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Reeds In The Higher Registers

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Wow! Even in rebuilt/updated state, that second instrument would still interest me very much. If anyone knows more about the instrument at St.Michael's Ashton-under-Lyne, please post it here.



Here goes:-


St Michael & All Angels, Ashton under Lyne.

1845, William Hill



1894, Norman & Beard



1964, JW Walker



I played this organ quite a bit in the 80s, and last played it in 1990. Information given herewith is based on observation and/or conversations with the late organist.


The organ stands in the west gallery, extending back into the tower. Much of the superstructure survives from 1845. On entering the church by the west door, the very large swell box is visible above one’s head, cantilevered out over the porch. The effect is not dissimilar to the rear of the case at Chester Cathedral, minus the dummy display pipes.


The organ is housed within a fine Gothic case in oak. There is a central flat of diapason pipes. Side towers contain narrower scale pipes on two levels. The case pipes are painted gold, but I believe that they were once decorated in the Gothic style with geometric designs/heraldic devices.


The organ had fallen into a fairly parlous state by the 60s, and considerable remedial action was needed to return it to full working order. The action was changed from TP to EP and a new console was supplied. This console is in Walker’s house style of the time, and very well constructed. However, it was placed directly under the case (the N&B and presumably also the Hill consoles had been slightly detached from and a few feet below the organ, directly behind the gallery rail), resulting in the central flat of case pipes being raised a by couple of feet. This alteration sounds far worse than it actually looks, and the organ still appears very elegant when viewed from either the gallery or the nave floor.


The 1964 work, for which Francis Jackson was consultant, was carried out to a very high standard. Whilst is perhaps unlikely that such a comprehensive tonal re-structuring would be considered today, what is beyond question is the fact that that the instrument 'works'. There are some very useful and musical sounds available, and full organ is (or perhaps was) magnificent, despite a dead acoustic. A very large amount of Hill pipework remains, and I would suggest that the reeds in particular benefit(ed) from having been returned to something like their original wind pressures and voicing. In drawing up the 1964 spec, I imagine that Dr Jackson was influenced by his experience with the rebuild of the Minster organ a few years previously, and doubtless the success of this project determined the choice of builder for the work at Ashton. Apparently, it had been intended to retain a few more romantic voices (there are vacant slides on all three manual soundboards), but the money ran out. It is certainly rather a shame that two relatively inexpensive additions - installing the lowest octave of the Sw 16' reed (there has been soundboard provision for this since 1845) and enabling the Gt reeds to draw on the Ch (they sit on their own HP chest) - failed to materialise through lack of funds.


Two years ago, I played for an RSCM event at Nantwich. A couple of singers/organists from Tameside were present. We got talking afterwards, and the St Michael’s organ came up in conversation. They informed me that not only was the organ now in a very poor state of repair, but that the church building itself had developed structural problems. Perhaps board members living/working in the Manchester area could shed some light on the instrument’s present condition.

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