ST GILES ORGAN RESTORATION


 
During the 3-4 months that the work in church takes to complete everyone will know that something is happening - there will be a considerable amount of scaffolding for a start.

However, exactly what is going on will not be evident so I thought that each month I would write about different aspects of the project.

This photo on the right was taken in January after erection of the scaffold.

 Photos by Hannah Fruin and Nick Reynolds


February Update - every organ builder knows the way to Swanley

Progress on work to the organ is now well under way. Last month we looked at the work that is being done to the console. This month it's more about things that no one can see at all, a few things about the inner workings. This is where Swanley comes in.

Organ building became really big business in Victorian times but by the 1930s the pace had slowed as most churches had a well constructed instrument. A couple of builders did well building cinema organs but others spent more time refurbishing and 'modernising' existing instruments. Innovation was the order of the day. Henry Willis III, principal of one of the most highly regarded organ builders, was constantly on the lookout for ways to get ahead of the competition, even travelling to the USA and making reciprocal arrangements with an organ builder there but his most far reaching move came one afternoon in Peckham, just down the road from his works, when he burst in to the premises of Kimber-Allen Ltd., a very small engineering company, holding several components that he normally made in house, asking if they could do it cheaper. They could, much cheaper. Orders were placed and Kimber Allen grew so quickly that they went over to just making organ components and moved to much larger premises...........in Swanley. Other specialist suppliers have emerged through the years and, in common with most manufacturers, organ builders now tend to make few parts in house. Today, almost 90 years on, there are some components for organs that Kimber-Allen supply to the trade exclusively. Our re-built organ will have fewer of their components than it did previously as we have meticulously specified the manufacturers of all the components that the organ builder will buy in. These will come from two companies in Brandon, Suffolk, one in Lancashire and also from the USA. Components from these suppliers will be found on many famous instruments such as those at King's College Cambridge and St. Paul's Cathedral. However, those UK manufacturers will themselves buy some parts from Swanley.


FH Browne and son, our organ builders, do more work in house than some. In January they started refurbishing the soundboards – these are what the pipes stand upon, some of them are over 120 years old and this is probably their first refurbishment. During February they will have taken delivery of the components they are buying in and will be busy in their works fitting them to the refurbished soundboards and console. Some of the pipes will have been taken to the works for repair and up-grading but many will remain in the church where they will be cleaned – organ pipes are easily damaged and it makes sense not to remove them from the church if work to them can easily be done on site.

When we notified the church insurers that work to the organ was to be undertaken they asked, amongst other things, how many component parts there will be in the organ. Browne's answer – 'lots and lots' – may seem facetious to some but there really are almost too many to count.

I hope to be able to get down to the workshops in Canterbury to see some of the work in progress, partly because I would like to know that everything is going as we want but also because I love seeing craftsmen at work. Much of it would seem a bit strange and dull to many people and include very large hunks of wood being flooded with hot glue, hundreds of Neoprene seals that look like big Polo Mints being stuck to smaller bits of wood, large solenoids (fresh from Swanley) being fixed to yet more pieces of wood. All these things should not only make the instrument reliable for many years to come but will improve tuning.

Coming up next month: details of what is being done to improve the instrument's sound and make it more suitable for our needs. And no mention of Swanley, I promise!

January Update - The Console

That's the bit where almost everyone can see the organist playing but he can't see anything much himself. I never could understand why that is. The console was made in 1963 when the organ was moved to the West gallery. In those days people were still fascinated by a musical instrument that could be played by remote control so everyone would have been very excited about it being as far from the organ itself as possible. It was made in the workshop of the organ builder, Kingsgate Davidson Ltd., In South London. Some of the dimensions are not standard, making it not very pleasant to play. If anyone had asked organ builder Mr. Davidson why that was, according to organ builders' legend he would have stroked his chin and said 'I shall consult with Mr. Kingsgate on the matter'. This would not have been a good answer, firstly because Mr. Kingsgate did not actually exist and never had and, secondly, the standard for console dimensions was not formalised until 1967 so he had a readymade excuse anyway.


After 55 years it is not surprising that almost everything in the console is worn out. It will be removed to the organ builder's works (quite possibly via Swanley) for complete refurbishment. The two keyboards will be replaced with top quality new ones. For some reason the old keyboards have five more keys than they need at the top which do nothing (Mr. Kingsgate could have been asked about that one too) and reducing the compass of the keyboards to the standard 56 notes will be a great help in correcting the console dimensions. The pedal board will be completely refurbished and will look like new. Inside, the wiring and switchgear, much of which looks a bit like a telephone exchange from the 1950s, will be stripped out and replaced with a digital transmission system, but more of that in the months to come.

Organs come in all shapes and sizes and the keyboards can number anything from one to seven. The St. Giles organ has two keyboards - referred to by organists as ‘manuals’ - which is the number one would expect in a relatively small building. This is quite sufficient for what the instrument is used for much of the time but the Choir also sings music where the accompaniment would have been written with a three or four manual organ in mind: playing it effectively on a two manual is not easy. Technology has come a long way since 1963 and it is now possible to include what are termed 'registration aids’ which could never have been countenanced then. These will make the instrument easier to play where a larger instrument is really called for. The same technology makes it much easier to do some other things that would have been difficult in 1963: more stop keys will appear, making the instrument appear larger than it was, although overall it will increase in size by just a few additional pipes.

Finally, the design of the music desk makes it almost impossible to see a conductor (to be fair, there was no reason to make Mr. Davidson tell Mr. Kingsgate off about this one as the console originally faced in another direction) so this will be altered and adequate console lighting provided.

The console is just one part of the works – and we don't yet know why organ builders have such a thing about Swanley. We shall have to wait until next month for that.

Clive Brearley