December 22nd 1850; St Margaret’s church in Drayton had a disastrous collapse of the tower. It fell down leaving a pile of debris, burying the lead that covered the roof under many feet of rubble. The bells were undamaged. The church was largely rebuilt during the 19th century on account of the structural weakness that caused not only the collapse of the tower but also the resulting damage to the nave. The chancel was completely rebuilt in 1866. However the plan of the church appears to have remained the same although I suspect the foundations might have been improved, and the stones would have been reused in the new building. The roof materials of thatched nave and tiled chancel were retained.
There was a church in Drayton mentioned in Domesday and a few Norman features remain, notably the font. The church stands to the north of the children’s playground. This looks as if it was formerly the village green, but until 1961 this was the village pond. This was filled in and the Flo Carter Playground was opened in 1964. A row of house built at the west end of the site, but this has been a mixed blessing, as dampness has apparently been a problem. The pond is recalled by the name of the adjacent road, Pond Lane. The stream which fed this pond and then emptied into the river Wensum has been buried in underground pipes.
The tower of Drayton church now has a ring of 6 bells (the tenor bell was recast in 1968) and I have been to the belfry to see how they are hung. The weight of the bells can cause problems in old churches but the tower of Drayton church is relatively modern although in style it appears to be medieval.
The best-selling author Philip Pullman lived in Drayton for a while with his grandfather who was rector of the church just after the war. Like his grandson he was a great story-teller. (Philip Pullman’s best known title is His Dark Materials, but I must confess to never having read any of them.) There have been other namely clergymen associated with Drayton church over the years. Some more of them are mentioned below.
In 1899 the Rev. Hinds Howell of Drayton died at the age of 91 having been rector since 1855 (in those days retirement was unusual). Howell Road in estate off Drayton High Road is named after him. He was involved in many local activities – for instance he was elected to the first Education Board in 1881 and you can read of his care of the navvies building the railway at Drayton in Basil Kybird’s piece on Drayton Railway Station (August 17 2012). His daughter Agnes (a published writer of poetry) wrote a Memoir of his life. He was not however a local man, having been born in Barbados where his father was the Treasurer of the island. His first two parishes were in Devon in the district around Exeter, and he moved to the east of the country for the sake of his lungs, and the drier air. Also his relative the Bishop of Norwich suggested that he go to the vacant parish of Drayton.
He it was who enlarged the rectory (now Stower Grange) for his large family, and under him the school was opened in School Lane in the spring of 1857. He was very involved with teaching, later passing this duty on to one of his daughters. This building which would hold 120 pupils continued in use until after the Second World War when the school was moved downhill slightly, later becoming the Middle School and now the Junior School. This Victorian building was not the first school in Drayton, but the previous establishment was deemed woefully inadequate. It had been set up by 1815 but its whereabouts is unknown. Hinds Howell was a great organiser, doing much for the Poor Law at St Faith’s Workhouse and he acted as Hon. Secretary for the 8th General Meeting of the British Association to Norwich in 1868 and the meeting of the Social Science Association in 1873. I have a number of letters written by Hinds Howell to a young man, a family friend. Although he was over 90 he appeared to be in full possession of his faculties. He signed off ‘Your affectionate (old) friend’ and despite his rather severe look he seems to have been a charming man.
In the middle years of the 19thcentury the living at Drayton which was then held in conjunction with Hellesdon) was held by Thomas John Blofeld. This native of Norfolk was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. While at Cambridge (1826-9) he had been involved with the formation of the University’s Rowing Club.
The first “Bumps” race was held in 1827 and the first Boat Race against Oxford in 1829. “Bumps” I should explain are races in a river that is too narrow for side by side racing. Here, if the second boat manages to bump the first it has won. Such an enthusiastic oarsman as the Revd T. J. Blofeld soon exchanged the living at Drayton for that at Hoveton in 1851. Not only was there a more watery environment around Wroxham and this adjoining Broadland village, it was also the place where he had been born and where, no doubt, he acquired his love of aquatic pursuits. He was a prominent local Conservative (or Tory as we should say) and JP. By 1854 the parish was being looked after by a curate, the Revd J. Spurgeon Green.
That takes the story of the church back to before 1850; the oldest record we have of the rector’s name is from 1198 when the rector was Peter de Draiton. He was the son of the Lord of the Manor.
JOSEPH MASON with additional information by BAS KYBIRD
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA