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Crowland Abbey bells to feature
on BBC Radio 4 'Feedback' programme

On November 1st 1925 an historic event took place at Crowland Abbey. The sound of the bells became the first ever Church bells to be transmitted over the airwaves.

This was not a straight forward affair, the sound equipment had to send the signal through telephone wires to the BBC’s radio transmitter in an office above Selfridges and then out across the airwaves. This had never been attempted before. It was a huge success, the bells even being heard on the Australian continent in New South Wales.

It came to the notice of Police that an attempt was to be made to sabotage the transmission, many people thought it sacrilege to transmit the sound of church bells. The protesters planned to cut the phone wires thus stopping the transmission. The wires were in fact cut (between Whittlesea and Thorney) despite a large presence of police officers and soldiers. Unfortunately for the protesters the BBC engineer had not routed the transmission through the logical route and so it was the wrong wires that were cut.

A few snippets from the national press on 3rd November 1925:

‘At first kept secret, news leaked out during the week of an attempt to prevent the broadcasting of the famous bells of Crowland Abbey....’

‘The persons responsible for the cutting of the land wires - can have received small satisfaction from their dastardly attempt to frustrate the plans of the BBC....’

‘Millions of wireless enthusiasts eagerly awaiting the time for the commencement (of the broadcast) little dreamt of the nefarious plot being enacted to fill their cup with disappointment....’

And a snippet from one of the very many letters of praise received by the BBC:

‘We are 11 miles from Bournemouth and heard the beautiful bells as clearly as though we were in Crowland, on a B.T.H. crystal set.

The eminent engineer of the time, Sir Francis Fox wrote:

‘We are agreed that the result was most excellent. The tone and tune of the bells was perfect as also the ringing, which was without fault throughout, and most charmingly given out. We thank you and your bell ringers very heartily for the pleasure you have afforded to us and our household on this quiet Sunday evening.’

In celebration of that the first transmission Katherine Godfrey of the BBC arrived at Crowland Abbey on Friday 7th February to speak to current ringers and record the sound of the bells. This recording will go out on radio 4’s Feedback programme either on Friday 14th or 21st February.

Below is a photo of Katherine speaking to Guild Master, Alan Payne and also photo’s from the original recording.

Alan Payne with Katherine Godfrey

Original Picture
Original Picture

Philip Green (Elloe Ringing Master)