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CBeebies filming at Chichester's Medieval Bell Tower (posted 18 August 2016)

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BBC film crew visit the Bell Tower for CBeebies 'My Story'

Finley sounds the alarm
Finley sounds the alarm

This month we were delighted to welcome CBeebies to the Cathedral to film an episode of 'My Story'. This series of history programmes is for children aged 4-6 years and in each episode a child and a grandparent, or another older relative, go on an adventure into the past, dress up in period costume and explore a significant story in history.

This particular episode was focusing on the Great Fire of London and drew inspiration from the extraordinary testimony of a young boy called William Taswell. He was aged 14 at the time of the fire and attended Westminster School. William wrote a diary which gives an incredible account of the fire and provided a lens through which CBeebies could look at the event from a young person’s point of view.  

Finley, age 6, his father Dan and his grandfather Laurence joined the BBC film crew to visit the Cathedral. Finley and his grandfather arrived dressed in period costume to visit our ancient Bell Tower. Both Dan and Laurence are firefighters in the City of London, so they were all keen to visit and meet with our team of bell ringers to learn about the Great Fire and how the bells played an important role in this historical story by warning Londoners about the fire that was ravaging their city. At the time of the Great Fire in 1666, there were obviously no telephones, televisions, smoke alarms or sirens to help spread the news, so church bells were used to raise the alarm.  

Tower Master Hamish McNaughton taught Laurence how to ring a bell, while Finley used his skill and enthusiasm to ring a hand bell loudly alongside his grandfather. We have an accomplished team of bell ringers at the Cathedral, who usually ring the bells in quick succession to form a sequence called a ‘peel’. However to sound the alarm about the Great Fire, bell ringers used an unusual method, called a 'fire crash' where all the bells are struck simultaneously.  Our bell ringers are used to performing complicated peels, sometime lasting hours, if they were to ring more than one bell at the same time, it would be a mistake, described as "the bells have fired up". The bell ringers had to practise ringing the bells all at once to replicate how the alarm would have sounded.

There are eight bells in the tower at Chichester, the oldest dating back to 1583. Six were used to recreate a 'fire crash' alarm ring and five of the six are old enough to have been in use at the time of the Great Fire of London. 

The BBC film crew needed a good head for heights to record the re-enactment of the bells firing, as they had to scale 80 steps on a spiral staircase up to the chamber where the bells are installed in the tower, so they could capture the moment the bells rang out. 

The episode will be broadcast on CBeebies, at 5pm, on Thursday 27 October 2016.

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