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Tidal bells strike the right note for Marcus Vergette
By Laura Joint
BBC Devon

Marcus Vergette
The Thames bell is the third in a series of 12 being made by Marcus Vergette

The latest in a series of tidal bells crafted by Devon sculptor Marcus Vergette is to be placed on the River Thames.

The bell will ring out for the first time at high tide at 12 noon on 19 September 2010.

It is the third bell in the Time and Tide series.

The first was unveiled on the River Torridge in Appledore in 2009 and the second was positioned on a rock in the Outer Hebrides in June 2010.

Marcus, from Highampton, plans to make 12 of the bells - made of corrosion resistant aluminium bronze - and position them at sites around the country.

Although the 3-metre high bells are exactly the same, the inscription discs are different. Together with the tidal movements which are specific to each site, this makes the sound of each bell unique.

Computer image of the Thames bell
This computer image shows what the Thames bell will be like

Work to get the Thames bell in place starts on 6 September. The site is near the prime meridian at 0° longitude at Trinity Buoy Wharf on the north bank, opposite the O2 Arena.

Fixed in position on the sea wall, it will be rung by the sea at each high tide. As sea levels rise with climate change, the bell will ring more often and at different stages of the tide.

"The Time and Tide Bell creates, celebrates and reinforces connections between our history and our environment," said Marcus.

"Here at Trinity Buoy Ward in Leamouth, it will serve as a powerful marker of sea level rise at the very heart of our maritime history."

Marcus, 49, has developed the bells with design engineering specialist Dr Neil Mclachlan. They have been cast at a foundry in Sheffield.

When the Appledore bell was activated, there were some concerns that the 'tune' at each high tide might cause some disturbance, but Marcus said the response has been "fantastic".

"It has been almost universally positive. Now that they have heard it, they enjoy it."

He said the bells are designed to provide a "quiet, intimate experience" for those nearby and so as not to disturb people or wildlife.

Positioning the bells at the high tide mark on rivers is a technical challenge - but nothing like getting the bell onto a rock in the Outer Hebrides in the North Atlantic.

Appledore and Hebrides bells
Marcus with the Appledore bell, and the Outer Hebrides bell

That involved craning the bell into position off a boat.

So how does Marcus select his sites?

"Each site brings something specific," he said.

"The first bell was installed at Appledore, a place of extreme tidal ranges, the second in a remote and beautiful bay off Great Bernera in the Outer Hebrides, some of the oldest rock on Earth.

"The fourth bell will be erected in Spring 2011 at Aberdyfi, Wales, on the estuary of the historic River Dovey.

"And the fifth is planned for the rapidly eroding eastern coastline."

Initially, the project received funding from the Arts Council but the bells are now funded privately.

Marcus came up with the Time and Tide idea following the foot-and-mouth outbreaks in 2001.

Marcus and his wife Sally lost their stock of Angus cattle and Devon Closewool sheep in the epidemic and they were unable to leave their farm at Highampton because of the restrictions.

Marcus' permanent reminder to the awful events of 2001 is a bell, which hangs beside the village hall in Highampton.




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