[ 1 ] The bells of Saint Michael's have an interesting history. The eight bells, cast in London, were installed in the St. Michael Church steeple in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1764. During the Revolutionary War, the British took the bells back to England.
After the war, a Charleston merchant bought them and sent them back to America. In 1823, when cracks were discovered in them, they were sent back to London to be recast. In 1862, during the Charleston siege, they were moved to Columbia, S.C. for safe keeping, but Sherman’s army set fire to the area, and nothing but fragments of the bells remained. These were sent back to London once more, where the original molds still stood, and again, recast. In February 1867, the eight bells were reinstated in the St. Michael steeple.
The eight bells were played by a chiming clavier, as shown in this century-old photograph. A chiming device such as this strikes the clappers against the stationary bells. The ropes shown were tied to the clappers unlike the ringers’ ropes which are attached to the wheels. The eight bells may e chimed by a single person, but to be rung, the bells require one ringer per bell.
This clavier, though extant, is no longer in use. Chiming is now performed from a keyboard in the choir loft, and by programmed mechanism, I believe. The photo records Washington McLean Gadsden, who chimed the bells for 61 years, retiring on October 1, 1898, dying on July 20, 1899.
The organ case had an inscription as follows, after one of the original pipes -- Jno Snetzler fecit, Londoni, 1767. The instrument today is by Kenneth Jones and Associates, Bray, Ireland, 1994, having restored the original case style and proportions. It has three manuals and pedals, 40 stops, 51 ranks, 2,519 pipes, 6 couplers, tracker key action, mechanical stop action with a parallel electric stop action.
[ 2 ] The chimes have patterns using the full octave in variants which distinguish one from another. Much like the variants of a tone row, these nine gestures ending on the lower tonic employ the tones in unusual melodic ways, given the era in which they were created. A short MP3 of the last or "fourth quarter" chime is here.
1st Quarter: 8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1; 2nd Quarter: 8,2,3,4,7,5,6,1 5,4,3,6,2,7,8,1; 3rd Quarter: 7,8,3,4,2,5,6,1 5,7,3,8,4,2,6,1 8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1; and 4th Quarter: 8,2,3,4,7,5,6,1 5,4,3,6,2,7,8,1 7,8,3,4,2,5,6,1 5,7,3,8,4,2,6,1, with the notes as follows: 1=low F , 2=G, 3=A, 4=Bb, 5=C, 6=D, 7=E, 8=high F.