St. Nicholas, Pluckley
by Philip Bell

THE VILLAGE of Pluckley sits high above the northern edge of the Weald and is well known both as the village where The Darling Buds of May was filmed and as, reputedly, one of the most haunted villages in the country. 

The Church of St Nicholas stands at the centre of the village as it has done for over 900 years. Some sources reveal that a Bishop's visitation in 1557 recorded that the church possessed two organs, which would have been remarkable for a small church in a relatively remote community. But the modern story begins in the mid 19th century when the Rector, the Rev Ashton Oxenden, 1848 to 1869, agonized about how to improve the worship which was led by a galleried choir and instrumentalists at the West End which he deemed to be "uncongregational"! 

The resourceful vicar surmounted this problem by inveigling Lady Dering, the wife of the Lord of the Manor, to present an organ to which the forelock tugging parishioners had to present an address of thanks. As the vicar wrote, "they would by this unconsciously bind themselves to its use instead of retaining the various instruments to which they had long been accustomed".    

This instrument was built by Bevington in a rather dull "churchwarden' s" gothic case which still stands on the north side of the chancel. It was of one manual, 8ft(TC), 8ft, 8ft(TC), 4ft, 2ft with a 15 note pedalboard coupled to the manual. The organ was found to be inadequate and Browns of Canterbury rebuilt it in 1907 with a new pneumatic action, a bottom octave for the Open Diapason and a 30 note pedalboard and 16ft Bourdon stop. 

The additional space for the extended instrument was provided with astonishing crudity; in these pre "DAC" days the north wall was hacked away at the back of the case without regard for the ancient fabric and it is still not clear what support the upper part of the wall enjoys!    

This instrument lasted until 1991 and after a swansong appearance during the wedding of Marietta in The Darling Buds of May, played by the organist Christine Maddrell in a gravitydefying hat and with many of the present choir as extras, the organ finally succumbed.    

Through the generosity of a local family the instrument was replaced by a secondhand Bevington c 1860 from St Nicholas, Great Yarmouth, installed by Martin Renshaw in the original case. The specification was much the same as the original instrument although it retained the 1907 Pedal Bourdon and pedalboard. To the present writer, at least, this was an awesomely dull organ that failed to provide sufficient support for singing and whose lack of presence was keenly felt at Christmas and Easter.    

Fate, however, kindly intervened and following major improvements to the interior of the church in 1999, including a new heating system, the organ collapsed completely early in 2000 and embarrassingly on the day of the funeral of a wellloved member of the congregation. Consultations with local builders and the Canterbury Diocesan Organ Consultant, David Flood, concluded that the drying out of the timbers had been so severe and that the quality of the material in the instrument so average, that restoration was not an economic option. The parish was then confronted with three options:

1. Replace with an electronic instrument, soon dismissed because of the uncertain life expectancy of the technology and the difficulties in siting unsightly tone cabinets in a medieval church,

2. Acquire a secondhand pipe organ,  likely to suffer the same fate as the present organ.

3. Commission a new mechanical action pipe organ built of materials thatcould withstand the ambient temperature and low humidity in the building.    

Despite the huge cost to a small community the parish has determined to proceed with this last option.

A scheme has been submitted by Kenneth Tickell and the organ committee sees the role of this new organ in fulfilling three key objectives: To accompany the worship in St Nicholas, To provide a suitable instrument for recitals and concerts, To provide an instrument freely available for practice and teaching organ students of all ages 

It seemed that there was a shortage of high quality mechanical action organs in east Kent and we were keen to see Pluckley Church develop as a centre for organ education. We have been much encouraged and heartened by support from David Flood, Anne Marsden Thomas, the RCO and James Parsons, the Director of the Oundle Festival.    

Fund raising is now in progress and if anyone would like an appeal brochure, more information on the scheme or the current series of events and concerts in the church, or details of our plans for the educational side of the project as it develops, please contact us at:

Adderbury, 5 Fir Toll, Pluckley.TN27 0QZ

Telephone 01233 840232


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