The Cambridge Quarters

rainbow in backyardI’ve been thinking a lot about time this weekend. All prompted by my husband winding up his grandfather’s mantel clock for the first time since we brought it to our home. The clock seems peaceful here, in our little rock country house, and the chimes it sounds are real chimes, not the plastic midi chimes produced by modern clocks. Last night I found myself holding my breath, waiting in the dark for the clock to strike, listening as the tones played out in the warm night air.

Those beautiful chimes made me look up the melody, which some folks know as the Westminster chimes (like Big Ben) but the web tells me are more properly known as the Cambridge quarters; named for the chimes at the Church of Saint Mary the Great in Cambridge, England. The chimes sound on each quarter-hour, and on the hour the clock finishes with a strike for each hour. I mention this because the story behind the purchase of the clock is part of its special place in out hearts. My husband’s grandmother lost her sight after she was an adult and her husband bought the chiming clock as an aid for her to know what time it was without having to ask. Because of the clock my husband began to talk about his grandfather, a cheerful, elegant man who I unfortunately never got to meet. He also had a farm in the country and my husband spent hours there as a boy, riding around the Texas farm on a lawn tractor, playing in the barn among the farm equipment and in the grain silo. His grandfather’s farm was a place he described as a young boy’s dream.

The chimes connect the years of my husband’s childhood with the present.The large brass key that winds the mantel clock also is the key to happy memories of family. The sounds of their laughter and love still sound sweet in the warm Texas night.


5 thoughts on “The Cambridge Quarters

  1. So beautifully written, Debra. I, too, have an old clock, made in Germany-circa 1850, and it was owned by my great-grandfather who came from Sweden. It’s actually a grandmother’s wall clock with beautiful, ornate carving at the top. It’s one of my treasures!!!

    Wouldn’t you have loved to have seen George playing among the farm equipment or perhaps “hiding” in his own little kingdom called a silo? A farm is a great place for a little boy! Come to think of it………it’s a great place for a big boy too! 🙂 Well, really………it’s a great place for all best friends who have spent 37 years together!

    Enjoy the rich sound of the Cambridge quarters!!! It is elegance personified! How I would love to hear those beautiful chimes coming from my clock! It “dings”. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a clock that used to pay “Cambridge quarters” but didn’t know it by that name. The chime mechanism broke and it was going to cost too much for us to have it repaired. We just bought a new “insides” for the clock – now no chimes. This makes me feel sorry. Hope you have many wonderful years with it. (beautiful story of why your grandmother had the clock.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am a trainee tour guide here in Cambridge, UK, and part of my new job will be to stand outside the beautiful Gt St Mary’s Church and tell visitors about the Cambridge Quarters, and how they are heard the world over. Your story of the chimes connecting the years rang true for me because I didn’t grow up here on this green island, but in the sub-tropics on the other side of the world in Brisbane, Australia, where the Cambridge Quarters ring out from the clock in the city hall. The sound of them transports me from a grey and gusty January to the blazing sun and blue sky of my youth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kirsten, thanks so much for your kind comment. I am thrilled to know that someone who works at GT St Mary’s Church has read my little story. I have a soft spot for anything from Great Britain because my father was stationed outside of London for the U.S. Air Force in the early 1960’s. I started school on the Air Force base there. I have never been to Australia, but imagine that some of it is similar to the part of Texas where I live, about an hour from Dallas, but in the brushy open plain country. Amazing how a sound can connect us all.


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