On a visit to one or two of the Marsh churches earlier in the summer, I found myself leafing through the visitors’ books and was struck by the diversity and range of visitors we have to these beautiful churches. The attraction of these Sentinels – as Lord Deedes referred to them in his address 20 years ago – is not confined to Kent, the South East of England or even Great Britain as a whole. As well as Continental Europe, there were names from much further afield including the Americas, Canada, Australia and South Africa. Some had family connections with the Marsh, others no doubt tourists to the area but for whatever reason, it is clear that these magnificent churches have wide appeal. By maintaining the churches in reasonable condition, I like to think that this Trust has contributed to that appeal and whilst ruins have an attraction of their own – and we have those too – a run down church, dank, dark, unloved and unvisited soon becomes an obvious candidate for redundancy, closure and often ultimately sold for secular use.
Recently, a most splendid traditional Latin Mass was celebrated at St Augustine, Snave. Organised by the Latin Mass Society, it was probably the first such service held on the Marsh since the Reformation almost 500 years ago. This was a truly magnificent occasion and one that will live long in the memory. An unusual event like this is most welcome but we are not in any way opposed to the churches being used for purposes other than religious services. The more the churches are used, the greater their chances of survival. A splendid concert is held at Snargate each year and we wholeheartedly support the series of concerts and events put on by our friends from JAM on the Marsh. In July I attended a hugely enjoyable evening at St Nicholas, New Romney; a dinner to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Friends of St Nicholas. Mark Skilbeck, the retiring chairman and John Doyle were instrumental in establishing the Friends and thanks to them and other supporters, together with funding from ourselves and elsewhere, St Nicholas has been transformed. I well remember holding AGMs in the church where it felt more like meeting in a builders’ yard than a church!
Talking of AGMs, this year we returned to Newchurch, and enjoyed a most entertaining address by Ptolomy Dean. As Surveyor to the Fabric at Westminster Abbey he could have regaled us with the redevelopment planned at the Abbey but more appropriately he chose to concentrate on the restoration of a delightful church at Knotting in Bedfordshire; 12th century and not dissimilar in size to many of the smaller Marsh churches. Ptolemy gave us an excellent talk (with slides!) and showed us what can be achieved by a caring and sympathetic team of builders and architect.
As far as maintenance and restoration of our Marshes churches is concerned, we have two major projects which currently require funding. In previous Newsletters, I have written about the work to be carried out at All Saints, Lydd and the huge sums they have had to raise. I am delighted to be able to report that they have received funding from a variety of sources – ourselves included – to enable them to make a start. So far, we have made grants totalling £55,000 of which £25,000 was awarded earlier this year. At St George’s Ivychurch, the costs of the restoration of the west window continue to give us a degree of concern. To date, we have committed over £40,000 to that project and in addition we have made a more modest grant of £5,000 for lead capping to part of the roof to prevent further water leakage.
Elsewhere, we have made a grant of £17,000 to Burmarsh for repairs to the porch roof, internal plasterwork and redecoration; a little over £10,000 to Newchurch for repairs to the roof and more routine awards have been made for general repairs to Dymchurch, East Guldeford, Snargate and Snave. In total, we have paid out or committed almost £70,000 of this year’s grants budget of £80,000.
Our annual Thanksgiving Service was held at Snave on Sunday 13th September and I must express my sincere thanks to Nick Hudd who always puts together a really splendid choir. As many of you know, there is no electricity at Snave but our candlelit service – a traditional Evensong – is well worth attending.
Sales of Christmas cards rose last year and I hope that this year’s offering will be as successful. Our cards are taken from a painting of Newchurch and a photograph of Ivychurch kindly and generously supplied by John Doyle and John Hendy respectively and accompanying this Newsletter is our usual order form. We have held the price of our cards at £5 for 10 cards; a card is now cheaper than even the cost of a second class stamp. A true sign of the times!