Dartford, St. Anselm & Holy Trinity Church  

Situated some fifteen miles southeast of London, Dartford could be described as an accident of geography. In fact there may not have been a settlement at Dartford at all had it not been for the Romans building a military road from London to the Kent coast, with the road needing to cross the River Darent by means of a ford.

St. Anselm, Kenneth Tickell

   Dartford’s Holy Trinity Parish Church, which dominates the High Street, was originally built by Bishop Gundulf in c1080. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, there is evidence to suggest that a much earlier church occupied the site in Saxon times. Providing a focus for the religious and ceremonial life of medieval Dartford, the present church was significantly enlarged during the reign of Henry 111 (1216-72) to accommodate a new chapel dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury for use by visiting pilgrims. Although the building is predominately 13th Century, it still contains some recognisable Saxon stone remnants, but in common with many churches of this period, it has suffered the ubiquity of Victorian remodelling. Interestingly, it is recorded that Samuel Pepys attended morning service here on 17th September 1665.

   However, before arriving at Holy Trinity on 14th October, we called at St. Anselm’s R.C. Church on West Hill, Dartford. Built in 1975, this is a modern functional building of square proportions with the high altar in one corner and congregational pews radiating out in semi-circles across the building. The fine 2-manual and pedal oak-cased Kenneth Tickell organ we had come to see was in the adjacent corner providing an aesthetic counterbalance. Although the church dates from the 1970s, the organ was built and installed in 1994 with a specification of: Great Organ, 8 8 4 2 1v 8; Swell Organ, 8 8 4 2 11/3 11 and Pedal Organ, 16 8. Unusually, the manual compass has only 56 notes, CC-G, although the pedal compass has 30 notes; the organ has mechanical action throughout. The light responsive key touch is complemented by the organ’s tonal design. Each manual has a beautifully balanced chorus, with English voicing harking back to the mid 1700s and the gentle unforced tonalities of Snetzler, escaping the continental flirtations of the 1960s with its open-tip voicing which, perhaps for some, was a genetic leap too far.

   This was an instrument our members enjoyed, with its contrasting flutes: metal chimney flute in the Swell and a wooden Stopped Diapason on the Great. The colourful articulation of the Great organ Trumpet 8ft was only slightly marred by a weakness in its upper octaves, not unusual with instruments on a light wind pressure. Regrettably our visit was unexpectedly truncated by an afternoon service, which concentrated our minds on what a fine organ this was as we departed wanting more.

   A brisk walk down West Hill, negotiating the bustling cosmopolitan street market, which filled the High Street, led us to Holy Trinity Church which lay welcomingly at the far end. The organ in this ancient church is a 1910 Harrison & Harrison situated in a north aisle gallery and is in stark contrast to the Kenneth Tickell instrument we had just taken such delight in. Its generously voiced Edwardian period Diapasons and chorus reeds produced a full, almost thunderous sound — especially the 16ft Pedal Open Wood, which boomed like a muscle-bound prize fighter, its tonal delivery a tour de force. In common with Harrison organs of this period the firmness in the voicing extended even to the softer ranks of this three manual and pedal instrument, although its specification appears unassuming on paper: Swell Organ, 8 8 8 4 8 111 16 8; Great Organ, 16 8 8 8 4 22/3 2 8 4; Choir Organ, (enclosed) 16 8 8 4 8; Pedal Organ, 16 16 8 16(Sw) with usual couplers. Strangely, its key action seemed remarkably heavy considering the organ’s action and transmission is charge pneumatic throughout. But members were soon to enjoy what this organ had to offer, not with the expected recital by Holy Trinity’s organist Richard Apsley, who was unfortunately away, but with our own Andrew Cesana, who had kindly stepped in at short notice. After a short hiatus, due to an elusive organ gallery key, Andrew displayed the organ to good effect with Berceuse, Carillon and Carillon De Westminster by Louis Vierne. Following tea (just adequate but no cake) there were a number of members wanting to play. Their playing revealed further subtleties of flutes and strings of this fine Harrison organ, which undoubtedly fulfills its function in this large church.

Holy Trinity, Harrison & Harrison

   This had been an interesting and informative afternoon comparing organs at different ends of the spectrum, and the added pleasure of the company of our member Jackie Howard, back with us again, looking well and fully recovered from her illness earlier this year.

 

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