December 15, 2021 By Ally Donnelly
The first thing you see when you open the thick, black door to Hingham’s Memorial Bell Tower is a hulking rock that looks like a big, misshapen potato. “Unpeeled!” calls out Jason Ryan.
Ryan is a volunteer bell ringer and the unofficial historian of the tower. Built next to Old Ship Church on lower Main Street in downtown Hingham, it’s the only freestanding bell tower of its kind in North America. Though it sits next to the church, it is owned by the town. It was built to commemorate the 275th anniversary of the founding of Hingham, Massachusetts. It was created as a “memorial with a voice” to honor the first settlers’ roots in Hingham, England.
The rock, which sits in the tower’s entryway is a bulky thank you from the people of Hingham, England. It was once outside the post office on the English town square. “You would step on it to get on your horse so you didn’t have to be in the muck,” says Ryan. “And so they sent this over to be the cornerstone of this building. But given its potato-like features, structurally it could not be on the corner of a tower. Later, when they were digging the foundation for this building here in Hingham, they dug up a chunk of granite of their own and said, ‘Well, let’s send that back to Hingham, England.' So there was this crazy early 20th-century rock exchange between towns.”
The Bells & Their Ringers
There are 10 functioning bells in the tower's belfry. They are recreations of bells that rang (or still ring!) in churches in and around Hingham, England. They were cast by the same foundry that cast Big Ben and the Liberty Bell and weigh between 500 and 2,200 pounds. Each Saturday morning, a group of 10 or so volunteers rises from their warm beds to ring the bells for an hour for the enjoyment of the community. Some of them have been ringing for nearly 50 years. One volunteer doesn't even live in Hingham anymore, Daniel Cushing (of the Cushing Cushings) drives down from the city each week to honor a tradition he has upheld since he was in 7th grade. How the volunteers physically ring the bells and, more importantly, why is a fascinating story. Join us!