Although its origins may be shrouded in myth and legend, Christian pilgrims have for generations diligently followed the Pilgrims Way. This ancient well-trodden pathway, extending some 120 miles from Winchester in the west to Canterbury in the east, follows the line of the North Downs keeping to the lower sheltered southern slopes. Just north of Maidstone it passes through Boxley and Detling, two charmingly unspoilt rural communities, villages that remain to this day quintessentially English.
But then, with plausible justification, one might suggest that with the A249 trunk road passing within a quarter of a mile and the notorious high-speed rail link just to the south, Detling and Boxley must now be despoiled, victims of modernity. But no. Members’ enthusiasm at our meeting last February, some experiencing the locality for the first time, was testament to what these villages still offer.
The ancient church of St. Martin of Tours, Detling, dates from the Norman period although, apart from one wall, little now remains of this early building. The present church is 13th century and consists of a nave and chancel of equal width and height. There is also a west tower with a typically Kentish shingle spire, a tower with a few strategically placed small windows, which gives the impression of a friendly smiling face when viewed across the fields. Also in the church there is a c1340 wooden lectern with intriguing heraldic carvings.
Church Warden, June Eckton, spoke enthusiastically about Detling’s history, introducing us to the nuances of this interesting church. Tim Cathcart, Detling’s organist, revealed the organ’s history and its unusual arrival at Detling. Thomas Goodwin, a local organ builder, originally completed the organ for the Congregational Church, King Street, Maidstone in 1867. In 1973, when the Congregational Church was to be demolished, it was brought to Detling and installed in the north chapel by the then organist, Colin Savage, with the assistance of Ron Parrott, a local organ enthusiast. The formidably scaled voicing, suitable for the much larger Congregational Church, was endured for over twenty years before the organ was revoiced and refurbished by F H Browne & Sons in 1995.
Our Deputy President, Brian Moore, ably demonstrated the instrument for us with Brother James’ Air by Harold Darke and Festival Voluntary by Flor Peeters. The organ sounded well in the church producing some interesting, if slightly indelicate, tones; the necessary lowering of wind pressures and revoicing had regrettably left the Clarabella flutes and Stopped Diapasons perhaps a little lacking in character. However, the Swell box proved very effective and the new 1995 console, with its generous array of couplers, including Swell Octave and Swell Sub Octave, enabled a full variety of tonal colour to be coaxed from its specification of: Great Organ 16 8 8 8 4 22/3 2; Swell Organ 8 8 8 4 4 11 8; and Pedal organ 16 16 8 8.
The church of St Mary and All Saints, Boxley is just a couple of miles west of Detling, along the Pilgrims Way, where the church and the King’s Arms public house dominate the village, facing each other across the village green. St. Mary’s was originally Norman, although, as at Detling, is now mainly 13th century.
St. Mary Boxley, Bevington Organ
Following an admirable tea, and the opportunity to climb the church tower, church Secretary, Don Cooke, gave us a full and extensive talk on the history of this charming church. The organist of St Mary’s, Francis Coomber, also gave us an equally copious description of the organ’s history, which is by Bevington of 1860. A new organ chamber was built for the organ in 1886 on the south side of the chancel where the organ still remains. However, the organ was fully restored in 2005 by F H Browne & Sons, who provided a new full compass Swell soundboard and new tracker action. In addition to a new 12-note bottom octave of pipes for each of the Swell stops they sensitively restored the Swell Bell Diapason and added a new two-rank mixture stop in the Swell. The case and front pipes retain their original painted decoration on the pipe mouths. The action is commendably responsive and the organ retains its delicate 1860 tonality which is full and colourful yet never strident. Its specification is now: Great Organ, 8 8 4 4 2; Swell Organ, 8 8 4 2 11 8; Pedal Organ, 16.
Our member Michael Cooke demonstrated the organ for us with an improvisation in the style of CÚsar Franck and finished with the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria, allowing the melody to be highlighted using the pedals coupled through to the Great stops. This had proved to be an engaging afternoon attended by some forty-five members, some visiting these churches for the first time, and their cheerful good spirits indicated it might not be the last.
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