Brightling church organ

On Thursday afternoon, 29th June 2017, Nicholas Plumley and Dr Alan Thurlow (Diocesan Organ Advisers)  met the incumbent and members of the parish to discuss the condition of the main pipe organ in the church and outline possible ways forward in order to address the “poor state of the playing action” (Dr Thurlow’s words).  This refers, of course, to the downstairs organ, not the barrel organ in the loft.

The condition of the organ, and what to do about it, will be discussed elsewhere, but I thought it would be interesting here to set out a little of what we have learned of the history of the organ.  Dr Thurlow was intrigued to note that the organ was built by one Percy G Beard, of Epsom, and wondered whether there might be a link with the famous and successful organ-building firm of Hill Norman and Beard.

Regrettably, on further investigation, it turns out there is no evidence of any connection.  The Beard of Hill Norman and Beard is George Wales Beard and this firm, in various guises, built a large number of organs: the National Pipe Organ register lists 1,940 of them up and down the country.  By contrast there are just 3 or 4 Percy G Beard organs listed: one in a Methodist chapel in Cornwall, which may no longer exist; one in Epsom; one in Walton-on-Thames; and the Brightling organ.  All 4 were built between 1931 and 1938, after which PG Beard seems to have disappeared without trace (and nothing is known of him prior to 1931 either).

Furthermore, both the Epsom and Walton-on-Thames organs were substantially rebuilt in the late 20th century, so the Brightling organ may be the only PG Beard organ in anything like its original state.  Even the Brightling organ is not as built: in the 1980s it was moved from its original location, in the north-east corner of the church, to where it is now.  There must have been extremely good reasons for wanting to move it, because this would have been a substantial undertaking – it would have involved dismantling it and rebuilding it, quite likely with a modified layout.

One unintended consequence of this move, as Dr Thurlow points out, is that with the organ in its present position, much of the pipework is inaccessible, with the result that as bits of it have broken, they have tended to be left broken as too difficult to mend.

There is scope for further research.  It would be interesting to know if there are any parish records that could shed any more light on the provenance and history of the organ.  It would also be interesting to know if either of the above Beards are to be found on the family tree of the present illustrious Beards of Brightling.  Another possibility, if anyone has the time and the interest, would be to phone up the other 3 or 4 churches with PG Beard organs and see if they have any further information.

Update August 2017: A little more news on the history of the organ only deepens the puzzle.  It has now been established that the “action” (which is the technical term for the transmission between the player’s fingers and the actual pipe valves) is “tubular pneumatic”.  However, by about 1920, the tubular pneumatic technology had been superseded by the inherently much more reliable “electro-pneumatic” system; there was simply no sensible reason to carry on building tubular pneumatic organs once the electro-pneumatic system had been developed; yet our organ was apparently built in the 1930s.  More research needed.

Furnace Cottages

At the parish council meeting on 3rd July we discussed, among other things, a planning application for 1 Furnace Cottages.  Nos. 1 and 2 Furnace Cottages form a semi-detached building which is accessible only on foot, with no legal or practical road access.  However the building is easily visible from the public footpath which runs east-north-east from Socknersh Manor and if you don’t know it already I recommend it as a pleasant and interesting walk.  Finally, I am told, this is an important archaeological site which bears direct comparison with Ashburnham Furnace which also has comparable, small buildings (also called Furnace Cottages) right in the heart of the site of a post-mediæval iron furnace and forge.

The outcome of the planning application was that Rother District Council refused permission, on the grounds that “the proposed extensions…would detract from…the cottage’s distinctive architectural and historic character.”  The full details of the application and the decision can be seen here.  Brightling Parish Council had put in an objection, and one of our District Councillors, Eleanor Kirby-Green, referred it to the full planning committee of Rother District Council, where it was considered and refused.

Students of planning law will note that RDC went out of their way to say that practical considerations such as emergency vehicle access, drainage problems, construction difficulties, and so on played no part in their decision.  If RDC had taken these points into account then (a) they would have been in breach of planning law and (b) it would therefore have given grounds for the decision to be challenged.  These practical matters are all dealt with by the Building Regulations, which are separate from planning.

Broadband update – summer 2017

In the absence of any help from the East Sussex broadband team, I have appealed to our County Councillor for assistance in understanding and elucidating the situation, but I have not yet had a reply, despite the fact that improved broadband was featured in his election leaflet.  However, by laboriously checking every postcode in Brightling, I think I have now got an understanding of the scope of the unannounced extension of contract 2 (agreed with BT, it would appear, in March 2017 but not publicly announced).

There is good news for many people in Brightling.  As far as I can tell, it looks as if all the properties along Brightling Road, from Oxleys Green to the outskirts of Robertsbridge, are to be fibre-enabled by the end of September 2018.  This is the new phase 3 of contract 2.  Two other areas are also included in this phase: Hollingrove (the TN32 5HU postcode) and the area around Perrymans (from the mine entrance down to the top end of Brickyard Lane).  There are no guarantees but my best guess is that almost everyone in these areas will see some improvement in their broadband availability with some but not all getting superfast (24Mbps download).

The bad news is that if you are not on the above list, and you aren’t getting decent broadband at the moment, then there are no specific plans to upgrade you.  The original promise to bring superfast to 100% of East Sussex having been downgraded to an “aspiration” and there is no master plan for achieving it.  I have not seen any announcements about the future “contract 3” and the extension of contract 2 by 12 months (from end 2017 to end 2018) must put some doubt on it because (as I understand it) they will not scope contract 3 until the impact of contract 2 is clear.