Having explored Tunbridge Wells’ “poor cathedral” of St Barnabas during Heritage Weekend, and having learnt about its history as an offshoot of the rich parish of St James, the natural next step was to cross town to visit the parent church.
I grew up quite close to this church and had always liked its exterior which seemed warm and inviting in the way a traditional village church should be, but once again I had never actually been inside.
A review of the history of this church on their website, shows that my hunch was sort of right- when St James was built in 1862, it was on a new posh edge of town in an area, Calverley Plain, which likely would have felt quite village-like as the town was only just starting its sprawl outwards.
The website tells the story of a terrible hail storm on the day of its foundation stone being laid with local worthies being knocked off their perches and scaffolding collapsing- sure enough, you can see on the left in the picture above, some of this work being memorialised for the heritage weekend- or maybe I misunderstood somehow!
When I stepped inside, my first sense was quite surreal- the church was completely deserted, but to welcome the heritage visitors they had suitable Victorian music playing over the speakers- as I wandered round I heard the likes of Land of Hope and Glory which jarred somehow with a colour scheme which reminded this colour Blind photographer of the dream sequences from Twin Peaks.
But as I got the true feel for the place, I once again regretted having missed it for so long- this is a really cosy, warm space with none of the snobbish exclusiveness I had imagined when reading of the religious war with St Barnabas.
I resolved to get into as many of the local churches as possible during the rest of the weekend and beyond.