Soon after the close of the First World War the people of Loughborough began to consider how to commemorate those who had lost their lives in the conflict. The civic dignitaries considered a number of ideas but the proposal of a ‘lofty tower and carillon of bells caught the imagination of a number of eminent municipal people’.
When the idea was put to the townspeople there was great support, and it was decided that the tower should be built in Queen’s Park where ‘the sweet note of the carillon set in beautiful surroundings would prove a solace to many an aching and desolated heart’.
A carillon was thought appropriate for a war memorial in Loughborough for two principal reasons. First, the town was ‘the birthplace of some of the finest bells in existence’. These were produced at Taylor’s Bell Foundry, which survives today: bells have been cast there since 1839 and can be heard throughout the world.
It was also felt that carillons were particularly associated with Flanders, in Belgium, where ‘so many spots were for ever England’ for the Loughborough men who had been killed there.
The tower, now listed at grade II, was designed by Walter John Tapper (1861-1935) who was particularly known for his ecclesiastical work. He served as President of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1927-28 and was Surveyor of the Fabric of Westminster Abbey from 1928 until his death. He was knighted shortly before his death in 1935. Tapper’s first proposal was rejected as too expensive, so he came up with this new and more affordable design.
An appeal was launched to raise funds for the tower and there were donations from the great and the good of the town as well as everyday folk including ‘1,750 factory girls who gave from their wages’. Work began in late 1921 and the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone was on 22 January 1922. The town was proud that most of the materials and contractors were local to Loughborough. As building work continued companies and individuals enthusiastically offered to sponsor the bells, and almost all are engraved with the name of the donor and often a dedication to a family member who died in the war.
The war memorial was officially opened in front of huge crowds on 22 July 1923. Field Marshall Sir William Robertson performed the ceremonial unveiling before the Bishop of Peterborough announced the dedication. And then of course came the moment they had all been waiting for: the bells began to chime. A programme of music included a piece written by Sir Edward Elgar especially for the occasion as well as his Land of Hope and Glory, Chopin’s March Funèbre and the National Anthem.
The bells are played via a clavier in the chamber below the bells (see the section of the building above) and Eric Jordan was appointed the Borough Carillonneur soon after the tower was opened. As carillons are so rare in Britain he had no experience in playing the bells, but went to Belgium for lessons with that country’s preeminent practitioner Chevalier Jef. Denny (who had played the bells at the opening of the Loughborough war memorial tower). Jordan’s regular recitals were hugely popular and his playing was recorded by His Master’s Voice.
Eric’s playing was recorded in 1928 and you can listen to it here https://archive.org/details/2-jordan-we-carillon-fantasia-popular-songs-hmv-b-2683/3+Jordan+WE+Carillon+-+Mendelssohn+HMV+B+2687.flac
The tower was restored in 2018 and reached its centenary on 22 July 2023 when there was a special service to mark the occasion. Alun Brignull of the Hedgehog Press lives within the sound of the bells, and made this type-picture of the war memorial on the day of the celebrations.
From the start it was planned to establish a museum in the lower rooms and that use continues today with a focus on Loughborough and the two world wars. The museum is open on Thursdays and Sundays in the summer months when the carillon is also played (check the website before visiting) https://www.carillontower.org.uk
And if you’d like your very own carillon you can download a cut-out-and-build model (try and make it a little less wonky than the Flâneuse’s attempt) https://www.carillontower.org.uk/model/tower.pdf
For much more on the history of the tower visit https://www.loughborough-rollofhonour.com/page95.htm
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