Clock Chimes

The deep, melodious chimes of a clock add golden beauty to daylight hours...solace and comfort to the long and lonely hours of darkness.  To each of the chimes there is a story.  To each there are words.

Westminster Chimes:

The world's most famous chimes are the Westminster.  Nearly everyone associates the Westminster Chimes with London's famous Big Ben of the House of Parliament.  Originally, however, they were fitted to the clock of the University Church, St. Mary's the Great, in Cambridge, England.  The chimes are believed to be saying this simple but beautiful prayer:

Lord, through this hour, 

Be thou our guide

So, by Thy Power

No foot shall slide.

Whittington Chimes:

The Whittington Chimes originally rang in the church of St. Mary le Bow, Cheapside, London.  In the 14th century, they became famous through the legend which connects them with Dick Whittington.  The boy, escaping from the drudgery of his master's housekeeper, thought he heard the chimes say:

Turn again, Dick Whittington,

Thrice Lord Mayor of Londontown.

Dick Whittington turned back to London and eventually became Lord Mayor.

St. Michael's Chimes:

The story of St. Michael's Chimes is one of adventure.  The bells were cast in London and installed in St. Michael's church steeple in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1764.  When the British took over that city during the Revolutionary War, they took the bells back with them in England and sent them home to America.  In 1823, when cracks were found in some of the bells, they were sent back to London to be recast.  In 1862, during the seize of Charleston, they were moved to Columbia, South Carolina, for safekeeping, but Sherman's army set fire to that area and nothing but fragments remained.  These were sent back to London once more, where the original molds still stood, and again the bells were recast.  In February of 1867, the eight bells were reinstalled in St. Michael's steeple, and on March 21 they rang out joyously:

Home again, home again

From a foreign land.

Ave Maria Chimes:

In 1825 Franz Schubert wrote seven songs based on the poem, "The Lady of the Lake," by Sir Walter Scott.  The poem is set in the woods of Scotland in the early 1500's, where Ellen Douglas lived in hiding.  King James V had banished the entire Douglas clan because Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, had imprisoned the child king during the early years of his reign.  The song was Ellen's prayer for safety for herself and her father as they hid in the woods.  It has become part of the standard repetoire for sopranos under the title, "Ave Maria.

Beethoven Chimes:

Ludvig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was first performed in Vienna in early 1824.  This was Beethoven's last major composition.  His use of vocal and instrumental music was revolutionary.  In 1907, Henry Van Dyke used a theme from the fourth movement in Beethoven's hymn, "Joyful We Adore Thee."  This chime encompasses the first eight measures of this famous hymn tune.

Other Notable Chimes:

Some select grandfather clocks will feature "God Bless America," "America the Beautiful," Shubert's "Ave Maria" and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony "Ode to Joy."  Moreover, if chiming melodies are not desired, some mechanical clocks simply feature a "bim-bam" tone, a half-hour strike or just an hourly strike.

Forms Of Chimes:

Most mechanical clock chimes are produced by tiny hammers striking metal rods that are cut at various lengths which produce different notes.  Generally there will be 12 hammers and corresponding rods in grandfather clocks.  However, some grandfather clocks have 16 hammers and rods and an even fewer select models will use long steel tuned tubes instead of rods, which are known as tubular movements.  Mechanical mantel and wall clocks may only have 8 hammers for their triple chime movements and 5 hammers for their Westminster only movements.  You can also find mechanical chiming clocks that employ glass and metal bells.  If a chiming melody is not desired, there are also mechanical chiming clocks that simply produce a "bim-bam" tone, a half-hour strike or just an hourly strike on coils or bells, usually with one or two hammers.

Sequence Of Chimes:

The sequence of the melody in grandfather clock chimes depends on the particular melody and whether the grandfather clock has 12 or 16 hammers. The sequence for the Westminster melody in a 12 hammer or bell movement grandfather clock begins at the quarter-hour, where the first four notes of the melody play. The next eight notes of the melody play at the half-hour. The melody continues at the third quarter-hour with the next eight notes of the melody, followed by a repeat of the first four notes that played at the first quarter-hour. Finally, at the hour, sixteen notes are played and begins with the eight notes played at the half-hour, followed by the first eight notes of the quarter-to. After the melody has played, the clock will strike the corresponding hours.

The chime sequence for Whittington and St. Michael melodies in a 12 hammer grandfather clock movement begins with the first eight notes of the melody at the first quarter-hour.  The next sixteen notes of this melody play at the half-hour.  The third quarter-hour plays the next sixteen notes of the melody, followed by a repeat of the first eight notes play at the first quarter-hour.  Finally, at the hour, 32 notes are played and begins with the first sixteen notes that played at the half-hour, followed by the first sixteen notes that played at the third quarter-hour.

Grandfather clocks with 16 hammers or tubular movements have a different chime sequence.  The clock will strike once at the first quarter-hour, twice at the half-hour and three times at the third quarter-hour.  Finally, at the hour, the full selected melody plays followed by the striking of the corresponding hours.  Sixteen notes of the Westminster melody are played at the hour and thirty-two notes for the Ave Maria and Ode to Joy melodies.

Mechanical and quartz mantel and wall clocks featured and sold on our site that offer a chiming melody will generally chime part of the melody every quarter-hour in many types of clocks (unless described otherwise), with the full melody played at the hour and then followed by the striking of the corresponding hours.  However, bim-bam movements will strike a "bim-bam" tone, usually on a coil or bells, at the half-hour and then counts the corresponding hours with the same "bim-bam" tone.  Generally, half-hour strike movements will strike once on a coil or bell at the half-hour and then strike or count the hours.  The passing hour strike, however, will generally only strike once on the hour.

Cuckoo Clock Chimes:

The melodies produced at the hour can vary with different models of cuckoo clocks but the most common melodies are Happy Wanderer and Edelweiss.  The amount of notes played for these melodies also vary depending on the music box in the cuckoo clock.

Mechanical Ships Bell Chimes:

Mechanical ships bell clocks are a particular type of a nautical clock that has a rich history that dates back hundreds of years.  The particular chimes, or bell strikes, for mechanical styles actually performs an important function in that it lets sailors know quickly when their shifts begin and end, which are generally four hours in duration.  These mechanical clocks will generally strike eight times at 4:00, 8:00 and 12:00 and then counts each half-hour with bell strikes.  For example, the clock will strike eight time at 4:00, which lets sailors know that their shift is over.  Then the clock will strike once at 4:30, twice at 5:00, three times at 5:30, four times at 6:00, five times at 6:30, six times at 7:00 and seven times at 7:30.  This process repeats again at 8:00 with eight strikes, followed by the counting of the half-hours with bell strikes until 12:00, where another eight strikes are produced.  This unique method of time indication is still used today in many mechanical movement styles.