A Look Back at the 2012 London Olympic Bell

It’s the start of the Olympics! And while much can be argued about the propriety of hosting the Games during a pandemic, we certainly applaud the spirit of unity in diversity and friendly athletic competition the Games inspire. To mark the occasion, we look back on a recent ceremony full of campanological delight.

The 2012 London Olympics

Bellfounding has a long and proud tradition in Britain and, although many foundries have shuttered over the years, bells are still revered in towers across the isle. Recognizing this, organizers of the 2012 London Olympics made sure to feature bells prominently when showcasing their culture and heritage in the Games’ opening ceremonies.

Cyclist Bradley Wiggins, who had won the Tour de France five days earlier, opened the 2012 London Olympics by ringing the largest harmonically-tuned bell in the world. Cast for the Games, the bell weighs 51,393 lbs. with a diameter of almost 11 ft.

Whitechapel Bell Foundry of London designed the bell, but because its furnace capacity could not accommodate the large size, it subcontracted casting to the Royal Eijsbouts foundry in the Netherlands (courting a bit of controversy in its own right, owing that the work went to a non-British firm).

The isle is full of noises – but not from this

The bell is inscribed with "London 2012" and a line from Caliban's speech in The Tempest: "Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises." The other side bears "Whitechapel" along with the foundry's coat of arms. It was carted into the venue via the athletes’ tunnel with only a few inches of clearance to spare.

The bell was rung a second time later in the ceremony, just before Paul McCartney's performance of "Hey Jude." McCartney, forgetting the bell was going to be rung, blamed his faltering start on the unexpectedly loud tolling.

Following the Games, the bell was moved to a permanent location in east London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, where it hangs today. Local residents had voiced concerns over the potential disturbance, so it hangs silent.

Perhaps one day, the bell will ring again...

Cover image: Cyclist Bradley Wiggins sounds the 25-ton bell to officially open the London Olympic Games on July 27, 2012.