It is a privilege to follow Mary Gibbins as chairman of the Friends. She has done so much for the charity during her long tenure of the chairmanship and has helped it to continue as one of the most successful of the county church trusts. We are all grateful to her and I am pleased that she has agreed to be deputy chairman in succession to Richard Latham, who has also been a great stalwart of the Friends.
Although not brought up in Kent, I have lived in Tonbridge for more than 40 years and have come to love the county and its churches. I have been an enthusiastic church-visitor since I was a child and have gained enormous pleasure from looking at churches all over England. It is good now to have an opportunity to do something to repay that debt by serving as chair of the Friends.
Kent has a fine legacy of churches and chapels of all dates and denominations. These buildings are the physical embodiment of the county’s history, not just their fabrics but their fittings, glass and many monuments too. How much poorer Kent would be if many of these buildings disappeared or were converted to uses which removed them from the public realm where we can all enjoy them.
It is often said that England’s parish churches have never since the Reformation been in better repair than they are now. That may be true but their need for care and support remains very great in an age of receding faith and declining congregations. And the financial climate has become much more difficult in the last 10 years as the state has withdrawn support to historic buildings and the Lottery Heritage Fund has recently abolished its Grants for Places of Worship. The county church trusts have become more important in this adverse climate for church buildings. In Kent the Friends play a key role in raising awareness of our church heritage, in encouraging the study and enjoyment of these buildings, in raising money to support them through the marvellous Ride and Stride and through legacies and in giving grants to repair and equip churches across the county. The grants we give are, of course, relatively small but we can be part of a coalition of grant-giving bodies which will help a church to finance a major repair project and the fact that we are willing to give a grant will often encourage other bodies to do so too. Some smaller projects can go ahead just with the support that we can provide.
I have already met many members who attend the Lenham talks and the large and enthusiastic group who turn out for our popular church visits. I look forward to getting to know others of you in the future and to hearing your views about how we can continue and enhance our work.
Grants for roof alarms:
When the Scrap Metal Dealers Act came in we all hoped that metal theft from churches would be stopped and for a time there was definitely a decrease but a recent report from the National Crime Agency shows that metal theft is now one of the fastest growing crimes, up by 25 per cent in a year. Kent is particularly vulnerable because of our closeness to the ports. Together with the Allchurches Trust we are offering churches grants of usually £3,000 towards the installation of roof alarms. However, our agreement with the Allchurches Trust is time limited so if you are thinking of installing an alarm please contact us soon. Full details on the Friends website.
One thing leads to another – from brass rubbing to DACs to FKC:
When I first I moved to Kent I lived near St Mary the Virgin, Newington-on-the- Street. This lovely church, its photographs amid orchards in blossom gracing many a calendar, was my introduction to medieval architecture, art and artefacts. I had the great fortune of seeing Dr Eve Baker patiently reveal the doom painting on the east wall of the north aisle, but it was the monumental brasses that fired my imagination. I did my first rubbings there and they introduced me to a cornucopia of interests: costume; armour, heraldry, medieval Latin and Norman French; religious symbols; calligraphy; family history; stone types such as Purbeck and Bethersden and much else.
One thing about brass rubbing is that it’s not good for the knees and you spend all the time looking down. So, when the knees get sore and the back feels stiff, you get up for a stretch or, when rubbing a large brass, a necessary walk round the churchyard. And, looking up and around, you realise that this House of God is full of other stuff, interesting and exciting stuff, like table tombs, choir stalls, misericords, screens, pulpits, wall paintings, fonts, hatchments, royal arms, poor boxes, pews (yes, pews can be interesting) and stained glass.
There are so many things to see in a church and, before you know it, you have accumulated a library on all of it. And you have joined lots of other societies and they produce lots of Newsletters and Journals, and Transactions and you join more committees and you get lots of minutes and stuff and so it goes on. And it’s wonderful!
I joined the Monumental Brass Society in 1968 and met conservator Bryan Egan, to whom I became plumber’s mate on his weekend visits to repair loose and broken brasses throughout Kent. One such job brought us to St Clement, Sandwich where we met the Rector, Canon David Naumann, who just happened to be chairman of Canterbury DAC. And who also just happened to be looking for a consultant on brasses. So in 1981, I became a DAC consultant. Then Rochester DAC heard about me so I became their consultant too. And I am still doing it. When I took early redundancy from the day job, after a seemly interval, I was invited to become a full member of both.
Then I was recruited by the Chairman of the Friends of Kent Churches, Jennifer Raikes, who knew I served on both Canterbury and Rochester Diocesan Advisory Committees and thought I might be useful and I became a Trustee of the Friends and member of the Grants Committee.
Over the years one learns a lot, and one forgets a lot, but putting one’s experience to use in supporting the Friends of Kent Churches do what they do best, helping look after the wonderful legacy of churches, is probably the most satisfying part of all.
This brass is 6′ 2” long and it took Leslie
three hours the first time he tried it but
when he realised how poorly his efforts
compared with experienced rubbers he
went back and did it again, taking twice the
Dating from c1310, it depicts Sir Robert
Septvans in armour with a lion at his feet.
The device on his shield and on his armour
shows seven grain winnowing tools, called
vannes, a play on his name common at the
Newsletter back page – courtesy of Chris Rigby