Holsworthy Church Carillon


To write a short history of our carillon fills me with a sense of pleasure, and not a little awe, for I feel that nothing I record can convey the true beauty of its chime, or its significance to the town of Holsworthy and its people. To have a carillon in a tower is rare - to have one playing an air inspired by its famous bells is quite unique.

The people of Holsworthy have indeed been fortunate to have two carillons at their parish church, the first being installed in 1872 at a cost of £400. The framework for the carillon and the newly-installed clock was made in 1869 by a Holsworthy tradesman, Mr. S.L. Manning, and lasted 38 years.

There were two large drums of seven tunes each, which were entitled as follows: 

‘Hanover’, 'Life let us cherish‘, ‘My lodging is on the cold ground‘, ‘Blue bells of

Scotland‘, ‘The last rose of summer‘, ‘German chorale', ‘Home sweet home’, 'O rest in the Lord‘, 'Holsworthy church bells No 1', ‘Morning glory‘, 'Holsworthy church bells No 2', ‘The return', ‘The pilgrim‘ and ‘Trinity Church New York‘.


This apparatus continued to function, albeit spasmodically, until 1910, after which the decision was taken to seek advice on its replacement. Under the guidance of the Portreeve, Dr. Linnington Aish, the people of Holsworthy started a fund for the repair of the carillon and had raised £100 by 1912.

The old apparatus was dismantled and dispatched to Germany for a complete overhaul, but the 1914-1918 war intervened, and short of coming back in the form of bombs, it was never heard of again!

And so we come to 1949, when it was decided to install a new carillon at the same time as a new ring of bells; a gigantic financial commitment by any standard. As with the bells, the contract was awarded to Gillette & Johnson, bell hangers and clock makers of Croydon.

The mechanism they installed is a ‘one off‘ designed especially for our church and operated on an electrical micro switch/compressed air principle. We have a total of 13 tunes (listed below), which are introduced down in the church on individual drums and played at 3-hourly intervals during the day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.


The strife is o'er, the battle done 

The First Noel

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty 

Brahms cradle song

Ye watchers and ye holy ones              

We love the place O God

Home sweet home 

Through the night of doubt and sorrow

Gentle Jesus meek and mild 

God that makest earth and heaven

Fight the good fight

The king of love my shepherd is

Holsworthy church bells

The last of these tunes is the ‘jewel in the crown’, the famous air for which the following words were written

Holsworthy Church Bells

Words set to Dr. S.S. Wesley’s tune for the Carillon.

Our Holsworthy bells ring sweet and clear,

The Glory of God proclaim,

And summon all folk from far and near

To bless and adore His Name.

O’er hill and dale their call they send

When e'er we hear them peal

We know that we should at Church attend

And there in reverence kneel,

Oh every Christian should obey

The message the Church bells ring

And to God's house pursue his way

To worship our Heav'nly King.

For there we our hearts and voices raise

With those of the Church above

In singing our Great Creator's praise

The wonderful God of Love.

With Angels, Saints, and Martyr throng,

And to the bells’ glad sound

We offer up prayer, with holy song,

Which rings the Universe round,

The Church here on earth and Heavenly Host

In unison sweet adore

The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,

One God now and evermore.

The music was composed by Dr Samuel Sebastian Wesley. It is known and loved worldwide and is reputed to have been written beneath the large beech trees on the southern side of Badock Gadens. [S.S. Wesley came from a very religious background, being a grandson of Charles Wesley and a nephew of John Wesley, both instrumental in the formation of the Methodist movement.) He was at that time the Organist of Exeter Cathedral and wrote the piece as a tribute to the Holsworthy bells. He gave the first public rendering of his composition at the dedication of Holsworthy Church organ in 1865. The words were written at a later date by the Rector’s Warden; F J Sluman.

We have had quite a number of people over the years visit our church knowing it to be the home of the tune and its lovely bells. Surely there can be nothing more nostalgic to the true Holsworthian than the sound of this haunting music floating over our ancient market town. Pray God, as we go into the new millennium, that it may ever be so.

This concludes my written history of Holsworthy Bells and Carillon; an important feature of our town's heritage. The torch has been handed to us by ringers now passed on, and we must ensure that we continue their example by keeping the tower of Holsworthy a beacon of hope and musical joy today, tomorrow and forever more.


R. Chapman, Captain of the Tower. October 1999

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