The clock chime of Shove Chapel,
The Colorado College,
Colorado Springs, CO

An extensive history and description of this clock chime is contained in a newspaper article published in the Gazette Telegraph of Colorado Springs, November 22, 1931.  That article is here transcribed in full (from an earlier transcription), with the insertion of some [notes by Carl Scott Zimmerman].


    In the investigations made preceding the award of a contract for the bells in the Shove chapel tower, the remarkable coincidence appeared that the greatest bell factory in the world [Gillett & Johnston] is located in Croydon, England, a suburb of London and only nine miles from the village of Gatton, in Surrey.  The Rev. Edward Shove was rector of Gatton from 1615-1646.  It was his son, Edward Shove, with his wife, Margery Shove, who took passage to New England in 1638 and founded the American branch of the family.

    It was therefore appropriate that the contract for the bells and clock should be awarded to this firm.  This was quite incidental, as it seemed altogether a safe procedure to entrust this important work to a firm which had already produced many outstanding examples of bell casting.  Examples include the bells in the Cleveland tower of Princeton University; the chapel of Chicago University; the chapel of Mercersberg Academy, Pennsylvania; and the university library of Louvain, Belgium.

    Considerable thought was given to the weight of the hour bell, which, of course, not only determines its musical note, but also those of chimes, for a combination of clock and Westminster chimes was early determined as the most desirable combination for this building.   Bells can be as much an expression of a building as the architecture itself.  From a great, massive tower such as that of Shove chapel it is natural to expect a deep, sonorous tone from hour bell, just as from a fleche or spire one expects the light and airy tones of a chime or peal pitched to a higher key.

    The first estimates considered were for an hour bell weighing 7,200 pounds.  Further investigations of costs showed that a saving of $2,500 could be affected [sic] by having the college finance the purchase of the metal (at the then low prices) and making the steel framework in Colorado.  This saving was thereupon applied to the purchase of bells of larger caliber.  The present hour bell is 80 inches in diameter, weighing 11,200 pounds [estimated, not actual], and easily ranks among the greatest bells in this country.  Its note is G sharp.

    The four bells comprising the Westminster chimes are of the following sizes and weights:
Note Diameter Wt. Lbs.
No. 1 C [B] 31 1/2 in. 672
No. 2 A 35 in. 896
No. 3 G 40 in. 1372
No. 4 D 53 in. 3192
[Why the quarter bells are in the key of G when the hour bell is G# is unknown, but it is a most peculiar arrangement.  Typically, the hour bell accompanying Westminster quarters is either a fifth or an octave below the final note of the 4th quarter, which is bell no.3.]

    The total weight of the bells is 17,322 pounds, or over eight and one-half tons.  It was the custom not only to name large bells, but to have inscriptions cast on them.  The great hour bell of the Shove chapel presented a splendid opportunity to add one more inspiring thought to the fine expressions already hewn on the exterior stone facing.  President Mierow made several suggestions of suitable inscriptions from Kahlil Gibran's book "The Prophet" and the following was chosen:

"Yesterday is but today's memory and tomorrow is today's dream."

As Kahlil Gibran was still living at that time, a request was sent to him for permission to use the quotation.  His reply follows:
"Nov. 14, 1930
Mr. Charles C. Mierow, President
Colorado College, Colorado Springs

Dear Mr. Mierow:

    Thank you for your gracious letter and for your kindly and generous appreciation of my work.

    I am delighted in all you tell me about the Shove Memorial Chapel and its great tower and the chimes; and in the giant bell which will strike the hours - a sky reminder of time which is our conscious self. And if it is in your desire that a line I have written in "The Prophet" should be engraved upon that bell, I would be most happy and I would consider it an honor.

    Believe me, sir,
Yours sincerely,
(signed)Kahlil Gibran"

    The inscriptions being thus approved, instructions were forwarded together with a sample alphabet to Croydon and the molds completed ready for casting of the great bell.  Invitations were sent out to several persons in England who had extended courtesies to Colorado College in the matter of obtaining the ancient stones now built into the walls of the Morning Chapel.

    The great bell was cast on the evening of January 8, 1931, during one of the most devastating wind and rain storms ever experienced in England.  Despite this fact and his advanced age, the present lord of the Manor of Gatton, Sir Jeremiah Colman[,] Bart, who has expressed a great interest in the erection of this building as a memorial to a family which once ministered to his community, attended the ceremony.

    After being cast, the bells were tuned, the supporting beams made, and the whole erected temporarily in the foundry for testing with the striking mechanism.  [The steel beams must have been shipped from Colorado to England for this purpose.]  Shipment was made by steamer to New York, where the bells were transshipped to another boat and sent to San Francisco by the Panama Canal and thence by rail to Colorado Springs.

    The size and disposition of the bells in the tower were determined several months before working drawings for the building were completed and ground broken.  This was necessary in order to make proper provisions and to design the structural supports and foundations for the tower, which necessarily depend on the loads to be supported.  The actual hoisting of the large bell was accomplished in about 10 minutes without difficulty.  All the bells were securely fastened in their proper locations on the frame within two hours, without the slightest trouble.

    The clock has an open dial on the west face of the tower 6 feet 6 inches in diameter.  This dial is of cast iron with gilt lettering and hands.  The clock is automatic and self-winding by means of an electric motor.  Should local electric current fail at any time, the clock will continue to run for two or three hours.  This clock has control switches for operating the quarter chiming and hour striking mechanism, as well as automatic gear for silencing the bells from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.  There is also a specially devised automatic switch operated by the timepiece for floodlighting the tower during the period of chiming, with the period of operating adjustable for summer or winter use.  The chiming and hour bell switches start the electric motors that lift and release the hammers of the bells.  The sequence of the strokes is controlled by a steel drum with cams.  As the drum revolves, the cams to [sic] lift the levers of the hammers in the proper relations.  [This G&J clock, its strikers and floodlight control are now disused.  The clock and strikers have been superseded by a Schulmerich time system which utilizes independent solenoid hammers and is presently set to be silent between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.  The commentator does not know whether a new floodlight control has been provided by other means.]

    The unusual and distinctive feature of this whole installation is the automatic floodlighting of the tower and west front during the period of chiming every 15 minutes.  When the west approach to the building is fully developed and present obstructing trees removed to form a broad esplanade, the full beauty of this innovation will be better appreciated than at present and a magnificent vista opened up from North Cascade Avenue.  [It is not clear whether this vision was ever fully realized.   Although the area immediately in front of the chapel (to the west) is presently open, full-grown trees along North Cascade Avenue obstruct the view of the chapel for passers-by in vehicles.]

    The actual operation of this flood-lighting is accomplished by the time-piece movement sending an electric impulse about 10 seconds before the chimes sound, which throws open a mercury switch turning on the flood-lights.  A similar impulse sent after the last stroke of the bells closes the switch.  A separate program wheel on the timepiece throws on the current at a certain hour each evening and cuts it off at a later hour, the period being regulared [sic] by the simple operation of removing or adding a few cogs to the wheel.  The Shove Chapel is the first building to use floodlighting in this manner.

    Bells have been used from time immemorial and it is impossible to trace their origin.  They were used by the early Christians in their churches and gradually became recognized as part not only of the ritual of the church but of the life of the people themselves.  They were used for calling to meditation, worship and prayer, and found an increasing use in the community in expressing joys and sorrows, and hailing the New Year.  Later they were used for the more utilitarian purpose of ringing the curfew, or in French couvrefeu, "cover fire," a notice to those living in wooden houses to put out their fires and retire for the night.

    Associated as bells were with the ritual of the church, they appear to have been regarded from the earliest times with something approaching veneration.  It was customary to bless them with elaborate ceremonies being used.  A wealth of folklore and superstition has grown around old and famous bells.  Great musicians have left immortal compositions expressing their emotional reaction to their sonorous message.

    In ancient universities and colleges, bells were invariably used to mark the intervals of instruction and duty.  One recalls at once the celebrated "Great Tom" of Christ Church College at Oxford (from which an ancient stone rests in Shove chapel), which weighs 17,000 pounds and was cast in 1680.  The note of this bell is G sharp, being the same note as the hour bell of the Shove Chapel but one octave lower.  [Not so - the pitches are approximately the same, in spite of the difference in weight.]  It strikes one hundred and one times each evening at 9 o'clock - a stroke for every student in the college.  A similar custom prevails at the ancient Winchester College in England, founded in the fifteenth century.  This bell, which hangs in the tower of the College chapel, also peals each evening, a stroke for each student.

    Bells were first introduced into England by Bishop Paulinus of Nola in Campania, Italy about 400 A.D.  Hence comes the word "campanology" meaning the study of the use of bells.  The oldest dated bell in England is in Lancashire and bears the date 1296.

    Just as the erection of great cathedrals was, with the early builders, an expression of faith, so as the art of bell casting developed, the provision of the great bells became to be regarded as an equal manifestation.  Undoubtedly, however, the superstition that bells had the power to dispel the influence of evil spirits supposedly in the air and of driving away pestilence has much to do with the production of enormous bells in the middle ages, particularly in Russia.  In Moscow, we find the great "czar Kolokof" [sic] (the emperor of bells) weighing 492,800 pounds, the largest bell in the world.  It was cast in 1733 and, according to tradition, never rung, as a fire caused it to drop to the ground and break during erection.  [Not so - a city-wide fire plus ill-advised dousing with water caused the bell to crack before it was ever hoisted out of its casting pit; it sat there for a century before being lifted and moved to its present place on a low platform.]

    Also in Moscow we find the great "assumption" bell, cast in 1819.  It is 18 feet in diameter and weighs 220,000 pounds.  Its note, peculiarly enough, is also the same as the hour bell of the Shove chapel - G sharp and three octaves lower.  [Actually, only two octaves lower.]  It hangs above the Chapel of St. Nicholas in the Kremlin.  When this bell is rung three times a year all other bells in the city are silent.  Its majestic voice "produces a trembling throughout the city and a noise like distant thunder."

    It was in Holland and Belgium, however, that the art of bell making reached its zenith in the middle ages.  No traveler can ever forget the wonderful tones of the carillons of Belgium, which seem to truly express the thoughts and life of a people that are perhaps among the most devout in the world today.  To hear them is a sermon and benediction in one.  It was here that the secret of tuning the harmonics of a bell was discovered in the seventeenth century only to be lost again and re-discovered in England within the last 50 years.  Few people know that when the clapper strikes the bell, there are five musical notes produced, the combination of which reaches the ear as one note.  These are: (1) the strike note, (2) the nominal (one octave above), (3) the hum (one octave below), (4) the tierce ([minor] third), and (5) the quint (fifth).

    There is no secret about the composition of the alloy used for bells, which is known as "bell metal."  It is pure copper with a proportion of tin.  [approximate ratio 4:1]  It is generally supposed that a small quantity of silver is added to sweeten the tone, but this is not so.  This idea probably arises from the known ancient custom of throwing coins and jewelry into the crucible, a part of the superstition already mentioned.

Return to the Great Bells page, at the entry for this hour bell.

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