The Church of the Holy Trinity at Brathay to host Jubilee music festival
PUBLISHED: 00:07 29 May 2012 | UPDATED: 21:26 20 February 2013
William Wordsworth helped chose the location of this little known Lakeland church. Eileen Jones reveals news of its revival Photography by Kirsty Thompson
The print version of this article appeared in the June 2012 issue of Lancashire Life
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One of Cumbrias hidden treasures is set to win international acclaim this summer with a music festival of audacious ambition.
The church of the Holy Trinity at Brathay, just a mile from the heart of Ambleside yet largely unknown in spite of its dramatic location, will host the festival to mark a substantial programme of restoration, and the churchs re-dedication by the Bishop of Carlisle.
Among the artists lined up to perform on this most obscure of stages include one of Britains foremost pianists, Martin Roscoe, along with the renowned Fitzwilliam String Quartet, and the first Chinese guitarist to gain international repute, Xuefei Yang.
The 175-year-old Italianate church sits on top of a rocky outcrop facing
the slopes of Loughrigg; it had to be built oriented in a north/south
direction rather than the traditional east/west because of the lack of suitable flat space. William Wordsworth approved heartily: There is no situation out of the Alps, nor among them, more beautiful than where this building is placed.
Although the church lies only a few hundred metres from the road that carries thousands of tourists towards Hawkshead, it is visited only by the dedicated and the curious, apart from the regular worshippers.
But the tiny local congregation is set to swell on Jubilee weekend when the celebration takes place here. And one of the highlights will be the new sound of the church organ which was restored as part of the major project.
The six bells had been restored after an earlier fundraising project and rang again for the start of the millennium. But the rest of the church was in a desperate state, according to John Swift, retired hotel manager and one of the volunteer team.
The roof was leaking like a sieve. Some of the windows were letting in water. They all had to be taken out, cleaned and repaired, and then replaced.
The object of the exercise was to leave the appearance unchanged, although both the altar and the entrance to the choir have been widened to create a good performance area. Decorative storage cupboards at the back have been built in the same ornate style.
Also in a very poor state was the roof over the organ chamber. It was dismantled and taken to experts, Lightbown on Tyneside and returned in January. It was wonderful to watch the skill of the people putting it back together, says Peter Frost, festival chairman, church organist and choral conductor. Peter is a retired teacher who was a housemaster at the Fyldes Rossall School and, as a boy, was a chorister at St Pauls Cathedral.
This was a jolly good Victorian hymn-playing organ, he says. But it now has a much brighter tone and adds more colour. Its much more interesting for the professional organist to play on. So it was all a blessing in disguise.
Along with the organ, a new Steinway piano will be christened at the festival by Martin Roscoe, a veteran of many Proms concerts. The festival progamme is broad, ambitious and likely to bring fame to Brathay when it becomes an annual event. Yet the little church already had musical fame: the hymn, O Perfect Love, chosen for countless weddings, was composed specially for the marriage at Brathay in 1883 of Dr Hugh Redmayne and Katherine Blomfield by her sister, Dorothy. It was subsequently used at Queen Victoria, and has been sung regularly ever since.
The eagle-eyed might spot a camera perched on one of the finials. Church services, including weddings, can be filmed and then viewed simultaneously on a big screen in the church hall next door.
The former Sunday school building, which had been a joiners workshop for 50 years, is cared for on behalf of the trust by Isabel Gordon, a lively and engaging former guest house owner whose interesting career history also includes a stint as a representative for a leading Kendal mint cake firm.
Isabel, who lives in an adjoining cottage, is proud of the impressive centre and its equally impressive range of facilities and activities. While still overseeing the final building work, she was already organising coffee mornings, keep fit classes, art lessons and mountain bike tours from the front door. Its a terrific location, she says.
Only a few people actually live locally, but it is so easy to reach, just a mile from Ambleside. We want to create a programme of activities here for everyone to enjoy. Its ideal for weddings, parties, training sessions.
Artistic director for the festival, Jolyon Dodgson, says: The church is a hidden gem and it has a unique atmosphere which will make the festival a real privilege to be part of. Jolyon is working with festival administrator Sophie Scott, who also happens to be working for the Cheltenham Festival team as well.
But beyond the excitement of the festival, Peter Frost says: The refurbishment of the church was first and foremost for worship, and thats our priority. Its important to our congregation and we do hope to increase our numbers. We cherish a very meaningful, traditional service.
Friday June 1: Fitzwilliam Quartet (Grainger, Grieg, Delius)
Saturday June 2: Voces8, from Gibbons to Gershwin (including Palestrina, Monteverdi, Bach)
Sunday June 3: Rededication with the Bishop of Carlisle and the Carlisle Cathedral Choir
Monday June 4: 12.45: Xuefei Yang (guitar), Bach, Villa Lobos, Koshkin, Paganini
7.30: Martin Roscoe (piano), Beethoven, Schumann, Debussy