Visit to Holy Innocents High Beech on 03/08/2014 by David Sutton
“Stands the church clock at ten to three? And is there [cream and cake] still for tea?" – with apologies to Rupert Brooke. Well, the church clock for us CLESO folk stood at two o’clock (or so) and there was a vast selection of cakes, both cream and fruity, to be had washed down with a delicious cup of tea. High Beech church, (or Beach according to which road-sign you read!), as part of its ministry, offers tea and cakes every Sunday afternoon during the summer months to members of the general public. It was doubly pleasant as it happened for us to be one of those glorious summer days, and the churchyard, surrounded by Epping Forest, was set up with numerous tables and chairs in the sunshine or dappled shade of the surrounding trees.
You may wonder how this church came to be built here (in the 1870s) in the middle of Epping Forest totally surrounded by virgin woodland with very few houses to speak of. Apparently it was built and equipped to serve a planned Victorian conurbation. Like all good Victorians they built the church first, in anticipation of the development, but the development never took place. The Great Eastern Railway was terminated at Chingford in 1878 although originally it was supposed to be extended further to serve the new High Beech community. Because of the acquisition of Epping Forest by the Corporation of the City of London which forbade any housing development absolutely – the forest was for recreation and refreshment of the general populace - the High Beech area was not built on and Holy Innocents church was left 'high and dry'. However the life of this lovely church today is vibrant and full of energy with packed congregations every Sunday morning and a wonderful witness to the Love of God in action in the local community.
The church is very mindful that they have a vintage Father Willis in good playing order and invite organists to come and play to entertain both themselves and anyone else who cared to listen. So it was that members of CLESO had arrived to do just that. The organ has a commanding position at the west end and speaks unimpeded down the length of the nave. The front pipe display includes two flanking towers made up of the bottom 6 notes of the pedal 16’ Violone and very fine it looks. It also sounds very fine as every Willis should! With mechanical action throughout and a 'detached' console situated directly beneath the elevated casework housing the Great Organ, it was hard work to play. But the rewards, once you had got over these hurdles, were immense. For a modest two-manual – Great 8/Swell 5/Pedal 2 – it makes a grand sound, which is deceptively somewhat muted at the keyboards. The sound goes straight over your head and 'hits' the congregation, so you have to be very careful and sparing with the registration. As you might expect the Great diapason chorus (8’ + principal + twelfth + fifteenth) is robust and sparkling. The pedal department has only two stops 16’ Bourdon and the aforementioned 16’ Violone. The Swell Organ, although it has only 5 stops, is very versatile and sports an 8’ Hautboy stop of some power. Down the church it comes over rather like a small trumpet.
Next to the console was a list of all the organists who had served at this church. Included was a name of which the church can be very proud – Barry Rose. Barry grew up in the Woodford/Chingford locality and several churches in this area can say they had Barry Rose as their organist at some time. Indeed Woodford (and its environs) has spawned what seems to be an extraordinary number of high-calibre church musicians - cathedral organists et al. I wonder what is in the water?
Whilst CLESO members were having their various tries of the organ, another treat was in store. No, not the cakes - they came later! The church has been equipped with a carillon of eight bells and, on these open days during the summer months, you are invited up to the ringing chamber to have a go. Armed with a music book, annotated specially, and guided expertly by the resident 'carilloneuse' hymn tunes and other melodies could be picked out or, more accurately, thumped. One could easily imagine going back to the 'dark ages' of the organ when an organist was called 'pulsator organum' – a hitter of the organ [keys], as you have to strike each carillon 'key' quite forcibly to sound the bell. A fascinating and new venture for many. As the church is a long way from any habitation no-one could complain of the noise.
All in all it was a most satisfactory afternoon and Gill Hopkins the vicar was thanked in the warmest of terms. She said we were welcome to come back at any time. I am sure we will take advantage of this kind invitation!