Organs and bells

Historic Sounds at Great St Mary's

The bells

There have been bells at St Mary’s since at least 1516. The current peal of 12 bells plus a semitone were installed in 2009 as a result of a generous gift made to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the founding of the University. Also in the tower and still chiming today are the original clock bells upon which were first sounded the famous “Cambridge Chimes”, which were widely copied and are now more commonly known as the “Westminster Chimes”.

Ringing at Great St Mary’s is performed by the Society of Cambridge Youths which was founded in 1724 and is the second oldest ringing society anywhere with a continuous history.   The Society rings the bells for services twice on a Sunday (8.35am-9.30am and 5.30pm-6.30pm) as well as special University and Civic occasions. It practises on most Monday evenings from 7pm to 9pm. The ringing is led by the Master of the Society, Jonathan Agg, and visitors are always welcome to both service and practice ringing.  During University Term the Sunday evening ringing is delegated to the Cambridge University Guild of Change Ringers.

For current details of ringing and for information on the history of the bells’ details please check the Society of Cambridge Youths website.

The organs

Great St Mary’s has the distinction, shared by few other churches, of having two organs.  The organ in the west gallery was designed and built for the west end of the church in 1698 by ‘Father’ Bernard Smith. It was paid for, and is still maintained by, the University. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the parish was allowed to use the University Organ for its regular worship. However, by the 1850s the University Organ had grown very unreliable, and the University was unwilling to commit the funds to have it repaired. The parishioners grew so exasperated that in 1869 they had their own organ built by Miller of Cambridge, in the chancel. The Miller organ served the parish for almost 100 years until its replacement by a brand new Parish Organ by Kenneth Jones in 1991.  Both organs are regularly used for services and recitals.