Victorian organs are being transferred from derelict city churches to
country parishes, and there are signs that this is a growing trend.
restored organ at Blofield Church
have many large and impressive churches with equally large and impressive
organs, but often their congregations are dwindling as people move out,
and now many inner city churches are no longer needed for worship. In
the last few years several of these organs have been re-located to country
churches which could not have afforded such fine instruments in the past,
where they replace either small pipe organs or, more often today, defunct
of such alterations in East Anglia include Great Barton in Suffolk where
a good home was found for a Maley, Young and Oldknow organ from Hounslow,
removed from the church as the demolition men moved in. At Maldon United
Reformed Church a three manual organ from Harrow was installed much to
the delight of the enthusiastic congregation. And at Blofield, just east
of Norwich, a fine rescued organ from north London was installed.
ST ANDREW'S AND ST PETER'S, BLOFIELD
The soundboard being restored at the workshops of W & A Boggis.
The story of the Blofield organ is particularly interesting. The church
of St Andrew and St Peter is a typically large Norfolk parish church,
on the edge of the Broads which had housed, since 1886, a small two manual
Norman & Beard organ of simple specification. By 1998 this instrument,
although a quality organ in good condition, was deemed to be too small
for the church's needs.
It was Rodney Briscoe
of W & A Boggis who was contacted by church organist Geoff Sankey when
a possible replacement instrument was found in London. A visit to St Peter's,
Upper Holloway revealed a once admirable Victorian church that was now
sadly deteriorating, and an 1880 William Hill two manual mechanical action
organ in poor condition. However, it was clear that underneath the dust
and neglect there was a well designed and built organ, which needed a
good home before the conversion of the building to luxury apartments.
Rodney Briscoe had
no hesitation in recommending this organ for Blofield church, knowing
from past experience that with skilled restoration it could be successfully
rebuilt in a new location. The necessary quotation was produced and this
was accepted by the Parochial Church Council.
Before an alteration
such as the removal of the organ can be made to any church in the ownership
of the Church of England, permission must be obtained from the Diocesan
Advisory Commission of the Church of England. (Similar requirements exist
for all the other main church organisations in the United Kingdom.) To gain the permission required, which is known
as a 'Faculty', applications to each diocese were made with the help of
diocesan organ advisors in Norwich and London. Once the formalities were
duly completed, arrangements were made for dismantling and collecting
the organ from Holloway.
Details of the front pipes after restoration
At the time, Geoff
Sankey worked for the famous Adnams brewery in Suffolk, and as their contribution,
he arranged for one of their lorries to call at St Peter's Church after
delivering in London. So having unloaded some Broadside ale, the lorry
took a full broadside of 16ft pedal open diapasons back to Blofield.
Organs in bits take
up much more space than when they are assembled, so when it was all back
in Diss, the workshop was full of rather dirty organ parts. A thorough
examination prior to restoration revealed much of interest, and by referring
to the records from the British Institute of Organ Studies (BIOS), the
history of the instrument became clearer.
The original order
from the factory records of the maker, William Hill, was found through
BIOS, and it made interesting reading. It seems that the specification
changed several times during the building, which took from August to December
1880. It also shows that Hill made extensive use of reconditioned pipes
and other parts. The late Victorian period was a boom time for organ builders
in this country, and organs were modified and rebuilt often, sometimes
not long after they were built, and the discarded parts were re-used.
When dismantling organs of this age and size it is very common to find
screwholes and paint marks in unexpected places, showing that the parts
had been used before. Hill's order book also showed that neither the mixture
nor the trumpet ranks of pipes were fitted at the time. Details of the
company's 1931 overhaul indicate that this was when the trumpet was fitted.
At some time in the
early 20th century the swell box had been enlarged and a clarionet reed
stop had been added. The 1931 overhaul also added to the pedal department,
with the addition of a bourdon and bass flute. Furthermore, at this time
the pedal action was changed from mechanical to pneumatic. With the current
vogue for returning organs to their original specifications, these modifications
were carefully considered. It was decided, however, that they were not
out of keeping with the character of the organ, and added much to the
The mixture, however,
was a different question. It was decided to fit the mixture that the organ
had been waiting for for over 100 years, but this needed a separate faculty.
In order to get the faculty, research had to be done to decide the correct
composition of the two-rank mixture. Using other Hill organs of the period,
a composition of 19-22, breaking back to 15-19 then to 12-15 in the upper
octaves was agreed. Fortunately, Rodney Briscoe maintains an extensive
stock of good quality pipework, and he was able to make up the mixture
from reconditioned pipes of the correct period and voicing. After the
rebuild the specification of the organ is:
diapason 8, hohl flute 8, dulciana 8, principal 4, wald flute 4, fifteenth
2, mixture ii, trumpet 8
Swell: gamba 8, clarabella 8, salicional 8, principal 4, flautina
2, cornopean 8, oboe 8, clarionet 8
Pedal: open diapason 16, bourdon 16, bass flute 8
Couplers: swell to great, swell to pedal, great to pedal
Restoration work began
once all the main parts were back in the workshop, including the organ's
bellows. These were nearly as big as two double beds and it needed all
W & A Boggis's staff of four to lift and move them. The bellows store and
pressurise the air that the organ needs. In the modern age efficient electric
blowers mean that bellows are much smaller than they used to be, as they
no longer have to be big enough to compensate for the fatigue of the man
- or boy - pumping the blowing handle. But restoring this instrument meant
that the original enormous bellows had to be retained.
The old leather was
stripped off and new leather was glued on in its place. Organ builders
still use animal-based glue, just as they did when the organ was built.
This has several advantages: it can be removed with hot water and it does
not react with the leather and wood in an adverse way, as do some chemically
manufactured glues. But, as with several aspects of organ building, these
old methods and materials are used not out of a desire to be authentic,
but simply because there is no better way. The re-leathering work included
the feeders as well as the bellows.
The mechanical action
was completely dismantled and cleaned and the iron parts were replaced
with new phosphor bronze, which resists the often damp atmosphere of a
church better. The soundboards were stripped down and 'flooded', this
means sizing it thoroughly with slightly watered down glue to seal any
wind leaks between the bars of the soundboard. The pallets were recovered
with new felt and leather, the drawstop slides cleaned and re-graphited
so that they move easily and cleanly.
The words 'pneumatic
action' often seem to strike fear into the hearts of organ players, advisers,
and even builders, but a properly restored and maintained pneumatic action
is no problem at all. Organ builders without a long heritage in the industry
may have never seen pneumatics in good condition and find the vagaries
of air pressure harder to understand than a mechanical action. However,
Mr William Boggis, who founded the business, had been apprenticed to the
masters of pneumatic actions in the heyday of the technology and had himself
trained Mr Briscoe. So Mr Briscoe was totally confident in retaining -
after careful restoration - the pedal action in this organ.
The oak casework was
carefully cleaned and refinished, returning it to its original colour
and the delicate stencil work on the pipes, so characteristic of organs
of this period, was cleaned. The work is of such good quality that gentle
cleaning with soap and water was all that was needed to return the pipes
to their former glory, with no retouching necessary.
The bourdon pipes
had to be re-located on the other side of the organ for the new position
in Blofield church. The casework had to be modified, since the organ was
to be facing a different direction - at Holloway it was on the south wall
facing north and at Blofield it is the other way around. The pipes had
to be changed from one side to the other and a new case panel was made
to match the existing panels on the rest of the casework.
Overall, this was a
most successful project. The instrument fits perfectly with the rest of
the church. If Blofield had had more money in the 1880s it is easy to
see that they would have had an organ somewhat like this. The church was
impressed with Rodney Briscoe's confidence that he could position the
organ so that the tallest centre pipe was in the line with the centre
of the arch.
This illustrates that
there is much that can be done to provide a church with a high quality
instrument that comes without the expense, in time as well as money, of
a new organ and has the historical integrity and proven reliability of
a older instrument. And two churches gained a new organ from this job,
as Blofield's former organ was also moved to Colkirk, a village in central
This article is reproduced from Historic Churches, 2001
RODNEY BRISCOE of W & A Boggis has been organ building for over 40 years,
having started at the age of 15. He has gone from apprentice to proprietor
of the Diss, Norfolk firm, and recently moved into new purpose designed
premises. He finds satisfaction in the varied aspects of his chosen
vocation from tuning small country parish church organs to building
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