It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Noel Mander, founder of Mander Organs, at the age of 93. After a full life he passed away peacefully on 18 September 2005. He will be much missed by his family, friends and colleagues.
Noel Mander MBE FSA was born on 19 May 1912 in Crouch near Wrotham and brought up in Brockley in South London, moving to East Sheen. Having left school (which he hated) he went to work for A & C Black the publishers, the family having been involved in publishing. The office work did not suit him however and through his uncle, Frederick Pike, he met Ivor Davis who had worked for Hill Norman and Beard. He worked with him for a while before starting on his own account in 1936, the first organ being that at St Pater's Bethnal Green opposite St Peter's School which, years later, was to become the organ works. At that time he did not have a workshop, but was allowed to rent a part of Christ Church Jamaica Street, Stepney where he also worked on the organ. Unfortunately, the church together with the organ he was working on and all his equipment were lost in the first air raid on East London 1940. Shortly after that, having been a volunteer fireman in the Auxiliary Fire Service, he joined the Royal Artillery, seeing service in North Africa and Italy where during periods of relative inactivity, he worked on a number of instruments, managing to get the organ in Algiers Cathedral going which had been silent for years, for which he was awarded a fine bottle of cognac. Having been invalided out of active service in Italy, he joined the Army Welfare Service and during his convalescence he repaired a 17th century organ in Trani. After the war he thought about emigrating to South Africa to work with Cooper Gill & Thompkins, but was persuaded to stay in London where he assisted the London Diocese in getting organs working again in bomb damaged churches. He set up a workshop in an old butcher's shop in Collier Street before moving into the old buildings of St Peter's School in Bethnal Green, where the firm remains to this day, in 1946. In 1947 he married Enid Watson with whom he had five children, living over the works in Bethnal Green. Most of his early work revolved around the rebuilding of organs, many of which survive even now. But he had started to make a name for himself in organ building circles and quite a few of the employees of the established organ building firms still in London came to join him.
He always had an affection for historic instruments and restored a number of antique chamber organs, setting new standards for the time with his sympathetic appreciation and restoration of them. Of particular note was the restoration of the 17th century organ at Adlington Hall in Cheshire in 1958/9 which was in a completely desolate state. Other organ builders who had been asked to restore the instrument said it could not be done. It had not been playable for perhaps a century, and somebody had fallen in to the pipework from a trap door above but with painstaking care the organ was restored and remains one of the most important survivors in England.
In the 1960s he became aware that interest was growing in tracker action organs in the rest of Europe, and this encouraged him to investigate this form of action himself, initially in the restoration of instruments (which otherwise might have been electrified) and then in new organs. Ultimately a number of such instruments were built including the export of some to places such as Bermuda and the Sir Winston Churchill Memorial Foundation in Fulton Missouri.
Having been involved with the rebuilding of a number of large organs, he was awarded the contract to rebuild the organ in St Paul's Cathedral in London during the 1970s. This project, lasting almost five years, was perhaps his greatest pride and was completed just in time for the Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations at St Paul's. In 1978 HM Queen Elizabeth made him a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). He retired in 1983 to his home in Suffolk but retained an interest in what the firm was doing, right to the end.
Noel Mander's interests were by no means restricted to organs. He was a keen historian and an avid bookworm. He was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and active in the Council of Christians and Jews for many years. He became a popular member of the Earl Soham community in Suffolk where he retired to in 1983. He was also the British representative for the Sir Winston Churchill Foundation in Missouri and secured a number of significant pieces of antique furniture for the Wren church re-built there, culminating in a fine 18th century pulpit which had once stood in a City church during the last year of his life.
His passing is without doubt the end of an era.
This notice has been posted also in the News section of the Mander Organs web site