THE CHURCH BELLS.
On the floor of St. Nicholas Church are five bells which were damaged when the Tower collapsed. The inscriptions an them, according to L'Estrange's Church Bells of Norfolk, are:-
No.1. - Michael Darbie made me 1661.
" 2. - John Draper made me 1621.
" 3. - Virginis Egregie Vocor Campona Marie.
" 4. - Etheldreda Bona Tibi Dantur Plurima-Dona.
" 5. - John Draper made me 16l4.
Michael Darbie was a bell-founder whose locality is unknown. Bells cast by him date from 1651 to 1674. In Norfolk there are three only of his bells each dated 1661 - one at Mileham, one at Norwich St. Andrews, one at Feltwell St. Nicholas. He appears to have been an itinerant founder as bells cast by him are found in various parts of England.
John Draper was son of Thomas Draper, bell-founder, of Thetford, who flourished 1577 to 1595. Bells cast by John Draper are frequent in West Norfolk and Suffolk. He died 1644, and with his death the Thetford Bell-foundry came to an end.
Bells No. 3 and No. 4, it should be noted, each have a rhyming verse in which is made known to us the patron of the bell. The inscription on No. 3 is found on many bells; put into English it reads: "I am called the bell of the excellent Virgin Mary"; on No. 4: "Many gifts are given thee by the good Etheldreda." St. Etheldreda, better known as St. Audrey, was a princess of East Anglia and twice a wife, but gave up married life to take religious vows. She founded the Monastry of Ely, of which she became the first Abbess, and died A.D. 679. Over her shrine arose the glorious Cathedral of the Fens.
St. Mary's Church has three bells with the following
inscriptions as given in L'Estrange's book:-
(Article 6 in St Mary's Church Loop)
No.1. - Thomas Newman made me 1711.
" 2. - Thomas Thickpenny and Peter Drak. C.W. 1711
" 3. - John Draper made me 1621.
Thomas Newman, whose bells date from 1701 to 1744, was a Norwich founder. He is said to have spent part of his time away from Norwich as an itinerant bell-founder.
From the above inscriptions it will be noticed that the bell itself addresses us and tells us something. This may be strange, but in times past bells were held in great veneration and looked on as almost human; they were solemnly dedicated, blessed, and a name given them. We still speak of certain bells by name such as Big Ben of Westminster, Great Tom of Oxford, Great Peter of Exeter, the Margaret of King's Lynn. Extraordinary powers were attributed to bells; they were rung to drive off storm, tempest, or plague, and were the enemies of all evil spirits. In Longfellow's Golden Legend, Lucifer urges the powers of darkness to cast the Cross down from off the spire of Strasburg Cathedral, but the bells ring out and the evil spirits say to Lucifer:-
All thy thunders here are harmless,
For these bells have been anointed
And baptized with holy water.
They defy our utmost power.
Continue on the St. Mary's Loop or go to Written Records