Hunton & Teston 

Gathering on the eve of Remembrance Sunday, a simple display of red poppies set against the chancel arch at St Mary’s Church, Hunton provided a poignant reminder. Founded in Saxon times, St Mary’s has evolved and changed and now has Victorian furniture, fine windows and many historic monuments. The most prestigious is a hanging stone monument set high above the pulpit, partly set into the chancel arch. It is in memory of Sir Thomas Fane, who died in 1692, a benefactor of St Mary’s as were his parents before him, his chiselled bewigged countenance looking benevolently down upon us.

The organ, although quite small, encapsulates all that is laudable about Father Henry Willis organs. This mechanical actioned instrument of two manuals and pedals, set in a Chancel chamber, is of the highest quality with spotted metal diapason front pipes and an original specification of: Great Organ, 8 8 8 8 4 4 2; Swell Organ, 8 8 4 8; and Pedal Organ 16, with usual couplers. The pedalboard is straight and flat with a “trigger” Swell pedal to the right. The voicing is distinctively Father Willis with the gentle Swell Organ “tulip-stoppered” Lieblich Gedact 8ft complemented by a Gemshorn 4ft, Open Diapason 8ft and a telling Cornopean 8ft. The Great Organ’s Open Diapason 8ft sings throughout its range, as does the Flute Harmonique 4ft, which can be partnered by a charming open Claribel Flute 8ft with its traditional Stopped Diapason 8ft bass.

Father Willis, St. Mary's Hunton

St. Mary’s organist, Philip Moore, kindly described the finer points of the organ before demonstrating with: John Stanley’s Voluntary in E minor; Voluntary by John Worgan 1724-1790; a Song Prelude by Alan Bush, Low lands, my low lands; and finishing with a rousing Fanfare by Guy Eldridge. The organ aroused much interest and a number of members were able to try it for themselves before we moved on to Teston.

Passing the “Tickled Trout” public house at West Farleigh, we crossed Teston’s ancient stone bridge, picturesquely caught in the setting sun’s dying rays, as we made our way up into the village. Teston’s Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul was rebuilt in 1710, with transepts added in 1846, and still retains a Georgian feel in spite of its Victorian pews and furniture. The organ, also Victorian, was built in 1870 by Eustace Ingram. Standing in the south transept this two-manual and pedal tracker organ sounded much as it looked, warm and mellow, reflecting its specification of mainly 8ft stops: Swell Organ, 16 8 8 4 8; Great Organ, 8 8 8 8 8 4 4; Pedal Organ, 16, with usual couplers.

Andrew Cesana bravely volunteered at short notice to demonstrate the organ for us with two pieces: Paques Fleuries by Alphonse Mailly 1853-1918 and March in F by L J A Lefébure-Wély 1817-1869.

Following tea we were to learn more of Teston’s history with a talk by Dawn Page, St Peter and St Paul’s Lay Reader. She spoke of the life of James Ramsay who had been the Vicar at Teston and a tireless campaigner for the abolition of slavery. He was born at Fraserburgh, Scotland in 1733 and apprenticed to a local surgeon; subsequently, he was educated at King’s College, Aberdeen, obtaining his MA in 1753. Entering the Navy in 1757 he served in the West Indies where his ship intercepted the Swift, a slave ship, where he found over 100 slaves chained together below decks in appalling conditions. The scenes of utter degradation and filth were to stay with him shaping his future as a clergyman and campaigner. He took holy orders in 1761 deciding to work amongst the slaves on the Caribbean Island of St Christopher, now St Kitts. Some years later, returning to England, he became Vicar of Teston and during his campaigning met with William Pitt the Younger and William Wilberforce, playing a significant part in the campaign for the abolition of slavery. Sadly, dying in 1789 at the age of fifty-six, he was not to live to see his work come to fruition, with the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807. Fittingly, he is buried at Teston Church.

We were most grateful to Dawn Page for such a fascinating talk so carefully researched and sympathetically delivered. Especially, Dawn had illuminated and embellished our scant knowledge of this intriguing connection with our Kent churches and their pivotal role in history.

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