76: Great Tom bell
Christ Church, Oxford. c.pre-1545
Back to previous page  Back to Fine Stone Miniatures home page

This famous bell, the loudest in Oxford, originally hung in the tower of Osney Abbey, though little is known about its early years. In 1545 it was named Mary and moved to St Frideswide’s steeple, where it proved unsatisfactory. The bell was renamed Tom and recast in 1612, 1626 and again in 1654, yet continued to wear out its clapper. Three unsuccessful attempts were made by bell-founder Richard Keene of Woodstock, to recast the bell in 1678/9, increasing the bell’s weight from 2 tons to over 6 tons. The work was finally accomplished by London bell-founder Christopher Hodson in 1680, resulting in the Great Tom of today, which was then hung in Wren’s newly completed Tom Tower. Great Tom measures 7 ft. 1 in. in diameter and 5 ft. 9 in. in height. Opinions of the bell’s weight vary from 6 tons, 4.5 cwt, to a hefty 7 tons, 7 cwt. Great Tom was rehung in May 1953 with a new iron headstock.

The Latin inscription on the bell reads: “Great Thomas the door closer of Oxford renovated April 8th 1680 in the reign of Charles II. Deacon John, the Bishop of Oxford and sub Deacon give thanks to the knowledge of Henry Smith and the care and workmanship of Christopher Hodson”. Great Tom tolls 101 strokes daily at 9.05pm, a (now obsolete) signal to close the college gates. The 101 strokes represent the 100 original students, plus an additional one, added in 1663. Although Great Tom is still swung on special occasions, the clock hammer is used to produce the note at all other times.

Back to previous page  Back to Fine Stone Miniatures home page