Organs at St Mary’s from 1871 to 2002
The original organ in St Mary’s was built in 1871 by J. W. Walker and Sons. It cost £247. No original specification has been found. Architects’ drawings at that time show that the North Aisle ended where the access doors to the new organ chamber are sited and a lean-to building beyond the end wall probably housed the organ.
In 1886, the North Aisle of the church was extended to its current position, following which a sum of £214 was spent on ‘an addition to the organ’. A further note in 1897 refers to ‘an addition to the organ, completing the original design’. Thus the original sum of £247 represented only part of the proposed full specification. The old organ lasted some 130 years.
In 1923, the organ was described as ‘old fashioned in action and in tone’ and it was decided to replace the ‘tracker’ action with ‘tubular-pneumatic’, which would ‘abolish the unpleasant rattling which is now so much in evidence’. With the aim of providing more variety in accompaniment to services and in voluntaries, a new specification, involving new stops and some recasting of pipes, was drawn up.
The builder was Bishop and Son of Ipswich, and the cost was £750. The organ chamber remained at the end of the North Aisle, with the console accessed through an open wood screen under the stone arch to the left of the chancel, a location that was less than helpful to the organist. The opening recital was given on 18th December 1923 by Dr Frye of Chelmsford Cathedral. Records show that the organ was converted some three to four years later to electric-powered blowing.
In 1964 the organ was rebuilt by Kingsgate Davidson & Co. Ltd of London, with electro-pneumatic action and the addition of a choir organ making three manuals. There are no recorded costs of the work. A separate modern console was set in front of the organ screen, which was a significant benefit to the organist, choir and congregation. There was extensive remodelling of the pipework, but there was no provision to increase the power of the organ, a problem which had existed since the time of the original instrument. The rebuild involved much ‘borrowing’ of pipes for both the choir and pedal organs, meaning that the underlying blandness of the preceding version was not markedly improved. However, the advent of the choir organ did provide a much needed versatility to the organist for both accompaniment and solo work.
The inaugural recital was given on 10th June 1964 by Ralph Downes, organist at the London Oratory and designer and curator of the Royal Festival Hall organ. To turn the pages, he was assisted by a young student, Gillian Weir, who had recently arrived in England to study with him.
The organ continued to provide yeoman service for a further 35 years, by which time the electrics and leatherwork had started to give problems indicating that they were coming to the end of their reliable life. The PCC commissioned a report from Ian Bell, an independent organ consultant, who, in February 1998, concluded that the organ was not worthy of the building and that it would not be worth the amount of money and effort that would be necessary to put it into really good shape and the PCC should seek to replace it. The market was investigated for new outline organ designs and costs, using three well-known builders, with inconclusive results. At the same time, searches were made for a suitable redundant organ, which proved fruitless. Finally, on the advice of the consultant, Principal Pipe Organs of York were engaged to design and build a completely new organ.