Mitchell Tower bells to ring out for King Charles III’s coronation on May 6

Visitors welcome in tower to watch change ringers in action

The University of Chicago’s Guild of Change Ringers will be ringing the bells in Mitchell Tower for two separate hour-long sessions on Saturday, May 6, in honor of the coronation of British King Charles III.

The campus student group UChicago Guild of Change Ringers will ring the bells from noon–1 p.m. and again from 2–3 p.m. CT. The group is led by Tom Farthing, a community volunteer, who said that curious visitors can come into the tower on Saturday to watch the ringers in action. If it gets too crowded, the group will cycle people through the tower. 

While commonplace in England—where bells will ring across the United Kingdom in the traditional English art form on the day of coronation—change-ringing bells are rare elsewhere in the world. The University of Chicago is home to one of only 50 such peals in North America.

The bell tower that soars over the Reynolds Club has a strong connection to England. The structure was modeled after a 1509 tower at Oxford’s Magdalen College, and the chimes, which were dedicated in 1908 in honor of Alice Freeman Palmer, the first Dean of Women in the graduate schools, were cast by a London foundry. The Palmer bells weigh from 564 pounds up to 2,443 pounds. 

The change bells are typically rung audibly for a half-hour, once a month and sound much different from the typical melodies played by the bells’ neighbor, the more famous Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon inside Rockefeller Chapel’s tower.

Change ringing requires several people pulling ropes attached to large heavy bells above their heads, which then spin a full 360 degrees, strike clappers and make the sound you hear from the bell. The bells do not play melodies, but rather permutations, with each bell taking its place in the rapid, constantly changing sequence. 

Twice a week, ringers practice on silenced bells; a computer connected to bell sensors generates bell sounds that can only be heard by the ringers in the tower.

You can learn more about the change ringers in this documentary video from UChicago Creative.