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The United Kingdom's Most Popular Landmark, Big Ben, Celebrates Its 150th Anniversary
Big Ben is the largest four-faced chiming clock and the third-tallest free-standing clock tower in the world. Photo: EFE/Andy Rain.

LONDON.- Big Ben first struck time with the Great Clock on this date in 1859.

A brand new music piece that features all the bells featured in the Oranges and Lemons rhyme, will have its premiere performance this July to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first chimes of Big Ben.

The live performance will take place at St Mary le Bow church (‘I do not know’ says the great bell of Bow) on 10 July, with a 40 strong choir comprised of people who live or work within earshot of the bells mentioned in the rhyme. It will also receive a broadcast on BBC London radio on the 11 July morning show, marking the actual anniversary of the Big Ben chimes.

The composer Benjamin Till received an Arts Council award to make the piece – which involved ringing almost 200 bells across central and east London, some of which had not been heard for 60 years.

Stafford, Young and Jones solicitors is sponsoring the live performance after meeting Benjamin during his recording of the St Martin Orgar bell (‘Halfpence and farthings’ say the bells of St Martin’s), which forms part of its office in the Old Rectory. Two partners from the firm will also be performing in the choir.

Benjamin Till said: ‘I remember singing Oranges and Lemons in the playground at school. It's one of those songs that I don't remember learning - it was just always there.

‘The longer version of the rhyme references 17 City and east end churches, with each rhyming couplet giving a wonderful sense of renaissance life in London – from bakers on Cornhill and archers practising in the fields behind Lothbury, to little hints about what went on in the Tower of London. The poem is so much more than the six lines about money lending that most of us know.'

As part of the project he also recorded local people’s memories of the bells, including playwright Sir Arnold Wesker’s reminiscences and Joan Rose, the 83 year old daughter of a Huguenot grocer. Benjamin adds:

‘Her stories about going to Lyons corner houses in a pony and trap and rushing through the streets to Shoreditch Church because the ringing bells signified a wedding was about to happen, painted the most extraordinarily vivid picture of the early 20th century in the capital. I feel honoured to have met her, and all the bell ringers, singers, church wardens, vicars, and people with memories who have helped me on this deeply rewarding project.’

Big Ben |

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July 11, 2009

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