Kentish villages can be an abiding delight and Wingham, situated a few miles east of Canterbury with its timber-framed cottages and medieval streets, displays this very essence of English tradition and tranquillity. Although dating from Norman times, it is a village that blossomed in the 13th century with its Parish Church of St Mary being rebuilt and enlarged, resulting in the fine building we see today.
Roger Greensted (front right) describes Browne's organ workshop
Our visit last October included evensong, sung by the choir of St. Mary’s, a “Tuba” voluntary and a lavish tea. But first, our forty-five members were guests of F H Browne & Sons who had kindly opened the doors of their organ works at the nearby village of Ash where we were to view a diverse array of organ parts, pipes and two working organs.
Browne's voicing machine and demonstration Compton pipe
The organ works is housed in the old Ash village school, which was closed during the 1960s. Director, Roger Greensted, took us into what was once the school hall with its lofty beams allowing space for organ construction and storage; stored here were the parts of a complete Conacher cinema organ, from the Plaza Cinema, Coventry, which was awaiting a new home. There were two playable one-manual organs, one with pedals and a swell box, the other a smaller instrument with just three stops. Dean Hayward, organist of Lyminge Parish Church and a tuner for Brownes, eloquently demonstrated both instruments for us before we moved on to the voicing room and pipe store.
Here Roger Greensted demonstrated pipe voicing and the voicing machine, which is a small organ with a soundboard, bellows and blower, but no casing, allowing access for the voicer to quickly remove pipes to adjust before trying them “back on the wind”. There were also two large wooden pipes set up for us to hear: a Compton 16ft stopped pedal pipe, which was fitted with an internal valve, enabling it to sound two notes, and a Compton 32ft pitch pedal pipe. This was a tubby eight feet tall sealed wooden box, with a pipe mouth and eight internal chambers with valves, which could produce eight individual notes of immense depth and power.
Organ building portrays an image of quaint tradition; craftsmen sawing and hewing, bent to their tasks over wooden benches, expert hands and eyes buffing and polishing, each part and pipe of bespoke manufacture. But, in reality, much is now recycled. The demonstrated Compton pipes were over fifty years old and the diapason ranks of 8ft, 4ft and 2ft pitch on the voicing machine were even older: three stops of different age and lineage, but being regulated to blend, as best possible, to a semblance of sonority. Nevertheless, this had been a fascinating glimpse of a craft living on in the depths of the Kentish countryside, kept alive by F H Browne & Sons and their staff.
Before tea at Wingham, Malcolm Hall, Director and tuner for Brownes, invited us to visit the United Reformed Church at Ash where their 1865 Gray & Davison two-manual and pedal organ was to be demonstrated by our KCOA member Martin Holloway. Martin plays the organ for services once a month and his understanding of the instrument was undeniably evident in his youthfully buoyant playing. The unforced English tonality of the diapasons, flutes and clarinet sounded perfectly balanced in the church, the organ’s painted and lacquered front pipes providing an aesthetically pleasing case. Its specification is: Great Organ, 8 8 8 4 4 2 11 8; Swell Organ TC, 8 8 4 8; Pedal Organ, 16 with Swell to Great and Great to Pedal couplers and mechanical action throughout.
Painted and lacquered front pipes
Ash URC, Gray & Davison
A plentiful tea awaited us at St Mary’s Church, Wingham where Roger Greensted is Director of Music. The choir of six sopranos, two contraltos, tenor and baritone sang evensong, with the organ played by organist John Atterbury. Rev. Annette Rose, Priest-in-Charge, conducted the service. The choir sang Psalm 150 and the Canticles were a setting written and dedicated to the choir of St Mary’s. KCOA members Matthew Young and Rosemary Clemence, read the lessons. The organ voluntary, Fanfare by Richard Purvis, demonstrated the organ’s Tuba stop, which was added in 1995.
St. Mary's Church, Wingham c1800
The organ, by Forster & Andrews of Hull, was installed in 1886 and remained incomplete until 1948, when a two-rank mixture and a Trumpet were added to the swell organ. The organ then remained untouched until 1970 when the Swell oboe was replaced with a 2ft fifteenth and the mixture was revised. In 1972 the organ was rebuilt and the mechanical actions electrified, together with further tonal changes. A complete third manual Solo department was added in 2001 bringing the specification to: Great Organ, 8 8 8 4 22/3 2; Swell Organ, 8 8 4 2 11 8; Solo Organ, 8 8 8 4 111 8 8; Pedal Organ, 32 16 16 8 4. The organ produces a warm English sound suitable for choir and congregational accompaniment, although the original Forster & Andrews tonality has become diluted and lost, together with the original Forster & Andrews front pipe decorations; the pipes are now the ubiquitous sprayed gold. Nevertheless, the Tuba, although a touch woolly in tone, did provide some end-of-service excitement.
Following the service the organ was available for members to play and our President, Roger Gentry, ventured his usual Tambling Trumpet Tune. Although the organ had behaved perfectly throughout evensong, the seemingly benign Tambling may not have been to its taste as, with Roger in full swing — the Tuba stop cyphered!
But no matter, with the formalities complete this was but an amusing diversion at the end of an engaging afternoon kindly arranged for us by Roger Greensted and the company of F H Browne & Sons Ltd. We are most grateful not only for a fascinating visit, but also the accompanying printed programme provided for every member.
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