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St Peter's Church, St Albans


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I am pleased to see the press announcements that Manders are to build a new organ for St Peter's Church in St Albans. What is to happen to the present case, supposed to be at least partly eighteenth-century? The new published design does not appear very much like what is there at the moment. It would also be interesting to know whether any old pipework survives in the old organ: I believe that the claim that it was an entirely new instrument by Bishop in the 1970s is less than accurate.


Paul Tindall

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The organ in St Peter's Church, St Albans, like many, has a bit of a chequered history. The present organ dates from the early 1970s. The principal achievement was to site the instrument at the head of the Nave after a long period in a chamber off the chancel. (The chancel is a long and narrow 'shoebox' structure, acoustically separate from the Nave, except for one narrow connecting arch.)


But whilst gaining a good position, the rest of the work done in the 1970 was, at best, rather patchy and hasn't lasted well in tonal or mechanical terms. Old pipework, from a variety of sources, seems to have been reused and reworked, including the bodies of a flared Dolce stop being inverted to make the pipes of the Swell 8' Spitzflute. The whole organ gives a clear impression of a rebuild that had as its priority quantity over quality. It is, frankly speaking, not very good and certainly not good enough for the standard of music in that church today.


It is very doubtful that anything from as early as the eighteenth century is in the organ and almost certainly has not survived unmolested (I can't lay my hands on the consultant's report just at this moment).


So the church is replacing a dull and musically undistinguished instrument with a brand new one and are to be applauded for this, and for giving John Mander and his team the first opportunity to build a significant new organ in this country since the mid 1990s - something that is long overdue.


What to do with the old cases has exercised many people. They are a patchwork of some old material tacked onto a modern construction, but give the impression of an eighteenth century organ. The old parts come from the case of a small instrument built for the much smaller church that existed then. As eighteenth century cases go, if that's what they are, the remains are elegant in profile if rather flat, but they (or to be more accurate it - only parts of the south face are actually 'old') are not particularly outstanding examples. No one is certain of the date or actual provenance of these case parts either.


But crucially the old case would not represent the size or contents of the proposed new organ. Worse still, its size isn't large enough to take the bass pipes of a Diapason of appropriate scale, nor is it large enough to screen the intended new instrument satisfactorily.


So the church and Manders have decided to build the organ inside two new cases, facing south and west, taking the view that the organ case is an integral part of an organ's resonating structure representing and working for the instrument as a whole, not just a facade -something that is stuck onto the outside to hide what is within.


After considering various options (including 'hiding' it on the east face of the organ, just as Arthur Harrison did with John Geib's case at St Mary's Stafford 100 years ago, but now clothing the HNB organ in the nave), it was agreed that the best possible conservation of the ancient parts of the present cases would be to offer them to organ builders who specialise in building 'reproduction' (for want of a better word) early English organs. My understanding is that one of these is going to take the older parts after the organ has been dismantled. At some point in the future they will be used in a new organ elsewhere when the opportunity arises. The same would go for any ancient pipes found when the organ is dismantled.


One or two stops from the present organ, for example the Tuba pipes, may also be used elsewhere, but there is little to commend re-use of the bulk of what is currently there.


I hope that answers your questions.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I am delighted to hear about the news of this new organ. I came across when I was last in St. Albans and it certainly struck me as the type of instrument where the overriding priority of an impressive stop list and a sumptiously equipped console preceded any other aesthetical, practical or musical considerations. It struck me as a magnificent exponent of the type of instrument I am violently opposed against. The juxaposition of some once-promising scraps of case work and those grey painted pipes to the side trying to form part of the case was distressing.


I wish you all the best and will look forward to the finished result.

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Guest Geoff McMahon

I have very little to add to the post by Andrew Lucas other than that the future of the old casework is secured and in the unlikely event that any of the pipe work really is of historic value, it will also be preserved having been fully assessed on the bench rather than in the inadequate circumstances of the interior of the organ.


We are delighted to have the opportunity to do something significant in St. Albans and the project is already well under way.


John Pike Mander

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  • 2 weeks later...

This looks to be a superb asset for St Peters and the IOF - just one thing - on the news section of the Mander website - should the Seventeenth read 1-3/5, are the Great couplers missing and is there possibly another 4' on the Swell in the St Peter's spec?


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