The SMSG Handbell ringers play at quite a few events as outreach activity and were recently invited by our sister Heritage Lottery Funded project in Stony Stratford, the Magdalen Tower restoration project (lead by Phil Snell), to play at their Medieval Fair on 2 August 2015 which was billed as 'an afternoon of medieval frolics'. The handbell ringers played at this event as part of Music for all @ SMSG which is the music programme and outreach strand of the Heritage Lottery Funded Willis Pipe Organ Restoration and Reach-out project.
The majority of the SMSG handbell ringers were available for the fair and were very happy to play, especially as the weather was perfect and the theme of the fair gave them the opportunity to try out some new music from the medieval period, which included the following:
- Peal of bells
- Divinum Mysterium
- The Lourdes Hymn
- Sumer is incumen in
- Mediaeval Tune
They were placed in the shade under some tall trees between some other tents showcasing garden herbs, music and story telling and opposite archery and medieval crafts with a jester wandering around the centre of the green.
A Medieval Fair does not have amplified music nor any fairground organs, which were a 19th century invention. Instead the music of that period was personal as the listener would come across the musician(s) while weaving their way through a busy fair or market and perhaps be enticed to part with a few coins for the entertainment.
There was a tent with some medieval instruments being demonstrated by musicians in costumes of the period including a hurdy-gurdy: a hand-turned stringed instrument, one of the early fore-runners of hand-turned street organs.
English handbells are not loud, especially when played outdoors, so the music SMSG handbells made was for local enjoyment with people sitting on grass or standing nearby to listen, however they could be heard across the green as being encircled by mature trees provided a good acoustic.
The stalls were set up around the Green between Ostlers Lane and Magdalen Close, not far from Magdalen Tower which is currently being restored to make it weather proof, stable and more accessible for future generations to enjoy.
The tower is the only part that remains of the original St Mary Magdalen Church which was the Stony Stratford branch of the Parish of Wolverton when the market town Stony Stratford was served by two parishes. The High Street was the boundary between Wolverton and Calverton parishes. St Giles Church, also having a medieval tower, was the Calverton church in Stony Stratford. When St Mary Magdalen church was destroyed by fire in 1742, for a while there was no church building serving that parish until St Mary the Virgin was built near York House in the 19th century.
In 1968 the two parishes merged, with St Mary the Virgin closed (it became a community centre for a while and is now the Greek Orthodox Church) and St Giles, restored after the 1964 fire which destroyed the old organ, became St Mary & St Giles church and acquired the Willis pipe organ from Edinburgh which is now being restored with Heritage Lottery Funding.
So Magdalen Tower is an essential part of the history of the parishes in Stony Stratford and its restoration at the same time as the Willis organ is part of the continuing story of our lovely town.