Bells and the Anglo-American Special Relationship

The National Bell Festival was delighted to receive a group of 12 students traveling to Washington, D.C. from the University of Westminster in London as part of their week-long Westminster Working Cultures program. The program is designed to enrich students’ perspective through hands-on emersion – engaging with professionals across sectors from digital technology and science to education and culture. 

The incredible experiences afforded the students included exclusive access to the National Air and Space Museum, the Lemelson Centre for the Study of Invention and Innovation, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Students also met our favorite Washingtonian and Westminster alumnus, Director of the National Bell Festival, Paul Ashe.

What can bells teach students? Teamwork and coordination, to start. But the valuable lessons went deeper. One evening during their stay, students ascended winding stairs and narrow lifts into the iconic 315-foot-high Old Post Office Tower that rises above downtown Washington, D.C. The tower, managed by the National Park Service in collaboration with the adjacent hotel, is home to the Bells of Congress

These incredible bells were a gift to Congress from the Ditchley Foundation, a privately-funded charity founded in 1958 by philanthropist Sir David Wills to support the Transatlantic Alliance between the United States and Europe. Wills was determined to commemorate the bicentenary of American Independence, so he arranged for replicas of the bells of Westminster Abbey to be cast by the Whitechapel Foundry in 1976 (the same foundry that had cast the Abbey's bells four centuries earlier). 

Students were given behind-the-scenes access to the bell tower and viewing platform, with a wonderful opportunity to meet the bell ringers and discuss their role in the sound canopy of Washington. Students were even provided the chance to ring the bells themselves, sending a thundering peal across the skies of Washington.

University of Westminster students coming to Washington from London, ringing a twin set of bells to those hanging in Westminster Abbey that were cast to celebrate the ‘Special Relationship’ that bridges our two great nations… It was the perfect backdrop to a greater discussion about collaboration, synergism, and mutual respect – a lesson of particular resonance today.