Wedding string quartet at Eastnor church

Also in the lake, there's an island which is evidently the remains of the original house, Castle ditch, but I'm not sure which this is, I've only read about it.

I've deviated again, haven't I. Sorry. Let's get back to weddings. Eastnor church is in the small village that was built as part of the Eastnor Estates, which lies right at the entrance to reasonable Castle itself. The full title of the church is, the church of St John the Baptist, Eastnor, Herefordshire. At a guess, though I don't know the real statistics, about one third of the weddings seem to be church weddings, and most of these are held at Eastnor church, though some church weddings take place at Ledbury parish church and other churches in the area.

Indeed, the church in Ledbury, St Michael and all Angels, is a very attractive building that can be approached from the town centre by passing Ledbury's historic market Hall, a black-and-white building on stilts that once used to host civil wedding ceremonies, (I've played with my string quartet there for civil weddings many, many years ago), but sadly no longer in use because of ever more stringent access requirements for wheelchairs and the like. The market Hall is accessed up a stairway that is relatively steep, and there's no way of getting a wheelchair there. I believe the local authority considered putting a lift to the upper level, but fortunately, because it would have totally ruined this historic building, they didn't do that. Instead, they stopped using the room for civil ceremonies. To my way of thinking this is tragic and not right. It is vital to have access for everyone, but in my belief this has to be tempered to being where it is practical. As long as it is made clear that if there is a wedding ceremony held in the market Hall, that there is no wheelchair access, then it should be up to the bride and groom to determine whether this would affect any of their guests and whether it is appropriate to hold the ceremony in the market Hall audition alternative venue. Because of the rules and regulations it means that nobody under any circumstances can have the delight of using this historic building. This seems totally unfair, as if the pendulum has swung from one extreme of perhaps thirty or forty years ago when disabled access was rarely considered, to the other extreme. Surely we should have something that is the best compromise for all concerned?

So, back to Ledbury's parish church, St Michael and all Angels. Having passed the market Hall that I've just been ranting about, you walk up this totally ridiculously picturesque and wonderful cobbled street that leads to the church. It is a favourite view for artists, and there must be innumerable depictions of the street with the church just visible at the end, in watercolours, oils, acrylics, pastels and just about any medium that you can think of. (The street also does pass an excellent patisserie and coffeehouse that is run by a genuine French pastry chef, and on the other side an excellent old-fashioned pub that sells a range of superb local real ales and some really good continental lagers, not the insipid stuff that is brewed in this country and sold in so many pubs around the UK.)

I've played for a few weddings at this church over the past years, but also have given chamber music concerts at various times in the chapel that is to one side of the main body of the church. It's a large chapel and conceit quite a decent sized audience, but has the intimacy that is necessary for chamber music.

But most of the wedding ceremonies take place at Eastnor church. St John the Baptist's is just a little way of the village green, and has litigate and a nice walk up to the church door which is made use of by the wedding photographer that hopefully takes lots of pictures of the bride, groom, family and guests to give time for the string quartet to pack up their instruments and move, father side door, back to Eastnor Castle to set up in the great hall for when guests arrive.

There is evidence that there has been a church on the site since the twelfth century, though it is likely that there had been an earlier wooden Saxon church either on the same site or nearby, and there is a Saxon church building in Ledbury, just a couple of miles away. Most of what can be seen today dates from the fourteenth century, but much of it was taken down and rebuilt in 1851. As one would expect stately homes and their estate villages, the restoration and rebuilding was funded by Earl Somers.

Of particular relevance, from the musical point of view, is the Nicholson organ that was presented by the third Earl Somers and was built locally in Worcester in 1867. More and more churches are losing their original pipe organs because the cost of maintaining them and are going over to electronic organs, many of which are extremely good. At Eastnor church they have stuck with the pipe organ and had it restored by the original builders in 2005 after having raised £40,000. It is still in good condition, but it is a small organ compared with the cathedral organs that brides and grooms listen to their favourite piece of musical when they buy a wedding CD. We often play at the church with one of our string quartets, either in conjunction with the organ, or sometimes instead of the organ. Typically the string quartet would play for half an hour as guests arrive, for the entrance of the bride (processional), during the signing of the register which sometimes is long enough for a couple of piece of music to be played, and then as the bride and groom make their exit (recessional). If there is an organist, they would place the hymns, though we have had string quartets playing for the hymns at the church on a few occasions.

If there is an organist, it is usually better for them to play the hymns because congregations are notoriously reluctant to sing, or if they are enthusiastic singers they tend to drag and slow down so that the whole him can grind to a halt. The organ, by dint of its volume and location right by the first row of congregation, is a good tool to drag people along and force them to keep going. If the string quartet is doing this task. They really need to be positioned at the front of the church, close to the first row of the congregation so that the leader can eyeball the most enthusiastic looking people, and use their bow to conduct them and can give them encouragement looks to persuade them to sing loudly and drag everybody else along with them. It can be an interesting collaborative effort.

When the last guests leave the church, there is a small door hidden by curtain through which the quartet can escape their instruments, back music and music stands, to take a small path through graveyard and escape the wedding photographer and the posing happy couple and proud parents, to get their car which is normally parked on the green in the centre of the village and shoot up to the castle to get ready.

For those guests and couples who choose to walk from the church to the castle, and for those bride and grooms who make the choice and are lucky enough to get good weather, the walk from Eastnor church to the ground entrance of the castle takes about 5 minutes and is of a drive flanked by impressive mature trees, turning left through a portcullis gate (that was also used until a few years ago as the estate office), to the gravelled area in front of the castle. The view is imposing and picturesque, designed and built in the best and most extravagant Victorian artistic and architectural styles.

As I said earlier, castle was built between 1810 and 1824 in the style of the Norman revival, attempting to create the impression of an edge of the first of all mediaeval fortress of the type that guarded the Welsh borders. It was an assertion of the power in a period of fear and uncertainty following the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. I wonder if people start building castles like this again in the light of BREXIT and the country's desperation to make itself great and independent as it used to be. A hard call in a world that has changed almost beyond recognition since this castle was built. The castle does have electric power and remarkably good heating now, but as if to assert itself and keep itself in the 1800s, there is no mobile phone signal whatsoever at the castle.