Stonegate & Mayfield

With this meeting a little farther afield, in East Sussex, and with other Kentish distractions, we were pleased to welcome some thirty members at Stonegate.

St. Peter’s Church, Stonegate was built in 1904 and houses a 1907 organ by Cousans & Sons of Lincoln. Our member Malcolm Curtis kindly welcomed us and gave us a description of the organ, the church and its history. Interestingly, a previous Vicar of the church, 1941 to 1959, was a much accomplished poet and, in hymnbooks thoughtfully provided, Malcolm asked us to turn to the hymn, 486 A&MNS. The words were indeed by their past incumbent Rev. Andrew Young: Lord, by whose breath all souls and seeds are living with life that is and life that is to be, a harvest hymn set to the tune Stonegate, by Cyril V. Taylor. With encouragement from Malcolm at the organ, members brought words and music to life, singing all three verses.

The organ, with manual tracker action and pneumatic pedal action — Great Organ 8 8 8 4 4, Swell Organ 8 8 8 4, Pedal Organ 16 with usual couplers — sounded well in the church, the voicing having a delightfully clear singing quality. Malcolm demonstrated the organ with Sweelinck’s Mein junges Leben hat ein End and Prelude on the Welsh hymn tune Rhosymedre by R. Vaughan Williams.

Making our way in convoy by an intriguing country-lane route to Mayfield, we parked our cars within the manicured grounds of St. Leonards Schoolnext to the renowned 12th century school chapel, completing our journey to the Parish Church of St. Dunstan’s on foot. Mr. Peter Collins, Director of Music of both St. Leonards School, and King Charles The Martyr, Tunbridge Wells, greeted us and introduced us to the Walker organ built in 1997.

The organ is a visual delight of burnished fronts and a handsome oak case; this organ is indeed an aesthetic stunner. Tonally, it has a good number of beguiling individual voices and a specification that is impressive: Great Organ 16 8 8 8 4 4 22/3 2 2 13/5 1V 8, Swell Organ 8 8 8 4 4 2 11/3 111 16 8 8, Pedal Organ 16 16 8 8 4 16. However, general opinion suggested that stops did not fully coalesce when used in chorus. Also, the speech of the Pedal department sounded strangely enclosed and obscure. Nevertheless, Peter Collins gave us an illuminating demonstration of the organ with Nun Komm des Heiden Heiland by J. S. Bach, Berceuse by Vierne and then Bach’s Wir glauben all’ BWV 680 which did show the organ’s colours to advantage.

The Walker organ

The Convent doors

A delicious tea of finely cut sandwiches and cream cakes awaited us at St. Leonards School before we were invited to enter the restored convent chapel, which, according to Pevsner, “is one of the most spectacular medieval halls in England”. The school had moved from St. Leonards-on-Sea during the 1860s when the Mayfield chapel, which was then no more than a ruin, was rebuilt and restored.

Mr. Collins had asked us to remember Bach’s Wir glauben all’ which he had played on the Parish Church Walker organ, so we could draw some comparison with the Rodgers electronic instrument in St. Leonards School chapel. The loudspeakers for this were housed out of sight within the case of the Compton pipe organ — which was no more — bracketed high on the south wall at the west-end of the chapel. Surprisingly, the Rodgers gave a clarity that, perhaps, we had not expected bringing smiles to members’ faces although, in truth, its electronic origins were obvious and could not be convincingly disguised, even by Mr. Collins’ fine playing. We were listening to what seemed like a “recording” of a 19th century cathedral organ with a hint of Willis in the voicing; it was not unpleasant until Mr. Collins added the large Great reeds. The instrument had been acquired from Blackburn Cathedral where it had been used during the refurbishment of the pipe organ. It consisted of four manual departments — playable from three manuals — and pedal. The specification was comprehensively vast, too large to list fully here.

Mr. Collins also played: Lied by Vierne, Will O’ the Wisp by Nevin and Introduction Toccata by Choveux. This concluded an afternoon of great interest, and members warmly thanked Peter Collins for his instructive and entertaining demonstrations, all conveyed with an impish enthusiasm. We were also indebted to Malcolm Curtis who not only demonstrated the Stonegate Cousans & Sons organ but also had so thoughtfully and carefully arranged the afternoon for us.



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