Mereworth and Hadlow

Our meeting on 13th January offered some unusual contrasts in terms of the two churches we visited and their organs. St Lawrence, Mereworth, was rebuilt by the Earl of Westmorland in 1744-46, about half a mile North West of its old position. It is described in Pevsner’s The Buildings of England as the most outstanding 18th century church in the county. Unfortunately, the architect is not known, but Pevsner goes on to say that the steeple is copied from James Gibb’s St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and the Tuscan west porch is similar to Thomas Archer’s at St Paul’s, Deptford. All this makes up a very striking exterior, not at all what one would expect to see in the Kentish countryside.

   Douglas Batt, Churchwarden Emeritus, described features of the neo-classical interior, which has a wide nave, and aisles which are separated by Doric columns. Much of the interior decoration has been cleaned recently, and several members commented that they had never seen the detail of the  trompe l’œil organ case on the west wall stand out so clearly.

   The organ itself is situated at the east end of the south aisle, and was installed by Gray and Davison in 1882. This charming instrument speaks well into the resonant church, belying its modest resources. The specification is: Great, 8 8 8 4; Swell, 8 8 4 8; Pedal, 16 with usual couplers. It was demonstrated by Andrew Cesana, who played Berceuse - Vierne, and the Prelude and Fugue in C major - J S Bach.

   A display at the back of the church tells the story of Charles Davis Lucas, who was the first person to be awarded the Victoria Cross after its institution in 1856.  He was serving in the Baltic as mate on HMS Hecla when in a bombardment a shell with its fuse still burning landed on deck.  He threw it overboard, at great risk to himself, thus saving his ship. Charles Davis Lucas died in 1914, having risen to the rank of Rear Admiral, and is buried in the churchyard.

   By way of contrast, St Mary’s Church, Hadlow, is mainly a 13th century church with a large Victorian organ. The church is prettily situated just off the High Street. The north aisle has been very tastefully screened off to provide meeting rooms and all modern facilities, leaving a long nave and chancel.

   The organ sits like a caged beast in a specially built chamber on the north side of the chancel, so that its sound is much reduced in the nave. The specification is: Great, 16 8 8 4 4  22/3 2 111 8 4; Swell, 16 8 8 8 8 4 2 111 8 8 4 8 Tremulant; Choir, 8 8 8 4 4 2 8; Pedal, 32 16 16 102/3 8; Couplers, Sw to Gt, Ch to Gt, Gt to Ped, Sw to Ped, Ch to Ped, 3 composition pedals each to Gt and Sw, balanced swell pedal and mechanical action throughout. It was installed by Alfred Monk of Camden Town in 1880, and replaced an earlier instrument which stood on the west gallery, now no longer in existence. If this organ were there today the effect would be quite stunning!  In 1957 Compton reported that the organ was in need of major repair and suggested that it should be replaced by an electronic. Fortunately, this advice was not followed. A major restoration was carried out in 1975 by Bishop and Son of Ipswich. In July of that year, a recital was given by the Rev Tony Curry, then Rector of Penshurst, to mark the restoration. Colin Jilks has maintained and tuned the organ since 1971.

   At our meeting it was admirably demonstrated by Martin Carling, from Crayford, who occasionally plays at Hadlow. The full choruses, fiery reeds, and flutes and strings of character were heard in: 2nd Sonata in C minor – Mendelssohn, Chorale Prelude on How brightly shines the Morning Star -Telemann, and Festival Toccata – Percy Fletcher. Richard Morley, who helps Colin with running repairs to the organ, described the organ and its history, a truly remarkable Victorian survivor.

   After tea, Mrs Anne Hughes, Secretary of the Hadlow Historical Society, gave a talk on Hadlow Castle. Walter Barton May had the tower built in 1838, and this with the entrance arch, gate lodges and stable court are all that now remain of Hadlow Court Castle. Mrs Hughes had arranged a fascinating display of old photographs and documents, and was able to tell us that the “Save Hadlow Tower” action group had obtained grants for its restoration, including the reinstatement of the pinnacles. It is hoped that the Tower will become holiday accommodation, administered by the Vivat Trust.

   Thanks to our Secretary, who made arrangements for the afternoon, which included much of interest for local history buffs as well as organ enthusiasts.



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