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Tubular tower bells


Large tubular bells, cast from a material that is superficially similar to conventional tower bells or drawn (extruded) from similar metal, have been used to make tower music or to serve as bells for tower clocks.  The largest such tubes weigh hundreds of pounds.  Such bells are not to be confused with orchestral tubular bells (often found also in pipe organs) nor with the smaller tubular bells found in some longcase ("grandfather") clocks, even though some manufacturers might have supplied all of these markets.  (In fact, the first use of tubular bells in America was for longcase clocks, and tower tubes were an outgrowth of that use.)

Tower chimes made of these tubular bells appeared in both England and the USA in the late 19th century.  More than 200 were made in England, though not much is yet known about them; at least four were exported to North America.  The early American tubular tower chimes never became popular--only a few are known, and not much has been discovered about their makers.  An early 20th century American manufacturer was much more successful, producing more than 400, many of which still survive in operation.

General history of tubular bells (below)
Makers and chime installations (below)

Links to information elsewhere:

General history

Tubular bells may have been used in France as early as the 1850s or 1860s.  But in the English-speaking world, they got their start when John Harrington, of Coventry, Warwickshire, England, patented a clock-chime of tubular bells in that country in 1884.  It was an immediate success, winning gold medals at Paris in 1885 and at Liverpool in 1886.  Within a few years, Harrington's tubular bells were being used in England in both hall clocks and bell towers.  (Different sized tubes were used for these different applications, of course.)

In 1886, Walter H. Durfee, an antiques dealer from Providence, Rhode Island, USA, met Harrington while on a business trip to England.  Durfee had recently begun importing English longcase (or hall) clocks to the USA, while Harrington was a partner in Harris & Harrington, sales representatives for a London clock maker, J.J. Elliot, Ltd.  Durfee and Harrington saw the possibility of using Harrington's tubes as clock bells, and soon Elliot was producing clock movements that could be used with Harrington tubular bells in longcase clocks.  Durfee began importing these movements and bells to the USA and assembling them into high-quality cases which he manufactured.  (Some are quite valuable today.)

In 1887, Harrington obtained the first American patent for a clock chime apparatus, and assigned it to Walter H. Durfee.  (For more information about this and other patents referenced below, see the separate page on Tubular Bell Patents.)  In the same year, Durfee sold his first chiming longcase clock.  With the protection of this patent, Durfee had an American monopoly on clocks with tubular chimes.

An early account states that "An exhibition of Tubular Bells was given at Providence, R.I. on October fourth and fifth, 1888.  It was the first exhibition of these bells ever given in the United States, and was largely attended during the two days, enlisting special attention from prominent architects, builders and churchmen."  Undoubtedly this exhibition was put on by Durfee, with support from Harrington.  Publicity about this exhibition may have led to a visit to Providence by the Dean of General Theological Seminary, who later that year gave the Harrington/Durfee chime which still resides in the tower of the chapel of that seminary.  It is not yet known whether this exhibition was held at the Providence church where a tubular tower chime had been installed some time before the Dean's visit.

In the same year, John Harrington obtained another American patent, which was also assigned to Durfee.

An 1890 advertisement for tubular bells states that the [English] patent was held by Harrington, Latham & Co. of Coventry, "Sole Manufacturers," and that "Over 100 Sets have been now erected."  It also stated that the U.S.A. patents were controlled by Walter H. Durfee.

The next milestone appears to have occurred in 1896, when James E. Treat, of Boston, Massachusetts, USA, received an American patent for a tubular bell which was reinforced by an annular ring inside and/or outside of the top edge.  Treat was an organ builder, and at about this time was managing the Methuen Organ Company, so it is possible that this patent was related to the use of tubular bells in pipe organs.  However, the patent was assigned to the United States Tubular Bell Company (see below), of which Walter H. Durfee was the president, and which shared the building occupied by the Methuen Organ Company.  So this event may also indicate that about this time Durfee stopped importing Harrington's tubular bells and began manufacturing his own, via the U.S. Tubular channel.  That hypothesis is supported by the appearance of this patent date on a set of four 1.5-inch tubular bells in a house chime.  Each tube bears the name of Walter H. Durfee & Company, Providence, RI (abbreviated, un-spaced and un-punctuated) along with four patent dates, the last of which corresponds to this patent.

In 1900, Allen W. Harrington obtained an American patent for an improved design of tubular bell for chiming clocks.  A.W.Harrington was a U.S. citizen, residing in New York City, and the patent was assigned to Harris & Harrington, of the same city.  Undoubtedly this was an American office of Harris & Harrington of Coventry, England, so it appears that the Harrington firm was now bypassing Durfee to sell directly into the American market.  However, it is not yet clear whether that market was for tower chimes, clock chimes, or both.  It's also possible that Harris & Harrington were selling only non-longcase clocks, so as not to be competing with Durfee.

In 1901, Allen Wardner Harrington obtained another American patent related to tubular bells for chiming clocks.  As in the case of his previous patent, this one was assigned to Harris & Harrington.

Perhaps spurred by the successes of Durfee and the Harringtons, others were now at work in the field.  In 1900, Rowland H. Mayland of Freeport, NY obtained an American patent for a clock chime.  The following year, Charles A. Jacques of New York City obtained an American patent for a clock-chime, and another for a tubular bell of different shape.  All three of these patents were assigned to Bawo & Dotter, who were clockmakers in New York City, but were also described as "a corporation of New Jersey."  Any or all of these patents may have formed part of the basis of a lawsuit by Durfee against Bawo in 1902, on the grounds of patent infringement.  Durfee lost the lawsuit, and with it his American monopoly on tubular clock chimes.  Afterward, many other American clockmakers began producing longcase clocks with tubular chimes of their own design, and Durfee's production of such clocks declined.  Other patents were later issued for a variety of other improvements to clock chime mechanisms; all were assigned to various clock making companies.  But none of the other clockmakers are known to have followed Durfee (and U.S. Tubular Bell Co.) into the field of tower chimes.

John C. Deagan of Chicago, Illinois, USA patented various musical instruments based on tubular resonators between 1900 and 1913, though no patent has yet been found that relates directly to the large tubes which he began using for tower chimes about 1916.  But in 1920, Leonard D. Morris of Chicago patented a chime mounting in which reference is made to "the proper guiding of dampers for the mounted chimes".  And in 1928, Frederick E. Little of Chicago obtained a patent for a "musical sound-producing instrument" which involves both a horizontal electric striker and a vertical electric damper above the top of a sound-producing cylindrical bar.  This patent was assigned to the Deagan company, which employed Fred Little, and clearly is applicable to the type of tower chimes which Deagan was already installing (though all known dampers in Deagan tower chimes were located below the tubes). 

Further details of the various makers' work in the field of tower chimes are given below.

Tubular chime makers and installations

Makers, in order of entry into this field:
Indexes to sites
Composite list of sites

For a detailed comparison of measurements of the tower tubes produced by Harrington, Durfee/USTubular, and Deagan, click here.

NOTE:  For each of the makers identified below, the span of years shown relates to the actual or probable range of years of production of tower chimes.  For those firms which conducted other business besides the manufacture of these chimes, those years do not necessarily reflect the entire lifetime of the firm.


Coventry, England;   1885-1930?

Harrington, Latham & Co. (later Harrington, Holland & Co.) was perhaps the only maker of tubular tower chimes in England.  Over 300 such chimes are believed to have been made, but only a few of them were exported, as follows:

   Australia   - 8
   Canada      - 3
   Denmark     - 1
   France      - 1
   Gibraltar   - 1
   Hong Kong   - 1
   India       - 1
   New Zealand - 1
   USA         - 1
For 286 of the nearly 300 tubular tower chimes known in England, the size is known, as follows:
      13 notes - 6 instruments
      12         1
      11         1
      10        22
       8       221
       7         1
       6        14
       5        19
       4         1
Only three of these are actually known to have contained one or more added semitones (12+1, 10+3, 10+1).  While the three other 13-note instruments are probably similar, all those of 10 notes or less are almost certainly purely diatonic in nature.  Furthermore, there is evidence that the typical way of arranging the taut-rope chiming rack for playing these instruments was with the treble note at the left end, with the notes being numbered in change-ringing fashion - treble to tenor, left to right.  This is exactly opposite to what a keyoard-trained musician would expect, and so it seems highly probable that these instruments were designed primarly to enable the chiming of changes, in imitation of what would have been heard regularly from most nearby towers containing conventional bells hung for change ringing.  The single instance of an 11-note chime actually corroborates this idea, because its one added semitone was not installed until 40 years after the original diatonic ten.

A list of tubular chimes in Kent (England) includes a drawing of a Harrington tower chime installation.  That drawing makes clear that these were manually operated instruments, probably equipped with a simple taut-rope rack for the chimer's use.  That list identifies 13 present or former tower tube instruments in a single county of England; they are dated from 1888 to c.1930, and range in size from 5 to 11 tubes.

For an index to pages about all of the known tubular tower chimes by Harrington outside of Great Britain, click here.

Links to English Websites about tower chimes by the Harrington company:

While it seems certain that Harrington exported tower chimes to various countries of the British Commonwealth, documentation for some such chimes is currently insufficient to confirm that origin.  For such possibilities, see Unknown, below.


Providence, Rhode Island, USA;   1888?-1925?

Starting in 1885, Walter H. Durfee singlehandedly resurrected the U.S. market for longcase clocks, using mechanisms which he imported from English clockmakers.  These clocks had been popularized by Henry C. Work's song, "Grandfather's Clock" (1876; see story and lyrics), from which the term "grandfather clock" came to describe what had previously been called "hall" or "longcase" clocks.  Durfee built tubular chimes of four to nine notes into many of these clocks.  (Previously, this type of clock only struck the hour, and sometimes also the half hour, on a single gong or small hemispherical bell.)  The tubes in these chimes were four to seven feet long, and somewhat more than an inch in diameter.  Initially these were imported from Harrington of England (see above), for whom Durfee was the sole American licensee and distributor.  But eventually some of these clock chimes were made in America based on Durfee's own patent.  In 1902, Durfee lost a lawsuit related to these patents (see above), and therefore lost his monopoly on the sale and distribution of tubular clock chimes in America.

Durfee's clock-making business is well known to horologists, but his tower chime business is still somewhat of a mystery.  For example, it isn't yet clear what the connection was between the tower chimes made by Durfee and those made by U.S.Tubular (see below), to whom Durfee licensed the right to manufacture tubular bells of two inches or more in diameter.  On the one hand, Walter H. Durfee was certainly the first importer of tubular bells to the USA, and tower chimes are known to bear his name.  (The oldest surviving tubular chime known in North America, that of General Theological Seminary in New York City, was installed in 1888 by Walter H. Durfee & Co. using tubular bells imported from Harrington's firm in England.)  On the other hand, he was also the president of U.S.Tubular Bell Company for at least part of its existence, and the relative time spans of the two firms appear to have overlapped considerably.

Some time after 1900, Durfee produced a publicity booklet which described the uses of Durfee Tubular Bells for "tower chimes, breakfast calls, stage and organ chimes, and chiming hall clocks."  Included is a sketch of a two-note "ding dong" which used exactly the same mechanism as his 15-note chimes.  Other text shows that he considered making four-note peals, as well as chimes of 8, 13 or 15 bells.  Not mentioned there, but found to exist, is a five-note tower clock chime which strikes the familiar Cambridge (or Westminster) quarters.  Durfee didn't provide the tower clock, but he must have provided the counter-balanced levers for the simple interface between the clock action and the chime action.  That tower clock chime is the only Durfee installation inspected to date which has a frame made for fewer than 15 notes; this leads to the conclusion that Durfee minimized his manufacturing costs by using just a few standard designs.

It is known that Durfee was personally involved in installing several tower chimes in 1910-11, with the assistance of one helper.  This might be an indication that by this date his longcase clock business had shrunk to the point where it was a minor part of his activities, if indeed it still existed at all.  Durfee's own tubular tower chime business was sold to McShane (below) by 1925.

Reference:  See also "Walter H. Durfee - his clocks, his chimes, his story" in NAWCC Bulletin #215, Dec. 1981, pp.556-583.

For an index to pages about all of the known tubular tower chimes by Durfee, click here.

Small tower chimes (fewer than 8 notes) by Durfee:

Durfee & U.S.Tubular vs. Harrington

The American-made tubular tower chimes from both Durfee (see above) and U.S.Tubular (see below) are typically both distinctly similar to and distinctly different from the English-made chimes from Harrington (see above). 


Differences: It is notable that chimes by Durfee and UST were typically arranged with the treble note at the right end, as musicians would expect.  All of those which we have inspected are non-transposing instruments with the same starting note - A natural.


Methuen, Massachusetts, USA;   1893?-1916?

The United States Tubular Bell Company was one of several commercial ventures by Edward F. Searles (1841-1920).  Together with the Methuen Organ Company, another of Searles' holdings, the United States Tubular Bell Company occupied a wooden factory building on the north bank of the Spicket River, originally built as a woolen mill.  That building was destroyed in June of 1943 by a general alarm fire, which fortunately did not damage the nearby Serlo Organ Hall (now the Methuen Memorial Music Hall).  [That Webpage might be here now.]

Walter H. Durfee (see above) was president of this firm, which sold tubular tower chimes to churches and universities throughout the country.  An advertisement for its tubular bells ("Harrington Patents; For Churches, Turret Clocks, Public Buildings, Etc.") specified the same sizes as Durfee: "Ding-dongs, 2 bells; Peals, 4 bells; Chimes, 8, 13, and 15 bells."  Unfortunately, no list of its customers has yet been found, though other evidence confirms its existence in 1894-6, at least.  A few such chimes are known to bear a U.S.Tubular nameplate, and several others are presently attributed to this firm.  Eventually the company was sold to Deagan (see below); the year of that sale is not yet known, though it may reasonably be presumed to have been about the time that Deagan began making tubular tower chimes in 1916.

For a contemporary newspaper article about one of this company's chimes, click here.

For an index to pages about all of the known chimes by the U.S. Tubular Bell Company, click here.

Links to sites with small tower chimes (fewer than 8 notes) by the U.S. Tubular Bell Company:


Brooklyn, New York, USA;   c.1915?

Rowland H. Mayland, a manufacturer of musical instruments, produced a small number of tubular tower chimes late in his career.  It is not known what prompted him to go into this business, nor how many such chimes he might have made.  We have assembled a brief biography of him based on readily discovered basic facts, with references to other sources of information.

For an index to pages about all of the known tubular tower chimes made by Mayland, click here.


Chicago, Illinois, USA;   1916-1958

The J.C.Deagan Company was undoubtedly the largest manufacturer of tower tube instruments in North America.  Before entering this field, Deagan was already well known for a wide variety of tuned percussion instruments, mostly for use in band or orchestra.  But the tower chimes which he designed are on a much larger scale.  It has been reported that Deagan bought out the U.S.Tubular Bell Company (see above), but it is uncertain when that happened or what it might have contributed to Deagan's entry into the tower chime business.  Certainly Deagan's electrical actions bear no resemblance to the mechanical actions of U.S.Tubular (and Durfee) tower chimes.  The Deagan company produced about 439 such instruments between 1916 and 1958, though there is some uncertainty in this number because of enlargements, buy-backs, etc.  (See list and table.)

The Deagan tower instruments varied in size from 1 to 97 tubes, though the maximum keyboard range was 32 notes.  (Those with more than 32 tubes had multiple ranks like a pipe organ, with the sole exception of the 37-note set for the Wanamaker organ.)  The deepest note produced was C from a tube about 12 feet long and 5 inches in diameter, weighing about 600 pounds.  The majority of these instruments had 10 to 16 notes, and most were installed in the 1920s.  All had electric actions, with a variety of manual and/or automatic control mechanisms.  Although many of these instruments have been scrapped or simply demolished (some being replaced with other tower instruments), some remain usable, having been repaired or restored in recent years.

See our index to pages about all of the known tubular tower chimes made by the J.C.Deagan Company.  That index page also includes links to related material elsewhere on the World Wide Web.

Repair and restoration

The Top Rung Tower Chime & Organ Service maintains, repairs and restores Deagan tubular tower chimes.  Wherever possible, authentic parts salvaged from other installations are used to replace components which are beyond repair.  Existing chimes can also be augmented with refurbished control equipment (roll players, Westminster quarters, etc.).  A few complete systems are also available for sale.

Williamson-Warne & Associates also maintains, repairs and restores Deagan tubular tower chimes.  Some replacement parts are available for do-it-yourself repairs (see parts list with prices on their Website).

The Century Mallet Instruments Service is housed in part of the former Deagan factory building in Chicago, and was for many years operated by a former Deagan employee.  Although its focus is on Deagan's smaller instruments (and similar instruments from other makers), some information about Deagan tower chimes may be available.

There are isolated instances of other individuals or firms carrying out repairs or restorations of Deagan tubular chimes, but I know of no one else who is actively involved in such work now.  There are at least two companies (Verdin and Chime Master) which have replaced Deagan actions and controls with their own, so that the only original items remaining are the tubular bells themselves and the frame in which they are hung.


Baltimore, Maryland;   1925?

In 1925, the McShane Bell Foundry Company, a long-established maker of conventional tower bells, issued a pamphlet on "McShane Tubular Tower Chimes".  McShane reported purchasing Durfee's tower chime business, and described how they were adding to it an electric chiming action with keyboard, using standard alternating current so that no special power supply equipment was needed.  (Obviously, McShane must have been aware of the specifications for Deagan tower chimes, which required power supply equipment to produce direct current.  But neither Deagan nor U.S.Tubular were mentioned by name in this pamphlet.)  McShane offered sets of 15, 16 or 20 tones, all with the same starting note (A flat) and almost the same top note (D flat or E flat), with the 20-tone systems being fully chromatic.  Any of these systems could also be supplied with a clock mechanism to chime the Westminster quarters and strike the hour.  Unfortunately, no McShane tubular tower chimes are yet known to the compiler of these pages, so it is not yet certain that any were actually produced and sold.

For an index to chimes made by McShane with conventional bells, click here.

Unknown makers

Some tubular tower chimes are known to exist, or to have existed, but either there is insufficient surviving evidence to identify their makers, or they have not yet been inspected by a knowledgeable person to identify or attribute their origin.

For an index to pages about all such chimes, click here.

Indexes to sites

Extant sites outside the UK each have a Webpage of their own.  Those site data pages may be found in several different ways, through a set of indexes.  Relocated and defunct sites are collectively listed on a single page of "sites that are no more", which is also accessible through that set of indexes.  Both extant and defunct sites are indexed by their makers as cited in the sections immediately above.

For extant and defunct tubular chimes in the UK, see Mike Chester's Website.  About 290 are listed there; 16 are identified as having come from Harrington, while the rest are currently unidentified (though probably from the same source).

List of sites

A composite list of the sites of known present and former tubular tower chimes is available.  It is in two parts, one for North America and one for the rest of the world.  The format of those listings is fully explained in an Introduction.  The Introduction and the Listings are each in the form of a printable PDF file, which requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.  If you don't yet have that utility, then click the icon below to download it; versions are available for more than a dozen different platforms, in several variations.

Filling out the tubular chime survey forms for your chime and its tower will get you a free extract from the database "Carillons and Chimes of the World."

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This page was created 2002/04/29 and last revised 2014/12/13.

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