The earliest record of Christ Church bells is in 1546 soon after the transfer of the Diocesan see from Osney Abbey to Christ Church. The records show that the bells from Osney Abbey were taken down and re-erected in the Cathedral Spire. At that time there were seven bells and campanologists have puzzled over what was actually transferred ever since that time. Current thinking is that the bells comprised a heavy ring of six with an additional ‘Great’ bell. It may come as a surprise that two of those bells, cast circa 1410 by John Bird of London, still exist and form the ninth and tenth bells of the present ring of twelve. The remaining bells have all been recast on at least one occasion. The Great bell brought from Osney Abbey was a predecessor of Great Tom, which was recast in 1680 and later hung in Tom Tower.
When Christopher Hodson recast Great Tom in 1680, the space in the bell frame was filled by four smaller bells that were cast by Hodson to augment the existing six bells to form one of the earliest rings of ten. From various accounts it would seem that the new bells were probably rather small in relation to the existing bells and the two smallest bells were recast in 1698 by Abraham Rudhall I of Gloucester.
Tenor Bell inverted for ringing
In 1740 Abel Rudhall was contracted to recast the two remaining bells that were added in 1680 and also the present eleventh bell. As part of that contract he was paid £5–5–0 to re-tune the present 7th and tenor bells.
As part of the re-ordering of the Cathedral Interior in the early 1870’s the bells were removed from the spire and in 1872 hung in a timber structure that is now hidden behind a stone façade that forms the completed part of the 1873 design by G.F Bodley. The timber structure was the subject of a pamphlet entitled ‘The New Belfry of Christ Church Oxford – A Monograph by DCL’ where the style of construction was described as ‘Early Debased – Very Early and remarkably Debased’. It was in this monograph that the timber structure was given the name of ‘The Meat Safe.’