May 2010

A visit to Cranbourne and Waltham
On a cold and drizzly morning in May, eight intrepid souls set out from various parts of East Surrey to make their way to the leafy lanes of Berkshire, suffering the perils of the M25 on the way. On arriving at the very lovely church of St Peter in Cranbourne, they entered the cold, dark interior and waited for their host. They had much to admire while they waited, as it was a very pretty Victorian church, with a fine reredos painted in memory of a young woman who died in 1889. There was also some fine stained glass to marvel at, including one window reputedly by William Morris. The organ itself was wonderful to behold. The front pipes were painted to reflect the decorations around the church, one small child apparently had likened them to Christmas crackers. While waiting for our host, we played hunt the key, hoping that the means of starting up this beautiful looking instrument was hidden in a dark corner somewhere. But to no avail. Still we waited.

We then turned our attention to the church literature and found a telephone number for the vicar and also for the organist. We tried them and eventually were able to obtain the number for our absent host. Thankfully, he was at home, probably making preparations for our visit, which he had convinced himself was on the following week! Eventually our host, Philip Wharton, arrived some fifty minutes late, full of apologies. He had brought the key for the organ, along with a more important key to open the loos. We were then taken through the various stops on the organ and learnt many technicalities including the fact that the wooden pipes of the pedal bourdon and the great stopped diapason were made of ash, which is very hard, and that the mixture includes a tierce. This was something that the organ builder, Peter Collins had suggested and Philip had been extremely doubtful about, but had to admit that he had come to like the sound it produced.

Only four of our party were playing members, so we were all able to have a play in spite of the shortness of time. Pieces played included Tomkins Voluntary, Buxtehude Ein Feste Burg, Karg-Elert Choral Improvisation Schmücke dich, Bach Liebster Jesu and Clérambaut Dialogue. Everybody agreed that the instrument sounded every bit as good as it looked. It had a lovely mellow but clear tone and every stop was a delight.

After more apologies by Philip, who proved to be highly enthusiastic about his subject, we were able to leave the church. We then drove through some very pretty country lanes and arrived at the lovely village of Waltham St Lawrence. Even though we were by now behind schedule, our first priority was to have lunch. Luckily The Bell was close at hand and proved to be a first class recommendation. There was a log fire, which was very welcome after the cold church we had all been in and the excellent sandwiches, thankfully, were served swiftly and efficiently. The atmosphere was warm and friendly and we were able to enjoy our reminiscences in comfort and conviviality.
Waltham St Lawrence

There we were able to wait for our host, Don Hickson. While we waited we enjoyed the company of a friendly lady who was arranging the flowers. She proved extremely helpful when she showed she had other talents, namely the ability to turn the organ on. We were therefore able to while away the time by having a go on this historic instrument. It was an original Henry Willis, and proved to be extremely adequate for its age. Having waited long enough, we decided it was time to phone our errant host to find out why he wasn’t where he should have been. It transpired that his timing was only an hour out, rather than a week!
Waltham St Lawrence
Our numbers had, by now, remained the same in spite of a change of personnel. We had lost one, but gained one, so we still had only four playing members, all of whom had ample opportunity to play. Amongst others, Rutter Toccata in Seven and Bach Short Prelude and Fugue No6 were played. I found the organ was good to play and very responsive although it was obviously an old instrument. The sound was slightly harsher than the Cranbourne organ, but still very pleasing.

All in all, in spite of the frustrations of misunderstandings regarding dates and times, we enjoyed our visits. Well worth braving the M25 for!

Margaret Screech