Britain awoke on its Olympic morning to the sound of bells – lots of bells – as Turner Prize winner Martin Creed’s scheme to herald the arrival of the Games with a national collective bell-ringing was enthusiastically carried out by thousands of people all over the country.
For three minutes from 8.12am, the bells rang out: from humble village chimes to the 13 tonne Big Ben, which was struck 40 times – the first time it has broken schedule since 1952 and the funeral of King George VI. The national cacophony was broadcast into millions of homes on BBC Radio 2 and Radio 4.
On Westminster Bridge, hundreds gathered at the start of the day to hear the famous clock. Cyclists joined in with their bicycle bells while others used anything to hand, be it a mobile phone or an old Christmas toy.
Further down the Thames, the event was announced with cannon fire from HMS Belfast, where 300 sea cadets, brownies and town criers joined in with hand bells.
Even the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt got in on the act, showing admirable enthusiasm before nearly knocking out an onlooker as his bell went flying off its handle.
The event, “Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes”, to give its full title, cast a rare spotlight on the ancient art of bell-ringing and its practitioners.
“It was an absolutely magical to be part of such an important national event,” said Sue Elrick, 66, the tower captain of Holy Trinity Church in the West Sussex village of Hurstpierpoint. “I don’t think people appreciate what an art there is to bell ringing. We had a belfry full of people. We were thrilled.”
Ms Elrick, and her vice-captain John Morris, 74, who has been ringing bells at Hurstpierpoint for more than 50 years, enlisted the help of local children to deliver the youthful vigour required to ring the bells “as quickly and as loudly as possible”.
Five boys aged 11 to 12 were put through seven weeks training in the basics of campanology – the science of bell-ringing. Although they broke three wooden stays in the bell tower in the process, their captain declared herself delighted with their progress.
“We have a great team here, but an ageing team. We hope they will be able to carry on the tradition for many years yet,” said Ms Elrick.