The Reporter
No 490, 19 May 2003
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Fiftieth birthday bells and centenary celebrations


The Parkinson bells

You hear them around twenty times during your working day, but could you hum the tune? The Parkinson chimes, which celebrate their 50th birthday this month, have been providing a musical backdrop to University life since they were first heard on May 14 1953.

The original tune, called the ‘Leeds quarters’ was composed by West Riding professor of music James Denny and tested on his colleagues in the school of music, by using bottles or tumblers part filled with water, on which he blew to create the different notes. The original of Professor Denny’s score (below) is held in the University’s special collections.

The original manuscript of the Leeds quarters

The Leeds quarters is a more complex composition than the better-known Westminster chimes, as historical musicologist Dr Richard Rastall explains: “The Parkinson chimes have five notes in each segment, to Westminster’s four. Like Westminster’s chimes, each quarter the segment gets longer, without repeating the previous segment,” he explained.

While for many University staff and students, the chimes melt into the background, some have taken a personal interest. Fine art student Dan Robinson has used them as part of his masters project. Electrician Chris Nicholson has been researching their history in the University archive.

“The bells were funded through a donation by Mr G W Chapman, given specifically for a luxury which the University authorities could not otherwise afford. Senior officers made visits to various churches in Leeds to compare the bells, as it was felt the Leeds bells should be of a large enough size to convey a dignity appropriate for the University,” said Mr Nicholson.

The chimes were first heard on May 14 1953, at 12 noon, following a special ceremony attended by the then Chancellor, the Princess Royal, the Vice-Chancellor Sir Charles Morris, Mr G W Chapman and other guests. Except for a spell in the early 1990s, when a faulty mechanism caused the chimes to strike an incorrect tune, they’ve been marking the University’s days ever since.

~ Lighting up the Parkinson Tower is one of the options put forward in proposals for celebrating the University’s centenary in 2004. Other suggestions include special exhibitions, refurbishment of the Parkinson Court, a centenary ceremony including honorary degrees and an extra day’s holiday in 2004 for all staff. Full details are on the web at centenary/ and feedback from staff is invited. The proposals are now going through the committee procedure. Comments to David Wardle in the secretariat, email, ext 34452.

See full details of the research carried out by Chris Nicholson.


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