Friday, January 23, 2015

Brightling's Barrel Organ: Quaint Feature of Historical Church

The Sussex Agricultural Express October 18, 1929 – Page 12

Mr. Henry Croft how has turned the organ every Sunday for 42 years.

The quaint old parish church of St. Thomas A Beckett at Brightling, is one of the most interesting country churches in the county.  Over 900 years old, it has undergone many alterations through the ages but there still exist traces of the very early work, including a fine Norman doorway, to which about the 17th century porch was added.  Part of the west and south wall still remain, and in the latter are the remains of an ancient water stoup.
Across the west end of the nave there extends a fine gallery, erected about 1750, which is approached by a winding stairway.  The feature of the gallery is a barrel and wind organ which was given to the church by Mr. John Fuller about 1810.  It is believed there is only one other like it in the country, and that is at Windsor.  This unique instrument contains two barrels and a few pipes each barrel containing twelve tunes.  One consists of hymns for Lent, Easter and Christmas, with a few general hymn tunes, and the other double chants, psalms and voluntaries. 
The organist with his right hand turns a crank handle to revolve the barrels, with a foot pedal he supplies the air to the bellows and with his left hand he manipulates a set of six expression stops, the various tunes being changed by means of a slide.
The organ has been in use for over a century and is still sending forth its melodious tones at the Sunday services.  For forty years Mr. James Croft was the organist, and just before his death he was succeeded by his son, Mr. Henry Croft.  This interesting old gentleman was born on February 4th 1859  at Snail Farm, where he has lived all his life.  He was christened by the Rev. John Burrell Hayley, and was married in 1881 by the Rev. Thomas Burrell Hayley.  He has been connected with the church since he was twelve years old, when he was a choir boy.  He recalls the time when Robert Stapley, Henry Winchester and John Dale led the singing, using a tuning fork to give the keynote.  Then came the first musical accompaniment about 50 years ago, provided by six or seven fiddlers.  After that came the harmonium, then the American organ, which was used til about ten years ago, when a small modern pipe organ was placed in the chancel, which is used for the services to-day.  But all this time the barrel organ was used and was doing duty.  Every Sunday for 42 years Mr. Croft has played the voluntaries at the commencement and conclusion of services and the special festival hymns.
Another quaint custom connected with the church, is the giving of charity bread.  This charity was instituted for the benefit of the seven poorest people of Brightling with the largest families, each family receiving a loaf of bread from the church vestry at the conclusion of the Sunday services. The donor was a Mr. Jesse Gregson of Moor House in the parish of Hawkhurst, one of the Deputy-Lieutenants for the county of Kent.  He died in 1821.  Almost five years ago the distribution was transferred from the church to a neighbouring shop.

In the tower there is a fine peal of eight bells and in the churchyard is a huge pyramidal tomb, in which the donor of the barrel organ was buried.  

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