of the town. Rochdale buses had a very smart blue and cream livery. The seats were upholstered in blue leather. The strip bell inside struck a refined note, unlike the low rasping buzzer of the Manchester vehicles and the impassioned but marginally hysterical Oldham Corporation signal.

The public gardens and roundabouts were well lit and were neatly replanted every year. Annual plants hung from lamp standards – and such smart lamp standards they were.

Of course it rained; and it got foggy – and misty; and some days the sun did not shine.

However, it is difficult now not to realise that there might have been griping poverty there – and maybe other negatives – but for the most part, there was plenty evidence of aspiration and hope and optimism; of kindness and civility that came from all the people we met, for then, for now, for life.

After all, it was in Rochdale itself that the idea of co-operation was manifestly made successful (even if the infant shoots of the movement were simultaneously taking root in several places in the surrounding district too).

Rochdale took its war memorial very seriously.

The flags alone are works of art. They are made in stone but no mere two dimensional images. No. They are furled and represent the services permanently on parade, the standards for ever as it were, catching the wind. Moments caught in time but alive for posterity. So clever.

The Esplanade is a wonderfully wide boulevard on European lines.

The old parts of the town still retain the traces of former days. The intriguing curve of Yorkshire Street and the happenstance of the buildings around Stationers’ Entry are really appealing. Modern changes at the bottom of Drake Street and around South Parade have made it appear different when visiting on “street view”.


I suspect that I am not alone in finding the banishing of traffic from town centres good in one sense. However I am sad that these measures seem to have excluded and driven away most of the gentle and legitimate vitality of a civic centre at one and the same time.

Never mind.

We cannot turn the clock back. Nor would we wish to. But we can make today as good as it can be. After all, the yesterday that I remember was once a bright tomorrow in somebody else’s head. The past was once the future and the new future will one day be looked upon as lost experiences in the past.

Everybody only has now.

This was my now, then.

It is a long time since I was there.

So I will be tuning in at Christmas. I will be listening to the chimes of Rochdale Town Hall. Again. On the radio.

In doing so, I will remember the time nearly sixty years ago. The time when I was fascinated by the blue buses, the red buses, the green buses, the pommard buses, anxious for the sweets we had bought and happy at the lovely Saturday afternoon we had enjoyed, holding my parents’ hands.

Just as it was time to go home, my father lifted me up high on to his shoulders. I know the exact spot to this day. The chimes rang and I was aware for the first time of the wonderful harmonics filtering out from the bells in Rochdale Town Hall. My whole life gently rung in in that place. In F. And E flat.

There are probably plenty louder but few sweeter.

Rochdale is a special place. It deserves kinder. To be kept safe. And I hope that everybody enjoys the gentle chimes as they ring out at Christmas 2018, no matter where they may be listening.

If you want to hear them and cannot wait for Christmas, please click here.



4 thoughts on “Rochdale Town Hall Bells – Broadcast 2018

  1. Oh Vox, where oh where is my hanky? This is a beautiful tribute to a beautiful place that not only exists on the map and land, but also in your heart. I love every syllable of what you wrote. The uplifting finale video at the end is sheer “genius”. I will not forget this blog. Not for an awful long time. It makes me want to write about places in my heart, too. You write so well. Perfection!

    1. Thank you svenskaborschka. You are most generous. The video is joyful – it replicates the Town Hall bells perfectly. I hope everybody is ready for Christmas 2018 when the chimes will usher in the News on Radio 4 (and hopefully some other programmes too!). I will have my hanky at the ready as well!

    1. Yes, it is the “Westminster Chimes” otherwise the “Cambridge Quarters”. Some tradition upholds the belief that the chimes are a variant of a Handel aria from “Messiah” but there is a very good article about the quarters in wikipedia and which makes a great deal of sense – even down to suggesting a composer. It is fair to say that the chimes are internationally recognised.

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