We have 6 bells. Little is known about the bells prior to 1884, as documentary evidence is scarce. Edward VI in 1547 commissioned a countrywide inventory of church goods and possessions, and the Oxfordshire section remains.
Amongst the items listed at Drayton church, on 28th day of July 1552, are “3 belles yn the steple.” The oldest bell still bears the date 1470, and was cast by William Chaimberlain of the London foundry, and was probably hung in the church at that date. It is inscribed “Sancta Katerina Ora Pro Nobis” [Saint Catherine pray for us] and was the heaviest of the three, weighing just over 7cwt. It is not known when the other two in existence in 1552 were cast.
It is likely that the church continued with three bells up to 1884, although two of these early bells must have been either replaced or re-cast in the seventeenth century. The lighter of the two is now dated 1625, weighs around 4 cwt, and is inscribed “Our hope is in the Lorde.” The remaining bell, also weighing around 4cwt, is inscribed “Benedic hereditati tuae” [Bless your inheritance] and dated 1603. These two were cast by Ellis Knight I and Henry Knight I respectively.
The Churchwardens’ Accounts for the period 1641-1682 often refer to the three bells, and money was regularly spent on maintaining them. The ropes must have been more flimsy than those in use today, because they were replaced nearly every year. The leather straps probably holding the clapper inside the bell (baldricks) were replaced regularly, and repairs to the wheels undertaken, suggesting that the bells were well used and looked after. Things had changed, however, 150 years later. In the Churchwardens’ Presentments for 1828 the entry reads
- “12 August 1828.
- The Church Wardens…present that there are three Bells belonging to the Church at Drayton, and that two of the Bells are cracked.”
- By 1884 all three were reportedly cracked, and were sent away to the Mears and Stainbank Church Bell Foundry in Whitechapel. The metal from them was recast to provide the present 4th, 5th and tenor bells, with the original inscriptions reproduced and the addition of “recast Mears and Stainbank A.D.MDCCCLXXXIV.” In addition, the tenor bell is inscribed “Arthur J Williams, Rector. Henry D Betteridge, Richard D Buswell Churchwardens.” At the same time, three new, lighter bells were cast to provide the treble, 2nd and 3rd of the new ring of six. The treble, weighing just over 3cwt, is inscribed “Domine labia nostra aperias” [God, you open our lips] and includes the name of the donor - Joannis C Willoughby, Baronetti. The 2nd is inscribed “Os nostrum annuntiabit laudem tuam” [Our mouths will sing your praises] and was donated by Abraham Deane. It weighs a little over 4cwt. The 3rd, which is slightly heavier, is inscribed “Salvum fac populum tuum, Domine” [God, make your people safe] and was given in memory of Henry Betteridge with the words “Vidua et liberi moerentes” [From his grieving widow and children].
The oak frame and gear to hold this new ring of six was made by Frederick White, of Appleton, Berkshire. The total cost of the bells, with fittings and frame, was £253-11-9d, and was invoiced to H D Betteridge, churchwarden, who lived at Drayton House Farm. The frame was slightly larger than the internal size of the tower and therefore had to rest on the west wall of the church.
In many churches, the bells are lifted into the tower through a trapdoor in the ceiling. There is no such access here, nor are there any suitable windows to allow access from the outside. It is a matter of speculation how the bells found their way into the tower.
The tenor of this peal was apparently not heavy enough for it was recast again in 1885 at the expense of Mr Betteridge and the weight increased to over 7cwt.