Bearsted, Church of Holy Cross

To the casual observer, the village of Bearsted has eschewed the ravages of time, with its rustic cottages overlooking an ancient village green and its inhabitants left to pursue their innocent pleasures. However, our visit was in the depth of winter, a winter verging on the Dickensian with bitter midday temperatures remaining resolutely below freezing. The village was white with frost and ice, roads and footpaths to the picture postcard Parish Church, a precarious proposition. 

Nevertheless, some thirty-five members arrived on the 10th January to enjoy a full afternoon in the comfortable warmth of the historic Church of Holy Cross. Like so many Kent churches, it was founded in Saxon times, although the oldest surviving stones are Norman. The building has been greatly enlarged during its lifetime and now consists of two almost equal halves. The last major reordering of the building was in the 1970s when the obsession with nave altars resulted in the removal of the sanctuary, with its gracefully curving altar rail and monuments. The traditional collegiate Decani-Cantoris choir pews were moved into the displaced sanctuary area immediately under the east window where choristers, now facing down the church, sit with their backs uncomfortably to the east wall, like worried ducks in a fair ground shooting gallery, waiting to be popped off.

However, the Mander organ has fared better. Following a rebuild by Brownes of Canterbury in 1988, the instrument has been installed on a head height platform under the first East End arch speaking equally into both sections of the church. The organ’s voicing leans in the direction of the classical with clarity of speech, colourful flutes and balanced mutations. It has a variety of voices, with some stops dating from an 1870 Bevington. The Great 4ft principal front pipe display has an internal bottom octave extension, which forms the Great 8ft open diapason. The Swell trumpet is also very effectively extended to form a 16ft contra faggotto, bestowing the effect of a full English Swell. The two-manual and pedal electric action console is well placed at first floor level in the south transept allowing the organist clear sight and sound of the organ and church below. The organ’s specification is: Great Organ, 8 8 8 4 4 22/3 2 13/5; Swell Organ, 8 8 4 4 22/3 2 2 1 11 16 8; Pedal Organ, 168 8 4 11 16 8, with usual couplers.

Holy Cross Organist and KCOA member, Peter Hart, played a short demonstration recital for us: Three Choral Preludes by J S Bach; Choral Prelude on Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her by J Pachelbel; Siciliana by A Hollins and Sortie in G minor by A Lefébure-Wély. Peter’s fluid and colourful playing extracted every nuance from this relatively small organ, an enjoyable recital that successfully overcame the dry and sterile church acoustic.

Before tea, Angela Legood, a local resident since childhood, gave an illustrated talk on Robert Fludd who was born at Milgate House, Bearsted, in 1574. Fludd’s  father, Sir Thomas Fludd, had served Queen Elizabeth and received a Knighthood for services as War Treasurer in the Netherlands. Aged just seventeen, Robert entered St John’s College, Oxford and finally graduated with a BA and then an MA. Robert Fludd was a philosopher, astronomer and doctor as well as a follower of Rosicrucian philosophy, becoming an ardent supporter of the movement. He left no heir, having never married, and following his death was buried at Bearsted Church in 1637 where his memorial remains to this day, although his noble bust was deplorably moved from the sanctuary to the church tower during church reordering.   

Bearsted, Great Diapason and Principal

Following the opportunity for members to play, a fine tea awaited us in the adjoining church rooms, generously prepared for us by members of Holy Cross choir, who had gathered to sing evensong. The service was led by Rev Jenny Manners who also sang soprano in the choir, which was conducted by the Director of Music, Christine Tate. The beautifully lilting Reading responses were  followed by Psalm 84 sung to a chant by Elvey. The Canticles were by S Watson in E, and the anthem When to the temple Mary went by J Eccard. The choir, of seven ladies and eight gentlemen, sang with clarity, colour and delicately controlled dynamics; this was singing of cathedral quality, vanquishing the dry acoustic with ease. Equally, Peter Hart’s sensitive organ accompaniment enhanced the service, which concluded with his rousing voluntary: Postlude by Healey Willan. We are most grateful to Peter Hart, Angela Legood, Christine Tate and the choir for a most enjoyable and educational afternoon.


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