Bells and Clock
As you climb the tower, you’ll be able to view the world-famous bells of Great St Mary’s. There have been bells at Great St Mary’s since at least 1303, calling people to church, tolling for weddings and funerals, and ringing to announce the start of University lectures and meetings. Since at least the 15th century, the University and Church have appointed ‘The University Bellringer and Steeplekeeper at Great St Mary’s’, a role originally established to keep the university running on time. The current officeholder, who is also ‘Keeper of the University clock’, is Frank King.
There has been a clock on Great St Mary’s above the door since 1577, when there were very few public clocks. The tune of the chimes are known as the ‘Cambridge Quarters.’ If they sound familiar, it is because they were copied for the ‘Westminster Chimes’ in the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament (commonly known as ‘Big Ben”).
A new ring of thirteen bells was installed in 2009. They were donated by Dr Martin C Faulkes to mark the 800th anniversary of the University of Cambridge in 2009. The company of people that ring these bells, The Society of Cambridge Youths, is the third oldest group of bellringers in the world. They ring the bells before church services on Sundays, for weddings, and on occasions of University, Civic or National importance.
We are able to accommodate groups of various sizes. In order to ensure that your group has priority of access, we recommend that you book a reservation well in advance. Although you can risk turning up with a group in the hope of getting access to the tower, generally, booking two months in advance of your intended visit is sufficient time to reserve space; longer in prime tourist season.
The discounted rate for a group of ten persons or more is £3.20 per person. The concessions allowed for senior citizens or students touring individually are not granted as extra for group visits, since these prices already reflect this concession.
We can accommodate any size of group; however, we will almost certainly split groups of 24+ into two, since there is an insurance policy limit to the amount of people allowed to be on the tower at any given time. A group visit usually takes around 20-30 minutes per party of up to 24.
NB. On Sundays group visits will be split into 10 and restricted to 15 minutes up the tower.
Health and Safety Note for the Tower
- The tower is accessible only when weather does not constitute a hazard. The judgment of tower safety is made solely by staff of the church and will be closed if potential risk is deemed to outweigh the hazard. We cannot accept responsibility should this inconvenience your visit. If you have made a group booking and paid in advance then you will be offered either a refund or another booking slot as you choose. We accept no other responsibility.
- The decision to climb the tower is yours and yours alone. Please note that access to the tower is via a 123-step medieval turret staircase; therefore, persons with heart conditions or medical issues where the effort of climbing is considered hazardous should refrain from making the attempt. Great St Mary’s staff will offer no judgment in specific cases.
- As a visitor to Great St Mary’s, you are covered by our public liability insurance while you climb the tower.
- We regret to say that there is no disabled access to the tower, since it is impossible to install the required facilities in a building of this nature.