Cambridge Organists

Saturday 12 May 2018: Visit to Ware, Hertfordshire

This interesting visit started in the morning at Christ Church, New Road, Ware, before the short walk to St Mary’s for the afternoon.  It offered the opportunity to compare two organs both with a significant Hill aspect to their history and both of three manuals.  There were ten members present but of course we must remember Henry V’s “The fewer men, the greater share of honour”!

We are grateful to Charles Hall for an enlightening introduction to the organ of Christ Church (1880 IIIP/23) and of which he has considerable knowledge.  It was originally built by Wm Hill & Sons in 1880 at a cost of £615 and delivered by train and cart from north London.  It is considered one of the best in the Diocese with very attractive sounds including both the Great chorus and some individual stops such as the Clarionet.  It is very little changed since it was built, so is an authentic Victorian organ in an at-present authentic Victorian church although there are plans for renovation.

During the lunch break some members explored a few of the medieval side streets known as ‘yards’ including that of the former Blue Coat School.  After lunch, by contrast with Christ Church, the organ of St Mary’s (previously 1881 IIIP/31) has recently been rebuilt with a new console and additions by the Village Workshop.  An informative introduction and demonstration was given by Peter Smith, the organist, who played Variations on Old 100th by Denis Bédard.   Mr Smith was the gentleman who welcomed us a few years ago to the then newly refurbished organ in Cheshunt Parish Church – he remembered us well.

There had been organs in this church since the seventeenth century, but the Hill organ dated from 1881 with an overhaul and some changes and additions by Rushworth and Dreaper in 1995.  It had a very heavy tracker action especially when using couplers and the new console is a delight by comparison. The complete rebuild included most of the pipe-work of the old organ but with some additions and the opening recital was given by Peter Holder. The pipe-work is to the north of the chancel and the detached console is in the south aisle.  It has many of the facilities found on larger modern organs and now has thirty six speaking stops not including the Cimbelstern!  It has a completely different feel to the organ in its previous form.  After an opportunity to explore the new instrument, a leisurely and ample tea was kindly provided by the church, both made and served by our Member, Celia Higson, and to whom our warm thanks were given.

Edward Dodge

Saturday 14th July 2018: Visit to Swaffham Prior, Lode and Bottisham

These three instruments provided a most interesting sequence of single manual village organs contained in some architecturally fascinating buildings.

A dozen members assembled at the church of St Mary the Virgin, Swaffham Prior.    The church shares an elevated triangular churchyard with the deconsecrated church of St Cyriac and St Julietta, a building with fantastic acoustics and now, under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, used as a centre for champing.     The two churches amalgamated in 1667, subsequently experiencing alternate periods of dereliction and restoration until in 1903 St Mary’s became, and remained, the formal unified Parish Church.

The earliest part of St Mary’s dates from about 1100 and its lantern tower pre-dates the one at Ely Cathedral.   The organ, originally built by Miller c.1900 for St Cyriac’s, was moved and rebuilt in St Mary’s chancel by Miller in 1926.   A notable feature of the 6 stop instrument is a remarkably stringy Viola rank.  A recently restored cabinet organ built by Collins in 1975 is situated at the east end of the nave with the player facing west.   Its three ranks (Wooden Stopped Diapason, Metal Flute 4, Fifteenth) produced some very pleasing unforced sounds.

The organ at Lode was originally built in 1866 for a church in Leeds by Wood, Wordsworth & Co.   The same firm transplanted and enlarged it in 1977 in memory of the 1st and 2nd Lords Fairhaven of Anglesey Abbey.   The full chorus, comprising 16, 8, 4, 22/3, 2, III produces an unexpectedly splendid sound and invited discussion on the merits of specifying a complete single manual or, for the same outlay, spreading 2 or 3 fewer stops over two manuals.

The organ at Holy Trinity Church, Bottisham is grade II listed.  It started life as a barrel organ, very little of which was preserved or identifiable when it was converted to a nine stop “finger organ” by J W Walker in 1864.  Charles Hall talked briefly about player mechanisms, showing some photographs and playing a recording of some variations on The first Nowell played by an old barrel piano.    The organ, standing on a west gallery, has not been used for services for about 40 years, but was demonstrated for us by Jonathan Giles.   Health and safety issues made it unwise for members to ascend to the console but Jonathan’s demonstration gave some indication of the tonal delights that could become available after a full restoration.

We are most grateful to Charles for organising this event and providing valuable background information, and to Jonathan and Susan Giles for some excellent refreshments at the end of the proceedings.

Michael Whitehall