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In praise of - Hyacinthe-Jean.

Not to mention Angelique-Francoise, Antoinette-Charlotte and Denise-David, who together made up four-fifths of the campanological choir which for 156 years rang out over Paris from the north tower of the city's Notre Dame cathedral.

The bells were joined by big sister Emmanuel, a 13-ton beauty whose tolling on the night of August 24, 1944, announced the imminent liberation of Paris by the allies. She did it in mournful E flat, the only note she has, but that is beside the point.

Soon, however, the girls will sound their last. Already three bells have been mothballed and as part of the plans for Notre Dame's 850th anniversary next year they will all be replaced. Eight new ones are being cast in a foundry in Normandy, the same size and shape as previous bells that had been melted down to make cannons during the French Revolution. They'll be made using the same traditional method as the ones whose sound was immortalised in Victor Hugo's famous 1831 novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, a process which involves the use of moulds made from clay mixed with the stuff that comes out of the south end of a north-facing horse.

According to foundry owner Paul Bergamo, Notre Dame "didn't have a bell which did justice to the building. Everyone knows that, everyone turns a blind eye to it". Joining him in saying good riddance to the old bells are music expert Herve Gouriou who called them "the most dreadful set of bells in France" because of their rather erratic tuning.

Despite that, a growing number want the old bells reinstated, or at least saved. One protester even asked the officers of the law to intercede, so moved was he by the plight of the old girls. As any folk singer knows, sometimes tradition means more than tunefulness.

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