Bournville echoes to the sounds of the bells every weekend. Sue Cooke talks to the musician responsible, Carillonneur Trevor Workman


Every Saturday, Trevor Workman sits high up in the rafters of the Carillon Tower on Bournville village green, creating a medley of sounds that can only be heard in the heart of the Midlands.

Trevor's first application to become Bournville's carillonneur was turned down because he was "considered not to have the necessary physique". But he was only 15 and still at school. Despite his outstanding musical abilities; he had to wait until 1965, when the post was advertised again, to play this unique musical instrument.

By then, having the necessary physical attributes, Trevor was appointed to the position he has held for the last 43 years, making him the longest serving carillonneur in history.

Outside Bournville, there are few people who have even heard of a carillonneur, or even a carillon.

This very rare and unusual musical instrument has been in use since the 15th century and looks very much like an organ. By playing with the hands and feet, similar to playing an organ, tones are produced by striking bells which sit in the belfry. Playing the carillon requires a considerable expenditure of energy - hence the need to have an athletic physique.

The bells of the Bournville carillon are made from the customary bronze alloy of copper and tin. Centuries of experimenting has proved that this combination of metals produces the best musical tone. The bells weigh a total of 17.5 tons, the largest being the bourdon at 3.4 tons, and the smallest being the treble bell at 12lbs (5.5kg).

There are just three carillons in the UK, in Loughborough, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and in Bournville, but the Bournville carillon is the largest in Great Britain, having 48 bells.

The idea of installing a carillon in Bournville came to George Cadbury on a visit to Belgium in 1906. When he heard the famous carillon at Bruges, which dates from 1675, he was impressed both by the sound of the musical instrument and also the obvious high regard in which it was held by its citizens. It had also impressed previous English visitors such as Longfellow who wrote his famous poem The Belfry of Bruges in 1842.

So George Cadbury ordered 22 bells from the bell foundry of John Taylor & Co in Loughborough and in 1906 they were installed in a small stone belfry on the northwest corner of the tower of the new village school in Bournville. Only one of the original 22 bells - the largest - still remains but other bells have been added throughout the years, mainly donated by George Cadbury's wife and son in memory of the chocolate maker's death in 1922.

Trevor, who comes from a musical background, has had a lifetime association with Bournville. "Both my parents and grandparents were employed at the Cadbury factory and my parents sang in the Bournville Male Voice Choir." he said. I began learning to play the piano at the age of seven and for over twenty years accompanied the choir on piano and organ. I eventually became the conductor in 1990.

"Over the years, because of family and career commitments I was unable to take up the many offers to play abroad but in 1995 I was asked to play in a European Carillon Festival in Bruges which I was able to accept." He said.

His performance at that event led to much speculation about the "previously unheard of English Carillonneur" and as a result Trevor has been asked to play all over the world.

He is President of the British Carillon Society and has represented Great Britain in five Eurocarillon Festivals, participating in the 10th World Carillon Congress held in Aschaffenburg, Germany, in 1996, and in the 11th Congress in Mechelen, Belgium in 1999.

One of the high notes in Trevor's long career is the establishment of a school for carilloneurs. In conjunction with the Royal Carillon School "Jef Denyn" Mechelen Belgium and the Dordrecht Carillon Institute in Holland, the "George Cadbury Carillon School" was established in Bournville in 2007, to train promising musicians from all over the UK.

This year Trevor will be visiting the USA to give recitals in Michigan and will visit Europe to play in Holland and Belgium.

On September 6, the Dutch travelling Carillon will be played at St. Francis Church in Bournville, by an array of international guest musicians, at a "Friends of the carillon" Autumn concert.

Visitors to Bournville Village Green can hear Trevor Workman playing the carillon every Saturday on the dot at 12 noon and 3pm.

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