St Nicholas Islip

8 bells, 12-2-9 in F#

Islip’s main claim to fame is as the birthplace of St Edward the Confessor born here about 1004. To redeem a vow he had made to visit St Peter’s, Rome, he built the Abbey of St Peter at Westminster and endowed it with the lands and buildings of the village where he had been born.

Although there has been a church in Islip since Saxon times the oldest part of the present church dates back to the end of the 12th century. The church however was largely rebuilt in the 14th century and a tower was added in the 15th. When Cromwell’s troops defeated the Queen’s Regiment at the Battle of Islip Bridge in 1645, Cromwell is reported to have used the tower as a vantage point.

The western tower now contains a ring of eight bells, tenor in G (38″ diameter) and a Sanctus bell (18″ diameter: cast by Humphrey Keene at Woodstock and inscribed in James Keene’s smaller lettering HK ++ 1652 now preserved).

However in 1859 there was a ring of five bells. Alfred White (of White’s of Appleton) notes in his diary when the bells were taken down on 15 August 1859 the following inscriptions:

Treble This bell was made 1611 5 cwts
Second James Keene made mee 1652 6 cwts
Third Ohnia Parata Venite AD1662 7 cwts
Fourth Michael Darbie made me 1655 10 cwts
Tenor James Brady
Relph Hawell
1652 14 cwts

Of these, the second and tenor were cast by James Keene and the inscription on the treble suggests William Carter of Whitechapel as the probable founder. Michael Darbie was an itinerant founder, notorious for his bad workmanship, who was staying in Oxford at the time he recast the fourth bell. He recast numerous others, including the eight at Merton College (since recast) and New College (now ten bells). Ellis Knight of Reading cast the third in 1623 and the old ring was cast into six in 1859 by Mears of Whitechapel who allowed for 43 cwts of metal. A new ring of six was opened on 27 January 1860 by The Appleton Society of Change Ringers with a 720 of Kent Treble Bob Minor rung by:

Treble A. White
Second N. White
Third F.E. Robinson
Fourth H.White (conductor)
Fifth R.Pitman
Tenor F. White

The inscription on the bells is as follows:

Treble G. Mears Founder 1859 4 cwt,2 qrs,0 lbs
Second G. Mears Founder 1859 5 cwt,0 qrs,1 lbs
Third G. Mears Founder 1859 6 cwt,0 qrs,3 lbs
Fourth G. Mears Founder 1859 6 cwt,0 qrs,15 lbs
Fifth G. Mears Founder 1859 7 cwt,1 qtr,6 lbs
Tenor* G. Mears Founder London 9 cwt,1 qtr,12 lbs


This peal of bells was recast in the year of our Lord 1859 through the generous offer of John Parsons Esquire (a banker of the City of of Oxford) to defray the whole expense.
Thomas French, Rector
J.P.W. Sydenham & Thomas Smith Churchwardens
‘Come, for all things are now ready’ Luke xiv 17

Mr Morris gave the following extract from Church Bells: the history and art of change ringing(p.234)

On Tuesday March 14th, 1871, six members of the University of Oxford paid a visit to the village of islip and succeeded in ringing on the pretty peal of six several peals of sixscore Grandsire doubles.

Treble Rev. E.P. Barrow Oriel
Second J.G. Leadham Univ
Third R.Troyte esq Trinity
Fourth H.C. Sturges esq Univ
Fifth J.E.Troyte esq Christ Church
Tenor W.B Ingram esq Univ
Conducted by J.E. Troyte esq, College Youth

Probably these are the first peals on record rung entirely by gentlemen of education. The bells were fairly struck without any breakdown, three of the ringers had only been learning since November. What an encouragement to others to follow their example! Besides being able to sing, we think every young clergymen should be able to ring and he will be able to take his place in the belfry.

These bells were again rehung by F. White (Appleton) 1908 in a wrought iron side pattern frame. The local ringers rang a peal of Grandsire Doubles here on 29 May 1910 in 2 hours 55 minutes which is recorded in the ringing room on a peal board. The ringers were:

Treble J. Clarke
Second W.H. Beckley
Third G.E. Stone
Fourth J. Malins
Fifth E.J. Nash (conductor)
Tenor H. Bateman

Another peal in the same method was rung on 26 December 1913 in 2 hours 55 minutes.

Treble J. Clarke
Second G. Jones
Third W.H. Beckley (conductor)
Fourth J. Malins
Fifth H. Bateman
Tenor R. Adams

On 15 February 1952, the local ringers again rang a peal recorded on a peal board in the tower, inscribed as follows:

February 15th 1952 in two hours fifty-five minutes
5040 Grandsire Doubles
Treble D.A. Maunder
Second G. Jones (conductor)
Third A.H. Bateman
Fourth H.W. Haynes
Fifth P. Timms
Tenor G. Johnson
Rung with the bells half muffled as a mark of respect to his late Majesty King George VI
A.W. Blanchett Rector

Twenty-eight peals have been rung on Islip bells since 1910, consisting of 3 peals of doubles, seven of minor, two of triples and 16 peals of major. The peal rung on October 31 1969 was to be the last for 23 years as peal ringing was banned by the PCC because of complaints about noise from the village, and all visiting parties were limited to 45 minutes.

In 1956 two new trebles were added, making a peal of eight. Given by the Gilman family of Islip, they were a generous gift in memory of the late Edward Willmott Frances Gilman OBE, MA for many years a churchwarden. They were cast and installed by Mears and Stainbank of Whitechapel and were dedicated on 15 November 1956. The first peal was rung on 8 December by members of the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bellringers, a peal of Superlative Surprise Major 5056 changes in 3 hours 2 minutes.

Treble C.H.Kinch
Second Alan R. Pink (conductor)
Third Valerie Willard
Fourth C. Coles
Fifth E.E. Pearson
Sixth D.H. Niblett
Seventh G.F. Burton
Tenor E.J. Smith

C.H. Kinch, ringer of the treble, was secretary and treasurer of the Bicester Branch of the Oxford Diocesan Guild (ODG) for 27 years and was also one of the trustees of the ODG for 30 years. A.R. Pink, ringer of the second, was Diocesan Finance Officer and his portrait hangs in the boardroom of Diocesan House, Oxford. D.H. Niblett, ringer of the seventh, is still Ringing Master at Canterbury Cathedral.

Tower Captains at Islip

The first on record was Edward Woodbridge who was followed by J. Clarke, John Malins and then George Jones, on whose retirement in the 1950s, Douglas Maunder accepted the post. He remained as captain until June 1977 when, sadly, he died of cancer. Philip Timms was the obvious choice as successor and he remained in charge until December 1983 by which time he had moved to Marsh Baldon where he also died of cancer in 1988. William Haynes, although not a resident of Islip but a tower member since 1951, was approached by Donald Westcott, the Rector, to be captain and he accepted on a temporary basis – which lasted until 1993 when Teresa Carter (nee Mitchell) became captain!

The Rehanging of Islip bells

When Phil Timms, Willie Haynes and Judy Westcott were doing the periodical shovelling of pigeon droppings from the bell chamber, they discovered that the tenor headstock was badly cracked. Brian White, the bell-hanger, was called to do an inspection and his report in September 1982 stated that the condition of the tenor headstock was such that the bell must not be rung until the headstock was replaced and the bell rehung; the cast in crown staple on the fourth was loose and might drop out at any time and the fifth headstock was also cracked.

Permission to rehang the tenor was granted. The estimated cost of £999 plus VAT was to be paid jointly by the ringers and the PCC. With Willie Haynes assisting to keep the cost down, the work started on 2 December 1983 and was completed early in 1984 but, due to the delay in starting, the cost had increased to £1182.20.

All eight bells rang again, although bells 3-7 had to be constantly patched to keep them ringing. By then a tower fund had been set up and all money paid to ringers for weddings was donated by them to the fund as well as donations from visiting ringers.

By 1988 the tower itself was in an appalling state with pigeon muck dropping on the ringers’ heads and rainwater soaking everything in the tower due to the broken louvres. In June, Teresa Carter and Willie Haynes met the PCC and on behalf of the ringers offered to pay for the materials and labour to rectify the defects in the tower i.e. keep out the weather and the pigeons and to install soundproofing to keep in the noise of the bells on practice nights in order to make Tuesday evenings more tolerable for those living near the tower.

The plans were turned down and although the job could have been done for around £200, with a bricklayer’s labour for a day and a half, the church architect wanted the firm doing restoration work on the tower to do it at a cost of about £8000 and claimed that English Heritage would not allow the work to be done. After about two years spent battling with the architect, Willie Haynes learned that English Heritage knew nothing of the issue, but after coming out and inspecting the tower they more or less agreed to the whole project. Unfortunately, the scaffolding had been removed by then and it would have cost another £2000 to have hoists erected in the tower to haul the stone blocks up to the bell chamber.

Whites of Appleton were asked to give quotes: Vivian White for the structural work and Brian for the fitting of the hoist to a beam and also an update on the cost of rehanging the bells. Two very reasonable quotes were received for this work and it was agreed to go for a complete rehang and retune at a total cost of £20,000 including VAT. Mrs Pat Chapple bravely took on the task of Village Fund raiser.

Following promises of very generous grants from the ODG (£2750), the Bicester Branch of the ODG (£1000), the Barron Bell Trust (£1500) and from the Islip Tower Fund (£1500) work started in February 1992 to dismantle the bells ready for lowering and removal. Wheels, clappers and stays were removed by Willie Haynes with help from Richard Stevens, the Bicester tower captain. On 2 March Whites started the lowering. Two days had been allowed for this but by 4.40pm on the first afternoon the last bell, the tenor, was safely on the ground and the headstocks were removed by Terry Hester, the Witney tower captain, and Teresa Geddes (nee Haynes).

The following weekend the bells were on show in the church and an auction of the old wheels, clappers and accessories was held: people were most generous in their bidding and a total of £1750 was raised during the weekend.

Other fundraising events were held: theme meals e.g. Burns’ Night, American Thanksgiving Supper, April Fool’s Day Dinner, Pancake evening, a gastronomic French country supper, German and American teas, a deer stalk and barbecue; a sweet stall, pottery mugs (made by Barbara Payne, a bell-ringer) were sold and parts of the bells were sponsored by people in or connected with the village.

Willie Haynes helped by Keith Chapple and Kathryn Grant began the massive clean-up, rubbing down and scraping of the frame. When finished, the frame was repainted with the paint very generously donated by Jim Pigott, Church Warden, Wood Eaton. Three days and three coats of paint later the job was completed and then the repointing of the tower steps (no mean task involving the carrying of buckets of cement up a spiral staircase).

Finally the pigeon droppings between the floor of the bell chamber and the ceiling of the ringing room were cleared out and the walls and ceiling of the ringing room were redecorated.

When ready the bells were collected from White’s workshop on Kenneth Maunder’s lorry, off-loaded and carried on Brian Henman’s forklift truck into church where they were on show on Sunday 10 August. By Tuesday, thanks to the help of Peter Franklin from Kidlington, the bells, with most of the fittings, were all back in the tower, leaving only the most intricate work to be done. By that date, the target sum of £20,000 had been exceeded.

A trial ring arranged for 1 September was an outstanding success. The sound of these retuned bells was music to the ear: a first class tuning job from Whitechapels. Several touches were rung: Grandsire, Cambridge and Stedman: the way the bells handled was a credit to the craftsmanship of White’s of Appleton. Edith Clift, from Radio Oxford’s Spirit Level, paid a surprise visit to record the bells and interview people who had been involved in the rehanging: this was broadcast the following Sunday.

The Rededication of the Bells

On Sunday 13 September 1992, the bells were rededicated by the Right Reverend Anthony Russell, Bishop of Dorchester, with the Venerable Frank Weston, Archdeacon of Christ Church, Oxford and the Reverend Dr Richard Sturch, Rector of Islip. Also present were Miss Emma St John Smith and Christopher Rogers, representing Westminster Abbey, the Reverend Donald Westcott, former Rector of Islip, and his wife, Judy, Colin Bramich from Tewkesbury Abbey, the Master, Deputy Master and Guild Stewards of the Oxford Diocesan Guild, and Ms Valerie Willard who rang in the first peal on the eight in 1956.

A plaque commemorating the rehanging was dedicated in memory of three former Islip Tower Captains: George Jones, Douglas Maunder and Phil Timms and also Mrs Angela Marfleet, a ringer at Islip and Tower Captain at Wood Eaton.

The first quarter peal was rung on 15 October 1992:

1268 Grandsire Triples
Treble Teresa Carter*
Second Brian R White
Third Reverend John D. Nixon
Fourth William Haynes
Fifth Terry J. Hester
Sixth Richard C. Stevens (conductor)
Seventh T Peter Franklin
Tenor Philip Sampson
*First quarter peal of triples on treble
First quarter peal on the bells since re-hanging; for the 80th birthday of Mr J.E. Henman; also the birthday of Andrew Zreczycki.

Weights of bells following the Rehanging

Treble 2 cwt, 3 qtrs, 21 lbs
Second 3 cwt, 0 qtrs, 12 lbs
Third 4 cwt, 0 qtrs, 11 lbs
Fourth 4 cwt, 2 qtrs, 17 lbs
Fifth 5 cwt, 1 qtr, 26 lbs
Sixth 5 cwt, 2 qtrs, 10 lbs
Seventh 6 cwt, 2 qtrs, 13 lbs
Eighth 8 cwt, 1 qtr, 7 lbs