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14th June 2016

Blue plaque unveiled to commemorate Exeter alumnus the Reverend Francis E Robinson (1833–1910)

A blue plaque has been unveiled at St Peter’s Church, Drayton, to commemorate the life of Exeter alumnus the Reverend Francis E Robinson  (1833–1910).

The plaque recognises Reverend Robinson’s contribution as a clergyman and doyen of bell ringers.

Reverend Robinson was presented to the living of St Peter’s at Drayton in 1878. On the death of his first wife Henrietta, he married Mary Caroline Butler, daughter of the vicar of Appleton, in 1867. It was at Appleton that he was introduced to change ringing and rang his first peal (5,000 or more changes in a ring of bells) in 1859.

He presented two extra bells to Appleton church to make a ring of ten and later augmented the Drayton bells from six to eight. He became the doyen of bell ringers and the first person to ring a thousand peals, which he believed he did on 9 August 1905, though he actually did it somewhat earlier.

He was seen as an authority on bell ringing, gave advice on installations, and was the first Master of the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Bell Ringers (ODG) founded in 1881, remaining in office until his death. He actively promoted the formation of other territorial ringing associations. He was also a gifted wood carver: the organ case, choir stalls and bench ends at Drayton are another part of his enduring legacy.

Failing health caused him to retire from the Drayton living in 1908 and he moved to Wokingham where he died in 1910. He is buried in All Saints’ churchyard. In 1913 a memorial tablet was erected in the cathedral cloisters at Christ Church by ‘The Church Bell Ringers of Great Britain and his friends’. Many tablets record his milestone peals in St Peter’s tower, a place of pilgrimage for ringers, and photographs of Robinson hang in many ringing towers of the Oxford Diocese. All Saints Wokingham celebrated the centenary of his thousandth peal with a quarter peal on 9 August 2005 and the ODG marked the centenary of his death on 16 February 2010 with peals in many churches across the diocese.

The plaque was unveiled on 22 May 2016 on the Church Centre at St Peter’s by the Most Reverend Colin Fletcher, Bishop of Dorchester and Acting Bishop of Oxford. The speakers were John Harrison, Tower Foreman of All Saints, Wokingham, and writer on bell ringing, and Douglas Beaumont, ODG Librarian. In attendance were several great-grandchildren, the Master of the ODG and many other bell ringers, Brian White of Whites of Appleton, and Drayton Parish Councillors. A peal rang out after the ceremony.

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