Monday, June 29, 2009

Memorial Hall: Little known trivia you should know about.

Blyth Memorial Community Hall
Home of the Blyth Festival
The heart of Blyth since 1920
This picture was taken shortly after the hall was constructed in 1920. The landscaping has not been done. There are only a few of us old guys around who can explain some of the original features of this amazing building, features that have been obscured by additions and other changes. They tell us a lot about the way of life in earlier days.
Note the open doors at the rear of the hall. They are the entrance to the firehall which was in use from 1920 to 1941. The fire equipment included two hand-drawn reels for carrying fire hoses to the scene of a fire as well as some axes and other tools for getting at the fire source. The fire hall also contained a structure for hanging the hoses for drying. In 1941 the village acquired its first fire truck, replacing the hose reels. The fire truck is on display at the current fire hall.
Notice the bell tower at the front of the building. That bell for many decades was rung at least three times a day: 7:00 am, 12 noon, and 6:00 pm. Occasionally, as a result of vandalism or other misbehaviour by young people, the council would set a curfew and the bell would be rung briefly at 9:00 pm to announce the curfew. The bell was rung by the person holding the job of town forman and police constable (plus many other duties).
The ringing of the bell was an art form in itself. Timing was everything. Jack Cowan held this position for many years during which he drew a distinctive and rhythmic sound from the old bell. Every other pause between rings was slightly longer than the other. When the bell swung back for the second ring he held the rope down for a moment, allowing the reverberation to continue before letting the bell swing down and up into the next ring. Wherever we were in the village when the bell sounded, my friends and I could always tell whether Jack was the ringer or whether he had to have someone stand-in for him.
My father, who operated a bakery across the street, was asked by Jack to stand-in for him for the noon bell ring one day. I recall my embarassment when I heard my father's rendition. He just didn't have the right rhythm, and I was sure that the whole town would be upset by the performance.
The rope for routine ringing the of the bell hung could be reached from the floor immediately above the front entrance of the building.
There was another way of ringing the bell which produced a radically different sound. It was produced by a clanger, a piece of metal which struck the bottom of the bell when the rope attached to it was pulled. This rope was a small white one which hung down the fromn of the hall from the bell tower to a bracket beside the front entance. This clapper was used exclusively for fire purposes: to sound the alarm for a fire, or to announce a meeting (fire practice, it was called) of the volunteer fire brigade. For a fire alarm the bell was pulled continuously and in an even rhythm; for fire practice it was rung as follows: clang,clang,clang, pause, clang, clang, clang, pause clang ,etc.
In larger printouts of this picture and the others taken up to the 1950s, you can see that white rope. It remained there beside the main entrance to the hall for many, many years. As far as I know, there never was an occasion when someone gave a false alarm or rang this bell as a prank.
There is a campaign in place to restore the ringing of the bell through an automated system. I only wish Jack Cowan were around to show them how to do it.

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