Municipal Carillon, The Kirk of St Nicholas
The Carillon in St Nicholas Church Aberdeen was installed after a disastrous fire in 1874 which engulfed the East Church and the central wooden tower which contained 6 bells, two dating from the 14th century. One of the City Councillors suggested that a carillon of 37 bells should be installed and be in place by 1885 for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, the money for the bells to be raised by public donations. The steeple is much taller than the original, and is of 2000 tons of Aberdeen granite. A carillon was ordered from Van Aerschodt of Belgium, and when ready was shipped over to Edinburgh, loaded on to a train to Aberdeen, and drawn through the streets on horse drawn lorries.
The great day came when the bells were to be heard – a Belgian player was brought in to play – but there was general disappointment. The tone was poor and didn’t carry. The steeple slats were enlarged to no avail, and a suggestion that the bells be struck on the outside didn’t make much difference either. It is suspected that the quality of the bell metal was poor, with not much tin. The carillon was played for a bit by the organist of the West Church of St Nicholas – there are two churches in the complex – but eventually only the bottom few bells were played, bringing out a single psalm tune melody. There was a great wrangle in the 1880’s as to who should own and maintain the carillon. As the money had been raised by public donation, it was decided that the carillon belonged to the citizens of Aberdeen, and should therefore be under the ownership of the City Council. These are, therefore, civic bells, although housed in a church.
In 1952, the City Council had the bells taken down by Gillett and Johnson, broken up, recast, and rehung in the tower. Clifford Ball gave the opening concert. The tone is now splendid, and admired by all who hear it, including various Dutch players. In 1954, 11 more bells were presented by the City Council to bring the total to 48 bells.
The first City Carilloneur was John Knox, followed by John Bevan-Baker, Robert Leys and, since 1978, Ronald Leith.
At the end of 2020 the West Church was closed by Aberdeen Presbytery and will be used only for occasional services. This does not affect the playing of the Carillon which is played regularly every week.
From mid-June to mid-September, recitals take place daily at midday Monday-Saturday, and from mid-September to mid-June, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. As there is no service on a Sunday, the carillon is not played on Sundays.
Heaviest bell: pitched to G#, 89 cwt, 3 qr, 26 lb, 4570 kg
Transposition: down 4 semitones (bottom note of clavier is C)
Practice clavier: There is an identical practice clavier
Construction: 1952, 1954, Gillett & Johnston
Carillonneur: Ronald Leith
St Nicholas’ Kirk