Kingsnorth & Kennington

The historic market town of Ashford has taken on new proportions in recent years, with housing and commerce now spreading far out into the surrounding countryside, an urban sprawl that now reaches as far south as Kingsnorth. Kennington to the north, with its ancient Church of St Mary, was engulfed many years ago by pre-war 1930’s bungalow housing, the ubiquitous urban encroachment on villages that so troubled John Betjeman. The years may have been kind to Kennington, but the new vast commercial and housing estates to the south of Ashford summon thoughts of Slough and Betjeman’s “friendly bombs”.

   However, visiting in April, we found Kingsnorth’s Parish Church of St. Michael, still mercifully looking out over open countryside. Founded c1100 its late Norman, early English architecture still predominates, although the building has evolved over the years, with the most recent modifications undertaken in 2001. Churchwarden, Norman Humphries, and Rector, Rev. Canon Sheila McLachlan, revealed the thinking behind this major remodelling of the church interior, with old nave pews and floor removed and replaced with a new fine oak floor and movable oak benches. This has resulted in a clean, open and versatile design, with the bonus of revealing a previously hidden medieval wall painting. Although opinion was divided on these changes, a lively acoustic has been created which has undoubtedly advantaged the organ.

Kingsnorth, Tom Robbins Organ

   The organ, built by Tom Robbins of Willesborough in 1969, was dismantled during the church re-ordering and moved from the front to the back of the church by the tower; with its front doors opened revealing its interior pipes, it presents an attractive picture. The organ’s pipework and voicing is of classical, light wind pressure design with open tipped pipe feet and low cut-ups. Although now some forty years old, the spotted metal and tin pipes still gleam and we waited with anticipation to hear what sounds this one-manual and pedal, mechanical action instrument might produce. Philip Sibbald, St. Michael’s organist, played two demonstration pieces: part of Zion hört die wächter singen from J S Bach’s Cantata 140 and W Walton’s Crown Imperial. The Bach ideally showed the organ’s beautifully clear articulate speech, although large chords together with the coupled pedals in the Walton, caused distress to the organ’s winding system, which sagged painfully. Malcolm Hall, who looks after the organ, explained that there is only one small single rise bellows, which is inadequate if full organ is used. However, a number of members tried the organ and found that, in drawing ranks with discretion, the sound of the organ could be a delight. Its specification is: 8 8 4 2 19th and Sesquialtera 11 with a fully coupled pedalboard. The stop jambs have one vacant space, possibly intended for a pedal rank, which if added, together with winding system improvements, could complete what would be then a fine small organ.

   St. Mary’s Church Kennington is also late Norman, built 1100-1154. This originally consisted of the present nave and a square chancel, but was extended in 1270 to its present length, the tower was added in 1400. A new church hall was built quite recently, linked by a covered walkway from the church. It is faced with napped flints creating an aesthetic link with the church.

Kennington, Walker Front Pipes

   St. Mary’s organist and KCOA member, David Mole, had kindly supplied some leaflets for us detailing the church and organ history. The organ is a two-manual and pedal J W Walker instrument with exquisitely stencilled front pipes, which was installed in a north chancel chamber in 1879. It has tracker action and a specification of: Great Organ, 8 8 8 4 4 2; Swell Organ, 8 8 8 4 8; Pedal Organ 16 with usual couplers. David also mentioned the addition, in 1987, of a Great Fifteenth and a Swell Trumpet 8ft in place of the original Swell Hautbois 8ft. Although expressing modesty, David very ably demonstrated the organ for us with: A Scots Lullaby by Geoffrey Atkinson, Gavotte by Wesley and Allegro Festivo by Noel Rawsthorne. The organ spoke with an English warmth and charm. The Swell Gamba and Stopped Diapason, underpinned by a rich pedal Bourdon 16ft, were a pleasure and the Great 8ft and 4ft flutes provided a singing solo line. The complete ensemble was balanced and articulate, the new Great Fifteenth 2ft and Swell Trumpet 8ft beautifully voiced to blend with the organ’s 1879 tonality, although a little of Kingsnorth’s new found acoustic would have been to its advantage.

   A wide variety of sandwiches and cakes were generously served for tea in the adjoining church hall before David Mole gave an illustrated talk entitled “The Crystal Cathedral of Los Angeles”. The Cathedral is of a glass and metal frame construction, built for the Evangelical Dutch Reformed Church and is able to seat some 3,000 people, an enormous building even by American standards. Its organ is equally large, constructed in four main sections around the church and is playable from a five-manual and pedal console: it has 203 stops and 17,000 pipes. It was built by Fratelli Ruffatti of Padua, Italy and was the gift of Mrs Hazel Wright of Chicago who also provided an endowment for future maintenance of the instrument; it is the largest European built organ in America. David’s photographs showed the main console with drawstops, amassed on especially extended console stop jambs, like fields of white poppies. There is a second console on the opposite side of the building from where the whole organ can also be played, or together in duet if required. David had thoughtfully brought along a CD recording of this musical leviathan, allowing us to gain some appreciation of its continental tonality and power. We must thank David for arranging this unusual and interesting afternoon for us, with its many pleasures set amongst Kennington’s now leafy lanes.

 

 

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