Visit to North Hertfordshire on Saturday 21/07/2012 by David Sutton
It is a long time since CLESO has had an organ crawl. But the gauntlet was thrown down by Adrian Jacobs and taken up. Adrian has lived in this area for a long time and is currently organist at Royston. He is involved in the music-making of this part of North Hertfordshire and knows the villages well and the organs in their churches. So he suggested we have a day out in his patch. And as it transpired it was well worth the journey – some by train – but mostly by car.
We started at the village of Wyddial, about 2 miles or so northeast of Buntingford. What a charming place! - the very epitome of an English village with its 'big house' and an ancient church in such a picturesque setting, meeting the locals out on their horses. Also the church is one of the closest to the Meridian Line – the marker is just by the main gate. We did not do the leaping from east to west today! The organ - a very interesting instrument by Gilkes – was built originally for a church in Walton-on-the-Naze, and removed by Adrian and his wife Jean and re-installed at Wyddial when the Walton church was declared redundant. It is a remarkably resourceful organ of two extended ranks – diapason and stopped flute – which sings into the church. I think we were all surprised by its power. However there is no pedal department as the organ does not have any room on its base (it’s on wheels) for 12 extra notes of a 16 foot bourdon. Also you could only use one unit at a time – no mixing and matching. What was noticeable was a rock-steady wind supply, remarkable for a small extension job. While the organists had their play, the others explored the nooks and crannies of this beautiful church and churchyard and the locality outside in the glorious (yes!) sunshine.
Our next port of call was Anstey which has an ancient church building of some size. It is almost like a small abbey with nave, crossing with tower over, transepts and chancel equipped with misericords. The two-manual organ is by Abbot and Smith. This instrument also sings its way down the church despite it being tucked in the south transept. This is due to the spacious acoustic encouraged by a lot of stonework. I think we all enjoyed playing it because of the joyous sound it made (although it was hard work grappling with a tracker action and trigger swell pedal). We were also fortunate to have Alison the organist who fed and watered us and fielded our questions with great panache! During the war the Americans set up a bomber airbase nearby and one night one of their Liberators and aircrew sadly didn’t make it and ploughed into the hillside close to the church. By a miracle the church was unscathed. There is a lovely stained glass window in the south nave commemorating the Americans’ presence during the war.
Our last port of call in the morning was Reed church on the outskirts of a very scattered disposition of dwellings forming the village. At one stage we wondered where on earth we were going but we had implicit faith in our leader Adrian! From the literature at the church it seems Reed church with Saxon roots is possibly the oldest of the group we visited today. The one-manual organ is an 'implant' of a choir department from a church in Eastbourne. (Is there something about sea-side towns donating bits to the country?) There is no casework and the unenclosed pipe-work sits on a screen separating the tower-space from the rear of the nave. Although only one-manual it is a sturdy support for the congregational singing. We all had our requisite goes and time had arrived for lunch.
Our convoy wended its way along the A10 to the Old Bull Royston for a welcome drink and food. The pub was not far from the church of St .John the Baptist which was our final stop.
St John’s lies in a large churchyard which doubles as a public park. It is a spacious, airy, light building and the organ is in the chancel. It was rebuilt in 1978 by Peter Wells with a detached drawstop console (with all mod cons) and advantage was taken to put a badly needed vestry underneath in space previously taken up by the organ chamber. We were told the organ builder had achieved miracles in design to accommodate these changes squashing the quart into the pint pot! The result is a dramatic display of pipe-work cantilevered into the chancel. This is Adrian’s 'home' and he introduced his instrument and gave us a demonstration of its capabilities. The open disposition of the pipe-work allowed it to speak unimpeded into the church. The players all had their tries while the others explored the church building and the town. At the same time a wonderful tea of strawberries and cream and home-made cake was served at the back provided by Adrian’s wife, Jean. Oh the pleasures of country life, and hooray for the Women’s Institute (who provided the cakes)!
What a fitting end to a day when we were blessed with glorious sunshine (for once!) and a feast for the eyes and ears. Thank you Adrian and Jean and all the church people we met for making our visit so enjoyable. Thank you also for arranging these small but so vital details such as lifts to and from railway stations and making sure toilet facilities were available for those who needed them. It all worked out so well.