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The Longest-Lived Organs


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Let's start with a tight definition of 'alteration' -

 

1) Any additional stop, unless occupying a 'prepared for' slot

2) Any replacement stop UNLESS the displaced rank, rackboard and upperboard are preserved

3) Any change of action affecting an entire division

4) Any change of compass

5) More or less any major rebuild by the more ruthless firms other than the most basic cleaning

6) Any change in tuning method from cone to slider, or change in pitch

 

 

Readers may be surprised to know that a change of location within the same building is allowed under the current European guidelines insofar as they pertain to this thread, notwithstanding that in so much as this is the case there shall not have been any alteration to the dimensions or proportions of the case or the relationships between its component parts. You may add an electric blower, and extra points will be awarded for retaining hand blowing backup.

 

Parish organs under a certain size can be reasonably expected to have fared better; around my old home town I can think of several contenders which have done 100 years and above with the odd dust-off. So, perhaps we should therefore exclude instruments of fewer than twelve speaking stops.

 

The unaltered time period need not necessarily start with the organ in its original condition, but it must not have ended - i.e. if it was changed 2 years ago after a 400 year stint, tough.

 

I have set the rules deliberately to disqualify any instrument I know personally, although some come very close; the former Walker at Rotherwick, entirely untouched since 1905 (save for the addition of an electric blower, but it retained its hand blowing and the little knocker to wake up the pump attendant)... until its removal 3 years ago (by me) in place of an electronic (not by me). So, as it's no longer there, its previous 102 years count as nothing. The glorious 1870s Hill at St Martin's Salisbury fails through having had the pedals electrified and new extension stops added by Nicholsons in 2000. Romsey fails through pitch change, new reed tongues and sliders in 1974, and electrification of the stop action with extensive behind-the-scenes alteration in 1996, even though it went from 1888 to 1974 without so much as a cleaning.

 

This is going to bug me all night; I really can't think of anything of more than 12 stops which has done more than about 30 or 40 years without what I would call significant alteration from its original state. Can you?

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Reading Town Hall fails mainly because of pitch change (hobbit-like: there and back again), but makes me think that neglected town hall organs are more likely to have remained untouched (if they survive at all) than those in churches. Blenheim Library was looking good until I found the pitch was changed in 1931.

 

Paul

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Reading Town Hall fails mainly because of pitch change (hobbit-like: there and back again), but makes me think that neglected town hall organs are more likely to have remained untouched (if they survive at all) than those in churches. Blenheim Library was looking good until I found the pitch was changed in 1931.

 

Paul

I was surprised how untouched Oxford Town Hall appears to be on NPOR.

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I was surprised how untouched Oxford Town Hall appears to be on NPOR.

 

I can think of so many organs which nearly fit into this category... but none quite do...

This is the oldest and most original I think I've played to date:

 

1875 Harrison in Castle Howard North Yorkshire. Splendid instrument in a beautiful private chapel - check out the pictures - lovely ornate case.

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=D03076

 

Sadly the Cremona stop on the choir was lost - removed at some point, according to information I was shown, to enable better tuning access. It has since been replaced most unsympatheticallyin 1991, and now makes a horrible sound which I'm sure would not resemble that of the original. (If anyone dissagrees with me here I'd love to hear why, because this puzzled me a great deal when I visited last year) Everything else would seem beautifully intact, including the hitched lever swell pedal.

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This is going to bug me all night; I really can't think of anything of more than 12 stops which has done more than about 30 or 40 years without what I would call significant alteration from its original state. Can you?

 

St. Mary's, Southampton might just count; 1956 installation, 2 alterations by HWIII in '58 - Vox Humana replaced with a mixture, Claribel Flute replaced with a Gedackt. Does that fit the bill?

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Cynic will probably know this information better than me, but Holy Trinity Hull hasn't had any major work since 1938 and is still playable (just!). Although it may not count as the 1938 organ was a rebuild of a earlier F&A organ. 1938 was by Compton and says a lot for the advanced state of their electrical work at the time.

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Are we limited to organs in the UK?

 

Hi

 

There are a fair number in the UK. One that I used to play frequently is http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=D00785 (c.1810). Another is http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=D04625 - still hand blown. The organ is 1851 by John Laycock. I play this a couple of times a year when I take services at Cowling Hill Baptist Church. The chamber organ here fails because, although the stop list is probably original (especially since we were able to reinstate a Stopped Diapason Treble in the recent restoration) some of the other pipework appears to have been changed, and the organ has been moved at least 5 times. A fair number of the organs awarded an HOC by BIOS are unchanged, or substantially unchanged. Unfortunately, the list on NPOR (Search for HOC) doesn't give the grade. Certainly Grade 1 certificates imply originality.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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I presume this must count as the longest-lived British organ to have have had no major rebuilds? 392 years old this year, still handblown, and in deference to Brasenose, it still has its Farting Duck (sorry, Regal)...It is still maintained and tuned, though I would imagine only the great and the good would be allowed anywhere near it:

 

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=A00232

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Cynic will probably know this information better than me, but Holy Trinity Hull hasn't had any major work since 1938 and is still playable (just!). Although it may not count as the 1938 organ was a rebuild of a earlier F&A organ. 1938 was by Compton and says a lot for the advanced state of their electrical work at the time.

 

 

Not simply a rebuild, but quite a sizeable enlargement.

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I presume this must count as the longest-lived British organ to have have had no major rebuilds? 392 years old this year, still handblown, and in deference to Brasenose, it still has its Farting Duck (sorry, Regal)...It is still maintained and tuned, though I would imagine only the great and the good would be allowed anywhere near it:

 

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=A00232

Sadly, I think not, because the Farting Duck is very likely a later addition; its pipes are housed in a case attached to the back of the instrument.

 

I played it a couple of times when I was young and lived on the island (including at a concert I arranged in the castle museum); the curator at the time was a good friend of mine and an excellent amateur musician. The two flutes together make a quite loud and bright sound, almost piercing as I recall. I couldn't find a use for the Regal. Being the only 8' stop and of treble compass only (it never did have a bass) it is rather precluded from use in written polyphonic music, and even an improvised bicinium would have to keep the bass in the bottom octave. I can only assume it was used in consort with other instruments providing the bass of the texture - or maybe whoever had it added had no concept of inverted harmony.

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....a concert I arranged in the castle museum....

I remember that. I, too, was very young. I particularly remember the disbelieving look the ticket clerk gave me when I asked for a day return on the hovercraft (it being winter, and very poor weather, as I recall).

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I presume this must count as the longest-lived British organ to have have had no major rebuilds? 392 years old this year, still handblown, and in deference to Brasenose, it still has its Farting Duck (sorry, Regal)...It is still maintained and tuned, though I would imagine only the great and the good would be allowed anywhere near it:

 

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=A00232

 

Unfortunately, both this and Tony's two are excluded from the contest having fewer than 12 speaking stops (in the original rather long blurb). I figured that the chances of such organs surviving unaltered were much higher than something larger.

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Unfortunately, both this and Tony's two are excluded from the contest having fewer than 12 speaking stops (in the original rather long blurb). I figured that the chances of such organs surviving unaltered were much higher than something larger.

 

 

Two Father Willis organs to contribute to your list.

Even with alterations, if indeed they were alterations, this one has gone 100 years

WELSHPOOL PARISH CHURCH, ST.MARY'S

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=N12755

It's a veritable stonker. The chancel slates practically flap when you play on the Great reeds. Hand blowing still in place and AFAIK still works. Not so many years ago I played for a Harvest 'occasion' during a power cut and the churchwardens (no less) took turns to blow for me.

 

Thinking of that one made me think of this one

BALLIOL COLLEGE HALL, OXFORD

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=N11092

interventions over the years have been absolutely minimal.

 

Once upon a time, Oxford was full of lovely romantic organs, now they've practically all gone - to be replaced with what a friend of mine terms 'Vegetarian Organs'. Well, to my ears Christ Church is more like a velociraptor than a ruminant.

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What about these two:

 

Truro Cathedral. Father Willis 1887, 1888 completion of 32', 1903 cleaning, and new false front pipes (case never installed), 1924 Hele cleaning, 1963 Willis III clean and new action/console, 1991 updated action, clean and move of tuba. Perhaps the most unaltered cathedral organ?

http://npor.rcm.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?...ec_index=N11147

 

Tewkesbury Abbey--Grove organ

1887 Michell & Thynne exhibition organ. 1948 a few ranks plundered for the never completed Milton/Grove combination rebuild, 1980-Bishop-clean and restoration with return of the borrowed ranks and additional 5 32s from Christchurch Oxford.

http://npor.rcm.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?...ec_index=N07486

 

F-W

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To my ears Christ Church is more like a velociraptor than a ruminant.

 

:mellow:

 

Dear old Balliol Hall. I love those words - 1972 H&H - Restored. Original pedalboard replaced and original swell pedal replaced.

 

Frankly, it wasn't really restored, then, was it?

 

 

Thinking of Oxford, a few came to mind - they are still out there, you know, the carnivorous ones -

 

 

Wadham Coll. Stupendous Willis with no major work since 1886. http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=N11045

 

Is Hertford still there - was nice Hunter 1931 - http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=N11019

 

Then I thought of Mansfield, a truly lovely Vowles in the Bristol Cathedral tradition. But R&D added a Vox Humana and a Tremolo, so it's out, but for proof that you can have recognisable Stanford and Wesley in Oxford, go here - http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=N11035

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Not simply a rebuild, but quite a sizeable enlargement.

Indeed, although the way in which the Forster and Andrews sound was maintened is very successful in my opinion, although the new pipework is very much Compton! In a moment of madness or boredom, I cannot remember which, I redesigned the organ to take out the Compton excesses & restore much of the style of the F&A. I ended up with an organ even bigger! Should the church ever have a couple of million to spend on the organ I would love to put it into action!

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Dear old Balliol Hall. I love those words - 1972 H&H - Restored. Original pedalboard replaced and original swell pedal replaced.

 

 

Wadham Coll. Stupendous Willis with no major work since 1886.

 

 

A few Father Willis organs are mentioned... it seems they have survived well in many cases compared to instruments of other builders. Have Willis organs always been viewed with such pride?

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A few Father Willis organs are mentioned... it seems they have survived well in many cases compared to instruments of other builders. Have Willis organs always been viewed with such pride?

Another Willis, the 1889 at Holy Trinity, West Hill, Wandsworth. And down the road, the c. 1901 Bishop at All Saints.

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Here's a few hardy survivors from the historic organ certificate list from NPOR, deliberately excluding any that have had recorded work done since the end of the 19th century.

 

This Holdich dates from 1843, though a "restoration" by Boggis is undated:

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=N06579

 

This Elliot appears to have had nothing done since 1812 (Scone Palace):

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=N18134

 

A three manual Brindley from 1864:

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=N06611

 

A three manual house organ by Telford, 1845:

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=C00401

 

Does anyone know about this instrument, England 1764:

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=N14243

St George's Gravesend, but said to be unplayable.

 

Untouched since 1862, with parts dating from 1626:

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=D01627

 

Bishop and Starr from 1860:

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=N18578

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Here's a few hardy survivors from the historic organ certificate list from NPOR, deliberately excluding any that have had recorded work done since the end of the 19th century.

 

 

 

Bishop and Starr from 1860:

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=N18578

 

I recall a visit to this church by The Organ Club some 25 or so years ago. The organ was divided either side on quite a high west gallery, the console being set into the case work on the north side of the gallery. It was in a poor state, not all stops were working and if my memory serves correctly we were told that the all(some?) of the reeds had been removed. I can't remember whether they had simply collapsed, been nicked , or stored.

 

The organ was demonstrated to us by Ralph Downes. The parish priest, at the time, was said to be aware of the historic nature of the organ and keen to see its retention and restoration

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Does anyone know about this instrument, England 1764:

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=N14243

St George's Gravesend, but said to be unplayable.

So far as I know it is still there, and still unplayable (as it was 50 years ago, when we had our school carol services there).

The current parish priest is a good friend, so I could make enquiries if this would be helpful.

For the last 40 years they have used the FH Browne organ originally built in 1964 for the neighbouring St James' Church (where I did my Grade 6 exam), now demolished.

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So far as I know it is still there, and still unplayable (as it was 50 years ago, when we had our school carol services there).

The current parish priest is a good friend, so I could make enquiries if this would be helpful.

For the last 40 years they have used the FH Browne organ originally built in 1964 for the neighbouring St James' Church (where I did my Grade 6 exam), now demolished.

 

Here's a link to a photo of the Gravesend England:

http://www.stgeorgesgravesend.org.uk/history/history3.php

 

That would be something else if ever the money could be found to bring it back to 1764 working order!

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Here's a link to a photo of the Gravesend England:

http://www.stgeorgesgravesend.org.uk/history/history3.php

 

That would be something else if ever the money could be found to bring it back to 1764 working order!

Disappointing that the church website uses the words "too costly to repair"; I'd have preferred "too costly for us to repair".

 

Interestingly, and I wonder if this might not deserve its own thread, I caught Loyd Grossman (of Through The Keyhole fame) on the Parliament Channel giving evidence to, I think, a select committee of MPs about heritage and the voluntary sector and he actually mentioned "historic pipe organs" in the context of heritage organisations that are run by volunteers "out of love" and don't have "smart offices in Strasbourg". Mr Grossman was an eloquent and impressive speaker.

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