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Sussex Harmony’s Grand Day OutSH Music Book

by Rachael Jordan, Dave and Jan Green

Reproduced from an article in West Gallery no.83

Saturday August 19th dawned fine and bright. We were all set for our grand 25th birthday tour and, as members old and new gathered in County Hall car park in Lewes, excitement was mounting. Dave Green went to talk to the coach driver and discovered that he was an old colleague from Brighton and Hove Buses, now driving for RDH Coaches. This was a good start as they had got on well in the past. We all boarded the coach and left at 9.30am on the dot. Rachel Jordan handed out copies of the new birthday book, which she had worked so hard on for many weeks, and Dave handed out a sheet detailing the churches we would visit and their points of interest. There was quiet for a while as people read the sheet and leafed through the music book, as well as looking out of the coach windows to see where we were going. Everything had been kept a secret until this morning!

Ote Hall Our first destination was Ote Hall Chapel in Wivelsfield. This is a Countess of Huntingdon Connexion chapel and is kept locked apart from Sunday morning services and organised access, so not many had been inside. It is a small, rectangular building that is simply decorated and furnished. There is a pulpit, and an organ that came from a church in Brighton. The chapel was founded in 1778 and built in 1780. Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, lived nearby at Ote Hall Place. There was a small audience waiting for us, who might have been somewhat taken aback when 42 of us trooped in and started setting up music stands and enquiring of Rachel as to where we should sit. However, there were faces showing, in turn, shock, amazement and delight when we started singing. The sound reverberated round the chapel and Rachel’s face was a picture – it said “wow”. We sang several pieces and all of the audience joined in the last – Diadem – with great gusto. Jan Green and a small band of helpers then served tea, coffee and biscuits in the hall attached to the chapel before we all trekked up to where the coach had parked and re-boarded for our next destination.

St.Margaret, WarnhamOur next church was St Margaret’s at Warnham, an interesting building with many features, including a large oak chest dating from 1771 and an old oak box. In 1847 the old singing gallery from the chancel was removed and re-erected over the west door, where it remained only until 1885. A narrow oak-panelled staircase now leads to the ringing chamber. The ‘hour’ glass above the pulpit rests in a wrought iron support and timed the sermons to one and a half hours! In the south aisle is a display case containing the violin and spectacles of Michael Turner (1796 – 1885) of waltz fame, and two leather-bound Books of Common Prayer and baptismal record of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Michael Turner’s grave is situated in the churchyard by the south door and is well worth a visit. His life is commemorated in verse on the gravestone, which is still clear to read. He was the parish clerk and sexton for 50 years and played his violin and led the church musicians from the gallery before the organ was installed. He always wore a white smock frock, red kerchief, breeches, and an old-fashioned beaver high hat on Sundays. Michael Turner’s Waltz is regularly played in folk circles and we gave a rendition during our time in the church. Once again, there was a small audience waiting for us and the usual rush to set up as, elated from our first venue, we could hardly wait to sing again. I think we blew their socks off! Informally, we were invited back in the future to give a workshop and evensong.

Performing in Warnham Michael Turner’s Fiddle

Having sung and looked around, we made our way across the road to the Sussex Oak where the coach had parked and a buffet lunch had been arranged – indoors, as there were a few clouds about by now. The landlord did us proud and our gluten-free singer could hardly believe her luck when he first asked her what she would like in her sandwiches and then brought out a huge plateful of freshly made sandwiches plus slices of frittata and a bowl of salad. She had to ask for a ‘doggy bag’, which was provided immediately. The rest of us were well fed on a variety of sandwiches, quiche, frittata, chicken drumsticks, sausage rolls and crisps. The bar was well staffed so no-one had to wait very long to be served in this very busy pub. Stuffed to the gills, we were rounded up and staggered out to the coach, which then had to reverse out of the crowded car park and down the narrow village street as far as the roundabout – Dave in high-vis jacket acting as banksman for Jay, our driver. Other traffic was brought to a standstill and looked aghast as we blocked their way. Drama over, Dave re-boarded the coach and we went on our merry way.

Our third singing venue was St George’s church at West Grinstead – Grade 1 listed with a wealth of features. A late medieval porch with Horsham stone roof; oak pews in the nave are 16th and 17th century; brasses; ornate marble memorials; stained glass window by Kempe, and more. The names of local farms are marked on the backs of the pews – dated prior to 1820 – and there is a map on the wall depicting the location of each farm. There was a west gallery until 1890 and their choir has been in existence over 200 years although, sadly they do not seem to have kept any of their old music. Rachel, Dave and Jan had attended choir practice at St George’s one Friday in July to introduce them to our music in the hope that they would join us on August 19th. Several did just that now, singing with great enthusiasm and thoroughly enjoying themselves. Again, we sang to a small audience – but then half of the would-be audience was singing alongside us! After our short ‘concert’ we were served tea and flapjack by members of St George’s choir – totally unexpected but very welcome – and there was much chat over the delicious flapjack. Members of both choir and quire got on like a house on fire and, before we left, Sussex Harmony had been invited to sing at St George’s patronal day evensong. We were sad to leave this lovely village church and people, but time was moving swiftly on and so must we.

St.Peter, Woodmancote Fourth and last on our itinerary was St Peter’s at Woodmancote. This small, ancient Knights Templar church has a saxon font and a yew-tree lined pathway leading from the gate to the church itself. At the rear of the churchyard are a large number of parallel family tomb slabs and to the left side on leaving the church there is a memorial in the shape of a cairn, which is dedicated to two of the Lewes martyrs, Thomas Harland and John Oswald, who lived in nearby Blackstone village and were burnt at the stake in Lewes on 6 June 1556. Our small, and mostly elderly, audience was smiling and nodding to the music as we sang and played. We didn’t know it then, but we would meet some of them again a short time later.

Our coach had dropped us off by the church gate and Jay was waiting patiently. We now had a choice to make. We could get back on the coach for a short drive to our tea venue, or we could walk about 500 yards along a leafy footpath. Most chose to walk, although the less able of us were glad to climb on board the coach and be driven. We went to Terrys Cross, which is a retirement home for retired clergy. Originally Anglican, it now has a mix of denominations among the twelve fairly active residents. When planning this day, Dave and Jan had been advised by members of St Peter’s that Terrys Cross ‘did a good tea’ and would be willing to cater for us. This proved to be good advice and Sally, the manager, had been very helpful and enthusiastic about our visit. She provided numerous different flavoured fruit and cream-filled sponge cakes and copious quantities of tea and fresh coffee in the residents’ sitting room, which is where we renewed our acquaintance with some members of our audience! After ‘whetting our whistles’ we did a few more songs for staff and residents, most of whom had now gone off to the dining room for their supper. However, they returned before we left and said that they could hear us well in the dining room and had much enjoyed the musical accompaniment to their meal.

Slightly tired by now but satisfied with a good day’s music-making, we all climbed aboard the coach for our trip back to Lewes. The hat was passed for our driver and we hope he got a good sum for his excellent driving (in some tricky situations – a 53-seater coach on a single track lane with overhanging trees to name just one!), and for his patience and good humour. He also said he liked our music! Will we do this again? Who knows? But Dave said he’s not doing the 50th birthday tour!



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