THE SOUTH WEST
The Church of Saint James the Great, Kilkhampton, contains a very interesting instrument which has a fascinating history. The old (18th. C) console is displayed below the west case. The new (1956) console, by Roger Yates, is situated on the south side of the case. Yates re-cast the tonal scheme, but utilised much of the old pipework. The result is an unusual but thoroughly musical instrument. The scheme includes a superb 32ft. Sub Bass (T.C. Lewis, 1892), which extends the 16ft. rank down to G, at which point it is 'quinted' a fourth below the fundamental. Whilst this sounds odd, in practice it is the most effective resultant bass which I have ever heard - particularly in this dry acoustic. Other outstanding stops include a pungent Principalbass 16ft. (Pedal Organ), a delightful Stopped Diapason and Nason Flute and a superb four-rank mixture (22-26-29-33) on the G.O. Oh - and a real French Bombarde (Pedal Organ), which was added by Yates in 1962.
Another organ in the area which is worth a visit, is that at St. Michael and All Angels, Bude Haven. This is a two-clavier instrument, rebuilt by Osmonds in 1966 and restored by Lance Foy around 1989. It has one of the fattest (and loudest) G.O. reeds which I have ever heard. However, there are some good stops, leaving aside the G.O. Mixture III (19-22-26), which needs some careful revoicing and regulation. The G.O. Gamba has a full-length open metal bass and the Swell mild strings and Stopped Diapason are all good ranks, as is the G.O. Clarabella (not the occasional cloying variety) and the Wald Flute 4ft.
Saint John the Baptist, Morwenstow ('Hawker's Church'). This typically Cornish church, situated in a remote cleft overlooking the wild North Cornwall coast is chiefly known for a former incumbent, the Rev. Stephen Hawker. In the 19th C. he was Vicar of Morwenstow and spent much of his time affording the luxury of a Christian burial to the many drowned mariners washed-up on the nearby beach. This part of the coast is littered with shipwrecks. If you go the The Brendon Arms, next to the The Falcon Hotel, in Bude, there is (or was) above the bar, an old map of known shipwrecks which occurred along this inhospitable stretch of coastline. Morwenstow church contains an interesting two-clavier instrument, which is surprisingly rich in upperwork; as far as I can recall, there have been one or two changes since the last NPOR survey.
Saint Stephen with Saint Swithin, Launcells. This church, in its tranquil sylvan setting, is a little off the beaten track. Whilst the instrument is more unusual than interesting, nevertheless, if one is visiting the area, the church alone is well worth the trouble. The two-clavier organ is built on the extension principle, by Percy Daniel & Co. Apart from the G.O. Open Diapason, it is enclosed and has no couplers. The Pedal Bourdon is constructed of metal. However, in the intimate yet sensitive acoustics of this ancient building, it makes a pleasing sound. It is also known locally for the fact that a former organist died whilst playing for a service.
Saint Andrew's Church, Stratton. This is certainly worth a visit, since the organ was built by T.C. Lewis, in 1888. Lance Foy made minor alterations in 1983. However, the instrument has retained its essential character. The church itself is interesting. Amongst several features is a preserved door from Stratton Jail (which still has the word 'CLINK' formed from large studded nails on its face.) The church is notorious locally for a recent vicar who formed half of a civil partnership - and who thus caused something of a furore in this deeply conservative part of North Cornwall.
Holsworthy Methodist Church. This is a fairly large building with an impressive interior (featuring Terrazzo marble floors and wrought iron decorative panels on the gallery front). The building houses a moderate two-clavier instrument by Geo. Osmond & Co., of Taunton, last rebuilt in 1953 – although it was cleaned in 1976, by Ray Greaves, of Plymouth. This organ sounds larger than it is, particularly the Swell Cornopean (the only chorus reed), which is, frankly, enormous. There is a frighteningly original (or perhaps confused) Acoustic Bass 32ft. on the Pedal Organ, which has been arranged so that the top six notes sound on the 16ft. octave of the Open Diapason, and the lower two (repeating) octaves are quinted on this stop. It has been known to cause slight structural damage….
SS. Peter and Paul, Holsworthy. An 18th C. case, with several old stops, an interesting old Flauto 8ft. on the G.O. and the heaviest mechanical action you have ever played - guaranteed. Just get someone to add Swell to Great after you have begun to play Widor's Toccata....
Bideford Parish Church. A 'Father' Willis organ - as far as I know unspoiled by the later attentions of either Vowles or JW Walker.
Barnstaple Parish Church. An interesting rebuild of an organ by Crang, undertaken jointly by Lance Foy and Michael Farley. The organ stretches back a long way into the chancel; however, from the Nave it is less impressive tonally than at the console.
All Saints' Church, Okehampton. Whilst at school, I practised regularly on this instrument. It is a rebuild by Hele (under the auspices of their parent company JW Walker). Therefore, it has what is to all intents a handsome 'Walker' console. It is a fairly large three-clavier instrument, with a small amount of extension, in order to augment the scheme. This includes a Trombone/Trumpet/Clarion rank, available in various pitches on the Pedal, Positive and G.O. Positioned directly behind the west façade, it speaks authoratitively, with thrilling éclat down the north aisle. (This reads as 'It is unbelievably loud if you happen to be standing in front of the instrument.') The case, of medium oak and gilded pipes, is impressive and was constructed by a local woodcarver, Mr. J. Northcott, of Ashwater, who commenced this large undertaking in 1921.
Saint Michael's Church, Great Torrington. This comparatively large edifice now houses the organ which was originally built for Sherwell Congregational Chapel, Plymouth, by 'Father' Willis, in 1860. It replaced an undistinguished extension instrument, built by the John Compton Organ Company, in 1949. (I once played the previous organ, and was not particularly impressed either with its workaday sound or utilitarian console.) The restored 'Willis' organ was transferred to this church by Lance Foy, in 1991. At this time, he also made the G. O. reeds playable from the Pedal and Choir organs. I discovered, during a recital (on the night when Tony Blair was thrust into a position of great responsibility, onto an unsuspecting British public) that it was possible, by means of the Choir octave couplers and Choir to Great, to achieve additional 16ft. and 2ft. chorus reed effects on the G.O. However, the instrument is essentially unspoiled and is well worth a visit.
Crediton Parish Church. In the North Transept of this large cruciform church stands Michael Farley's restoration of a large three-clavier vintage H&H (1921). The scheme is essentially as Arthur Harrison left it, although Farley added a new 32ft. reed to the Pedal Organ and extended the G.O. flue double, to provide a quiet Geigen at unison pitch. The organ speaks authoritatively in this dry acoustic - and with an Edwardian accent. I do not particularly like it, but it is a grand instrument and historically important.
Exeter Cathedral. Standing majestically on the stone Pulpitum, in its glorious Spanish mahogany case, the organ of Exeter Cathedral is arguably a lesser-known gem. It is an outstanding accompanimental instrument, with a wealth of quieter tone-colours. However, it also possesses a suitably grand tutti - all the better since the addition (amongst other things) of a 32ft. extension to the Pedal Trombone. The twelve lowest pipes were just about squeezed onto the North side of the screen, sitting directly on top of Willis' wooden Open Diapason. Whilst there are one or two who bemoan the perceived 'visual intrusion' of these pipes, I suspect that few really notice them unless they are pointed-out. Whilst it is not a really large instrument, the tonal scheme is fairly complete - although the Choir Organ was unfortunately shorn of its upper-work in 2001 and replaced by a Clarinet (rather less useful, since it stands on an open soundboard) and a pointless Larigot (there is both a Lieblich Bourdon at 16ft. pitch and a Nazard. Together with the comparatively rare Coupler 'Octaves Alone', a Larigot effect is easy to achieve).
Notwithstanding, this noble instrument has a distinctive tutti, which is instantly recognisable - even through the medium of a radio broadcast. The Solo Organ was enhanced in 2001 by the 'addition' of a Viole Céleste. (This was not really an extra rank, since it was provided by the expedient of moving the existing Viole Octaviante up an octave and tuning the pipes sharp to the Viole d'Orchestre.) However, it did provide a useful alternative to the beautiful (but very quiet) Swell Salicional and Voix Céleste - formerly on the old Willis Choir Organ as Salicional and Vox Angelica.
The instrument also gained a 4ft. Octave on the G.O., replacing a Willis rank which was lost at the time of the H&H rebuild in 1965. This had been substituted by a fairly pointless (and almost inaudible) Dulciana - which virtually no-one ever used.
In addition, in 2001, the Swell four-rank Mixture, which formerly commenced at 22-26-29-33 was re-cast to begin at 19-22-26-29. This was thought to be necessary, due to the objectionable habit of quarrelling with the rest of the Swell Organ, which this stop had in its former incarnation.
However, whilst the comparatively radical H&H rebuild of 1965 did provide additional much-needed upper-work, the G.O. four-rank Mixture (19-22-26-29) was never really successful; the sound is rather 'quinty' and adds little in either brilliance or clarity. When considered with the fact that the Choir Organ has lost its 1ft. stop (which was re-cast as the Larigot) and Cimbel (26-29-33) and the lowering in pitch of the Swell Mixture, this organ once again lacks real brightness. There are, of course, some compensations.
One such is the superb case which, although altered and successively deepened at various times, still stands as a testament to the original builder of this fine instrument - John Loosemore (1665). There are perhaps two features of this case worthy of note; the first is that there is no figure-carving; all of the ornamentation consists either of foliage or architectural detail. Secondly, almost all of the pipe-shades have been engrailed, perhaps the most consistent example of this effect in the country - and something which is normally felt long before it is noticed. In 1891, 'Father' Henry Willis provided a duplicate to the Choir Organ case, facing west, in order to house the then new Solo Organ.
I spent many happy hours at this organ, in a closed cathedral at night, under the tutelage of the superbly gifted Sub Organist at that time, Paul Morgan. This instrument has perhaps the most comfortable and aesthetically pleasing console which I have ever played - including the pedal-board which was replaced free of charge by Harrisons, in 1985, when it was noticed (during the course of a restoration) that there was a mistake in the measurements of the previous pedal-board.
At the time of the 2001 restoration and enlargement, in addition to gaining a new division (in the shape of the 'Minstrel Organ'), the instrument had its stop and piston layout revised, with all drawstops being skimmed and re-engraved. The former scheme of sequential numbering was discarded. The result was a much tidier-looking console. (Formerly some of the engraving, for example the Contra Violone 32ft. and one or two of the clavier to Pedal couplers, was decidedly the worse for wear.)
This instrument is currently undergoing a major (and somewhat protracted) restoration, again at the hands of Harrison & Harrison who, to-date have had most of the organ in their Durham works for approximately eighteen months. New soundboards, building frame and expression boxes have been constructed, together with the replacement or major restoration of much of the wind system. However, the only tonal change is a new Gemshorn on the Choir Organ, making a total of ten registers in this department. Surprisingly - and somewhat inexplicably - the one feature of the 1965 layout which was clearly unsuccessful has not been addressed: that of the relative positions of the Choir and Solo organs. Given the tonal schemes of these departments, I am in no doubt that these divisions should have swapped places as part of the revised layout - and the Choir Organ upper-work re-instated.
This aside, it is to be hoped that, once this fine instrument is eventually returned to the cathedral, its authoritative voice will once again peal forth in this glorious building - one of the most beautiful of all English cathedrals.
St. David's, Exeter. Impressively loud instrument built by Dicker and rebuilt by Hele & Co., in 1902. The church was designed by W.D.Caröe and is architecturally outstanding.
Ottery Saint Mary. This church and Exeter Cathedral are the only two English ecclesiastical buildings to have symmetrical towers functioning as transepts. The organ is - or was - a two-clavier, largely rebuilt by Eustace & Alldridge, whilst John Eustace was organist there. It boasted such features as the G. O. chorus being contained behind screens of chicken-wire.... This is probably worth seeing. I believe that it was restored a year or two ago.
Dawlish Parish Church. The same firm rebuilt this organ, originally by Willis. It is fairly impressive - or was, the last time that I played it.
Tiverton Parish Church. A 'Father' Willis organ, which has survived almost unscathed, apart from some regrettable alterations to the Choir and Great organs at its centenary in 1967.
Budleigh Salterton. If a 32ft. reed constructed from marine-ply and a Positive Organ which is able to provide a scenic tour around the building with the aid of industrial castors are your thing, then by all means visit this instrument.
Buckfast Abbey. You simply must visit this glorious building, constructed - if one guide book is to be believed - by three monks. It has possibly the best acoustic south of Bristol Cathedral and a well-known Walker/Downes rebuild of a collection of pipes acquired by some of the monks. The Pedal Trombone and the G.O. Trumpet and Clarion, formerly on the organ of Holsworthy Parish Church, were added some time after 1930. However, I do not know whether they still form part of the present instrument. There are three shops which sell everything from Buckfast Tonic Wine (also supplied to BAA for use as aviation fuel) to inflatable statues of Pope Benedict XVI.
Launceston Parish Church. A 'Hele' rebuild of an 18th C. instrument, still with its case from 1723 (possibly by Thomas Schwarbrick/Schwarbrook). The rebuild by Hele, in 1960, was carried out to a specification drawn up by Royland Jordan, organist at the time. However, the lowest twelve notes of the Pedal Trombone were not installed untill 1999; unfortunately I cannot remember who undertook this work.
Launceston Methodist Church. This organ has no survey listed on the NPOR. However, I do recall that It was rebuilt by the John Compton Organ Co. around the 1930s and has an example of a 32ft. polyphone on the Pedal Organ. It received a further rebuild by Ray Greaves, of Plymouth, at some point during the late 1970s, which included some 'straight' upperwork to the G.O. on a new chest (which subsequently leaked) and a home-made detached console. The organ was restored by Lance Foy, of Truro, in the late 1990s. In addition to a new action and sorting-out the problems with the 1970s G.O. chest, the console received the type of serious cosmetic attention which was lavished upon Joan Collins a few decades ago. That is, apart from the breast implants.
Saint Endelienta, Saint Endellion. The new organ by Goetze and Gwynn. I have played it and was enchanted by its gentle speech, which nevertheless fills this intimate building with a beautiful sound. I was also intrigued by the realistic 32ft. reed effect which I discovered.
Holy Trinity, Saint Austell. A three-clavier instrument, built by Hele & Co, and livened-up (the Government would no doubt describe it as having been 'sexed-up') by Maurice Eglinton, who I believe formerly worked for Hele & Co. as a voicer. I recall that there is at least one instrument which received (at his instigation) black plastic draw-stop heads with white engraving.
King Charles the Martyr, Falmouth. This is a large three-clavier instrument in an expansive (but acoustically dead) building. The specification includes (of all things) a Contra Clarinet 16ft. on the G.O. As far as I know, there are still one or two 'prepared-for' stops.
Saint John the Baptist, Penzance. This is a fairly large three-clavier instrument, which was built by Heard, of Truro, in 1909 and was subsequently rebuilt and restored by Hele, Walker and, more recently, Lance Foy. There are a number of photographs of this instrument (and the church) on my website. The organ is impressive, if a little lacking in upperwork. Naturally, I have no idea what the Tuba sounds like.
Saint Mary the Virgin, Penzance. This instrument originally stood on the screen in the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Oxford (The 'University Church'). After its namesake in Penzance was badly damaged by fire in the mid-1980s, the organ was transferred from its former home and now stands in the west gallery of the restored church. The building unfortunately now has a peach colourwash applied to the walls, so it is a little like playing the organ in a hair salon. The instrument is also far too loud for the building - and can be heard clearly several streets away. Apparently, the present organist wishes to add even more stops to its bulk - God knows why, unless they are intended to constitute some type of Echo Organ.