The Brentingby Bell

The oldest of the two bells in the tower of Brentingby Chapel was cast by John of York in 1380.  When the church fell into disuse, it was stored at Thorpe Arnold and then under the crossing at St Mary's, Melton.   It is now mounted in the Bell Shopping Centre in Melton Mowbray.  It is regarded as the oldest church bell in England for which a date can be given. 

Ernest Morris's note on Brentingby's bells
Ernest Morris's note on Brentingby's bells

John of York cast many bells for Leicestershire's churches and it is likely that the Woodford family commissioned him on several occasions.  Thomas North proposed that John of York may have briefly relocated his foundry to Leicester at some point in the late 14th century, thus explaining the occurrence of so many of his bells in Leicestershire. 

North gives late 14th century dating for all the bells listed in the following article on the basis of the style of the gothic lettering on them.

The following is from the Sproxton Village Jubilee Website, Sproxton being a manor owned by the Woodford family through the marriage of William Woodford, son of John of Brentingby, to Joan (or Jeanette) Brabazon:

'The inscription around the haunch of the second bell is of singular importance.  This is the only one of a number of similar bells occurring in Leicestershire which bear the founder's name;  it has thus been possible to identify John of York as the founder of the whole group.  The other bells in the group have been identified as John of York's as they share the same initial cross and floral stops as those found upon the dedications of Sproxton's first and second bells.

These other bells are at St John the Baptist's church, Billesdon;  St James the Greater's, Birstall;  St Mary's, Brentingby (recently removed),  St Mary's, Cotesbach;  St John the Baptist's, Hungarton;  St Remigius', Long Clawson and St Peter's, Witherley.   The church of Our Lady and St Nicholas at Wanlip, has a bell with the same initial cross, but which differs from the others in having beautiful figures of seated angels in place of the floral stops.

The fact that one of John of York's bells was made to hang in Brentingby church is significant, as the manor of Brentingby was, like Sproxton, a Woodford possession at this time, Brentingby being the family's original seat.'