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sprondel

Just out of curiosity …

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I have been listening to some recordings lately, and I wonder. Is the 1904/2010 N&B at Leeds Cathedral the crowning glory of Edwardian organbuilding? Or is it, perhaps, rather something quite different? Perhaps somebody who has heard the instrument in situ may provide some insight.

 

Thanks in advance

Friedrich

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There is an article in Organists Review May 2010 about the organ, a lot of the pipework in the new organ is original.

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At first glance, I immediately thought that this could not be so, but on further reflection, I'm not quite so sure. The Edwardian period, which ran until 1910, was a curious one for British organ-building.

For a start, most organs in churches built or re-built during the preceding Victorian period were still in quite good condition; due in part to the fact that possibly a majority of instruments had mechanical action and followed well known, traditional methods of organ-building. Nevertheless, certain organs had been built with (it has to be said) very good pneumatic actions. The reliability and effectiveness of pneumatic-actions by J J Binns can be measured by the fact that a few are still functioning after more than a century. (The Schulze organ at Armley was a supreme example of that, prior to the latest re-build).

Tonally, things were generally quite conservative. An often restricted pedal organ relying on manual couplers, a modest Swell organ (unless built by Father Willis), a very dominant great organ, and usually, a choir organ full of quite delicate registers.
Nevertheless, there was variety and numerous tonal adventures, leading to a disparity of styles. The organs of Willis were radically different to those of William Hill, other builders embraced the legendary chorus power of Schulze, (Brindley & Foster especially, but also Forster & Andrews of Hull and a handful of provincial builders such as Booth).

However, after the turn of the century, developments came thick and fast; leading to a virtual war of words between the respected establishment and academic figures such as Kendrick Pyne (Manchester) and W T Best (Liverpool). They were grounded in the era of Mendelssohn and the counterpoint of Bach, Handel & Mozart, and were not afraid to say so.

However, a lot was happening between 1900 and 1910, and in music generally a new age was dawning...more sentimental, more expressive....Berlioz, Wagner, Strauss and Elgar rather than Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn and Mozart. From this came the impetus for a new style of organ-building, clearly aimed at orchestral levels of expressiveness and imitation.

Running concurrent to this, were extraordinary developments in action systems. Norman & Beard (probably the most prolific organ-builder of the age) may have adopted the Hope-Jones electrical systems, but when he left for America, they soon reverted back to their own, very complex and very reliable pneumatic actions, some of which still function to-day after only minor refurbishment.

We may think of Harrison & Harrison as builders of largely pneumatic-action instruments prior to 1920 or thereabouts, yet in 1906, they had built a highly successful electro-pneumatic action organ at Skipton Parish Church, just up the road from me. The blower may have been hydraulic, and I expect that the electricity came from batteries, but after being fitted with a rectifier, that action functioned perfectly well for about 90 years. Of equal interest, is the fact that, with the exception of the ubiquitous “Harmonics” mixture, this organ is, to all intents and purposes, a typical Harrison & Harrison instrument which could easily have been made after 1920. A big Tromba and Pedal Ophicleide, the powerful Swell reeds, powerful Diapasons and, had it ever been completed, imitative orchestral registers. It remains as a very musical two manual instrument speaking into a splendid acoustic, with all the accompaniment possibilities of the later Arthur Harrison style.

Hope-Jones was doing his thing developing the orchestral organ, making big strides in electric actions and showing a conservative company like Norman & Beard how to embrace the orchestral style. All the while, John Compton was watching with interest, and after 1920, would really “roll up his sleeves” with so many revolutionary ideas and patent inventions.

Interestingly, although dated 1911, the huge Forster & Andrews organ at Hull City Hall was started and designed within the Edwardian period, yet didn't venture very far into the area of orchestral expression. It was a classic English-Schulze style of instrument, which possibly explains why Forster & Andrews fell from favour among the younger generation of the day.

So was the organ at Leeds Cathedral the apogee of Edwardian organ-building?

I suppose the answer must be yes AND no, depending on whom you may have asked at the time.

I think I first played the organ in the 1970's, following the very conservative re-build by Hill, Norman & Beard Ltd., which incorporated a Tuba rank by Compton, which had once been in the Davies Theatre, Croydon. At the console next to the pipework, the voicing was clearly of a high order.....wonderful reeds, a magical Vox Humana, some very acceptable chorus work, lovely strings, very loud pedal wood basses and so on. (Plus the fine Compton Tuba). The musical effect down in the nave, in a rather “strange” acoustic, was heavy and opaque.

The fact that Robert Hope-Jones worked with Norman & Beard, would certainly place them at the forefront of modern organ design, and would have found approval from the likes of James I Wedgwood, Hope-Jones and J Martin White (founder of the Organ Club and financial backer to both Hope-Jones and John Compton).

I suspect that Kendrick Pyne and W T Best would not have been so readily impressed.

On the other hand, it was the earlier Harrison & Harrison instrument at St Nicholas, Whitehaven, (1904), which raised the bar and established a new sound for a new age, best represented by the sound of King's College, Cambridge.

On balance, I suspect that Whitehaven Harrison organ represents the apogee of Edwardian organ-building, purely based on the success it had as the British sound of the future.

As a final thought, John Compton was using electro-pneumatics for virtually everything around 1910 and thereafter, embracing the style of Hope-Jones and perfecting the extension organ, so he is "almost" a contender in the "apogee stakes".




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Slight tangent - although it's often said that Forster and Andrews were influenced by Schulze, when it comes to power I find their organs rather modest compared with those of their contemporaries. Binns of course, but also Bevington or even Henry Jones produced a more exciting sound. I'm thinking mostly of smaller instruments (there are several F&As here in Newfoundland, directly comparable with similar sized Bevingtons), but even the larger ones lacked bite. I never heard All Souls, Haley Hill, Halifax, which was reputed to be very fine, but Hull City Hall was criticised in its original form and many felt that it only really came into its own after the Compton rebuild.

 

As for Norman & Beard, I'm naturally prejudiced but go to Colchester Town Hall to see what they could do in 1902 with only 28 speaking stops. www.moothallorgan.co.uk

 

PS: Welcome back, Muso, it's been a long time and we've missed you.

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And if you want to hear Edwardian organ building at its best go to St. Mary Redcliffe in Bristol now in first class working order following major work a few years ago. It is an instrument that needs thought and understanding to get the best from but one that in the right hands can sound quite splendid! Up till fairly recently I always felt that I should appreciate this instrument more than I actally did but having recently heard the resources there very skilfully utilised I am becoming more convinced as to its artistry.

 

A

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I quite agree with David concerning Forster & Andrews. Wonderfully made, usually nicely voiced, often with poor reeds; they were worthy yet tonally average in many ways. At his best, Binns could certainly make an impact, and being a local company, I have known and played dozens of them; often soldiering on for a century without major work.

We musn't, I think, overlook Abbott & Smith, who achieved a tonal quality normally the preserve of the top builders. I shall be playing one on Sunday, when I deputise at St Paul's, King's Cross, Halifax, and I know it will be a happy experience, even if I haven't accompanied a psalm for over 15 years!!! (How fashions change).

Regarding St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, that wonderful instrument is actually outside the Edwardian era, but only just.

What the Redcliffe organ convincingly demonstrates, is just how quickly Arthur Harrison got to grips with creating a new style of instrument which found almost universal approval among organists. It's also interesting to note the links with Hope-Jones via the group of friends/acquaintances we know as J Martin White, Lt Col George Dixon, Thomas Casson (who first proposed the Harmonics Mixture with the 17th and b21st), and the organ builders Harrison, Hope-Jones and Compton.

Norman & Beard were very provincial builders working in a conservative style, yet within only a few years, they could build not only fine church and concert instruments in semi-orchestral style, but bespoke theatre organs incorporating the ideas of Hope-Jones.

 

Here is a wonderful insight into the prevailing fashions of the day, written by the wealthy organ enthusiast J I Wedgwood, a relative of the Wedgwood pottery dynasty:-

 

 

The Georgian school, which favours the “shrieking apparatus,” Dulciana toned Diapasons, and the gimcrack reeds smacking of the merry-go-rounds, may well be left to the digestion of its own disordered fancy.

 

(The "shrieking apparatus" were Mixtures)

Later, he also wrote the following:-

The modern plan is to build up as much of the necessary brilliance of the organ as possible, from within the foundation. There is absolutely no necessity for the Mixture in small organs. Quite sufficient brightness of tone, without undesirable prominence, is contributed by the keen string tone and octave couplers of the Swell.

 

 

If the Mixture is to be retained at all......unless it can be made better than it usually is......let it be suppressed altogether and placed together with the Cymbelstern, Cuckoo etc., and placed on the retired list..

Miller "The recent revolution in organ building" includes a wonderfully eccentric observation, which tells us much about the era of the orchestral organ:-

In the organ at St. George’s Hall, England, there are on the manuals 5 Open Diapasons, 4 Principals, 5 Fifteenths, 3 Clarinets, 2 Orchestral Oboes, 3 Trumpets, 3 Ophicleides, 3 Trombas, 6 Clarions, 4 Flutes, etc., etc. In the Hope-Jones Unit organ at Ocean Grove effects equal to the above are obtained from only 6 stops.

 

Others did not agree, and there was a wonderful letter from Brindley & Foster which appeared in 'The Choirmaster', in response to a letter written by Robert Hope-Jones:-

Dear Sirs,

Mr Robert Hope-Jones in his letter in your March issue seems to be under the impression that out Flute Fundamentale is intended to be of his Tibia Clausa class. As this statement, if uncontradicted, may do us harm, we wish to say that our Flute Fundamentale as designed, scaled and voiced by us, is not intended to produce “powerful foundation tone to balance powerful reeds.” It is a stop of true organ tone-quality, designed to replace stops of the Clarabella variety where this is desirable.

We hold and always have held views at variance with those of Mr.Robert Hope-Jones on the subject of organ tone, and our opinions are based upon experience extending beyond the time when Mr Robert Hope-Jones transferred his genius from the telephone to the “Diaphone”. Our ideals have met with the entire approval of all our clients and received the approbation of many prominent musicians, and are thereby justified. There is always room for difference of opinion, and if Mr Robert Hope-Jones has succeeded in his threefold duty, in pleasing himself, gratifying his clients, and satisfying his shareholders, we shall be the last to withhold our mede of praise.

In the meantime, we would assure our friends that we have no intention of trespassing on the unique preserves of Mr Robert Hope-Jones. Should we ever change our opinion, we will let our first “tonal invention” bear such a name as “Tibia Dementia” or “Tuba Plausa”.

Yours faithfully,

BRINDLEY & FOSTER

 

 

 

 

With so many things going on, and so many claims and counter-claims being voiced, was there ever a leader of the pack?

MM

PS: Thanks for the welcome back David.....I've not really been away, just very busy.


 

 

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'We musn't, I think, overlook Abbott & Smith, who achieved a tonal quality normally the preserve of the top builders.'

Absolutely spot-on with this. I've had the good fortune to try out their 'show' organ recently at All Souls Blackman Lane in Leeds and it's fantastic! A feast of wonderfully-voiced and varied flutes and a Dulciana which is quite ethereal. The chorus reeds are all superb and it's still in very good condition indeed, despite its ancient tubular pneumatics. They have a very considerate and enthusiastic organist called Keith Senior who is also a big supporter of the church and its worship, very high anglican approaching St Peter's Rome! It's well worth a visit and I can't sing its praises enough, marvellous instrument clad in stupendously carved cases, it's a cracker!

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Dear members,

 

thank you all for your most interesting contributions to this thread, which turned out really informative – I loved the letter from Brindley & Foster especially. I was aware of the spectacular organ of St Mary Redcliffe which would clearly be on my list if one day I made the big dreamed-of organ-realted round trip to England.

 

I am a bit embarrassed really, since my question was aimed rather at criticism than at information. In the recordings to which I have listened, the Leeds organ made a less-than-charming impression. Rather pale foundations, a weak pedal (mainly borrowed from everywhere), the merest hint of a chorus, dominated by harsh-sounding reeds, and a (new) Cornettino on one of the Greats that stands out like a sore thumb. I imagine it would be difficult to record an instrument like this satisfyingly, so my impression might be due to a venue that is less-than-ideal for recordings. But still I wonder what literature would come off really well there – or if this type of instrument only works in liturgy.

 

I am glad, though, that the mean intention was ignored, and that the thread yielded so much interesting information.

 

Thanks,

Friedrich

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'We may think of Harrison & Harrison as builders of largely pneumatic-action instruments prior to 1920 or thereabouts, yet in 1906, they had built a highly successful electro-pneumatic action organ at Skipton Parish Church, just up the road from me. '

 

Forgive me MM for also overlooking this one, having just returned from playing at today's Eucharist there I can only concur with your praise, although I might say that it is at Christ Church, Skipton, the parish church (Holy Trinity) having something of a less-inspiring but useful instrument buried in part of a vestry.

I have the good fortune to play this H & H regularly and it is a remarkable survival of which the church is immensley proud. I do wish it had a 4' flute somewhere but that's all one can criticise it for. The church was re-ordered a few years back and the new wooden flooring together with the removal of the utilitarian pews did wonders for the sound which has a much greater spaciousness and ring (and it packed a fair wallop even before that). It looks nicer too. Much of its impact has always been its west end position although the console has been in a few different positions over the years. Apparently there were two tenders when an new organ was first mooted in 1900 or so, the other was from Willis although we have never been able to find anything more about it, it would be very interesting to have seen what they had in mind. I've always found it most odd that Elvin gives it no more than a paragraph in his book, completely overlooking its importance the use of electro-pneumatics.

I hope David Drinkell doesn't mind me saying that he had a rather good time with it last year en route to somewhere further north. Up here in the 't'north' we do seem to be particularly well-blessed with many edwardian instruments of outstanding quality.

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I certainly did have a good time, and thanks to Phoneuma for facilitating my visit. I thought it was the best small Harrison I'd ever encountered, which is saying a great deal.

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Dear members,

 

thank you all for your most interesting contributions to this thread, which turned out really informative – I loved the letter from Brindley & Foster especially. I was aware of the spectacular organ of St Mary Redcliffe which would clearly be on my list if one day I made the big dreamed-of organ-realted round trip to England. ...

 

 

You may be disappointed, Friedrich.

 

I played this large instrument for a visiting choir a few months ago and, whilst the quieter ranks were quite beautiful, I thought that anything above mezzoforte was ghastly. It is the only organ which I have played where I considered it necessary to remove all of the chorus reeds (in every department) from every single piston. Even the Swell reeds (right next to the player) sounded like a family of Tuba ranks. None of these stops could be used to accompany the choir - which consisted of adults who were experienced singers and who made a good, strong sound themselves.

 

I am afraid that I cannot see the point of an organ so wretchedly loud, that much of it can never be used - unless the building is packed tight with Methodists singing their hearts out.

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You may be disappointed, Friedrich.

I played this large instrument for a visiting choir a few months ago and, whilst the quieter ranks were quite beautiful, I thought that anything above mezzoforte was ghastly. It is the only organ which I have played where I considered it necessary to remove all of the chorus reeds (in every department) from every single piston. Even the Swell reeds (right next to the player) sounded like a family of Tuba ranks. None of these stops could be used to accompany the choir - which consisted of adults who were experienced singers and who made a good, strong sound themselves.

 

I am afraid that I cannot see the point of an organ so wretchedly loud, that much of it can never be used - unless the building is packed tight with Methodists singing their hearts out.

This is interesting as I was not a great enthusiast for this instrument until fairly recently. I have sung at Redcliffe a few times with visiting choirs and have certainly found that it does seem to do the right thing for the expected settings, anthems, psalms and similar from the choir's point of view at least. Granted, these services were not huge affairs from a congregational point of view so not much 'big noise' was needed.

I have also been able to get to the regular lunchtime concerts and from a repertoire angle things have at times been more difficult to judge. At the hands of the 'resident team' or more local players things usually work well but with others things are not always quite so subtle perhaps. Two recent exceptions however, one a recitalist from Germany (who coincidentally happens to be a friend of mine) and another an occasional contributor on here from Scotland. Both gave splendid recitals and got under the skin of the organ so to speak managing to really make the music come alive. More specifically, the music they chose to play worked well with the Redcliffe sound.

To be honest my affinity has never really been for instruments of this type and from this era but I do feel that it can work well liturgically and in the right repertoire areas though I suspect only following a decent period of familiarisation from the point of view of the player. As a player pcnd is far more experienced in both these areas than I am but as a singer and listener I have grown more used to the organ with familiarity and am now perhaps appreciating its undoubted artistry more that I was previously.

 

A

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Forgive me MM for also overlooking this one, having just returned from playing at today's Eucharist there I can only concur with your praise, although I might say that it is at Christ Church, Skipton, the parish church (Holy Trinity) having something of a less-inspiring but useful instrument buried in part of a vestry.

 

 

================================

 

 

Oh good heavens! I thought I might have got this right, considering that I often sang, as a boy, at Christ Church, Skipton, and I've performed as a soloist in one of the Handel Concertos at Holy Trinity (the PC).

 

I quite agree that Elvin should have made more of the Skipton instrument, because it really was a half-way house from the older style of Harrison to the more modern style of Lt Col George Dixon. Were the organ still there, it would have been fascinating to compare the Skipton instrument with the H & H at Holy Trinity, Keighley, which was built only a few years before, and which George Dixon inspected in the company of Arthur Harrison. The Keighley organ was what a friend described as "Victorian Baroque", and Skipton was VERY different.

 

A note about All Soul's, Blackman Lane, Leeds. For starters, I believe this organ was first built built by Issac Abbott, and something stirs within my grey matter about pipes being removed (stolen?) by an organ builder, and susbesquently replaced by new pipes. (Does anyone recall anything about this?)

 

I would place Issac Abbott among the top half dozen tonal artists of the age, (especially the fluework), but it was as Abbott & Smith that the absolutely superb orchestral reeds surfaced.

 

Should aynone know the organ, the A & S at Ossett PC, (again originally by Isaac Abbott), it is a wonderfully musical instrument

 

Yesterday I was marvelling at the fiery Full Swell on the Abbott Smith organ at St Paul's, Halifax....virtually the equal of Fr Willis, which I would know, having lived with the organ of St Augustine's, Kilburn for a year or so.

 

Finally, a note about the superb Organ of Holy Trinity, Skipton. Based partly on some pipework from the old Rushworth & Dreaper warhorse (mainly the Pedal Trombone and one or two other pedal ranks), and a lot of old pipework by Wordsworth & Maskell, with some new Rogers of Bramley pipes, it was remarkable collaboration between the organist (also head of music at Ermysteads School) John Brown, and Laycock & Bannister in the days of Frank Bannister.

 

Tragically, the acoustic of this quite large church is ghastly, and the sound of the organ simply cannot get out. The old warhorse, in the same position, and with quite heavy pressures, also failed to get out, so I'm afraid it's one of those examples of a church unsuited to almost any sort of organ.

 

Nevertheless, at the console, the tonal quality of the instrument is quite superb, but I fear it is wasted on all who stand outside the chancel.

 

MM

 

 

 

 

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MM - I'll do some homework about the 'missing mixture', it's back now by the way and is a crowning glory of the Great Organ. I'm sure it also had something to do with a very dark phase during the 1970s when the church was almost ransacked by a progressive vicar. His modernising culminated in a curate throwing himself off a multi-storey car park which eventually caught the attention of the bishop and heads then rolled. It must have been pretty sordid as it made Private Eye at the time. I'm almost certain that the pipes weren't stolen by the builder but were flogged off by the progressive priest, but i'll get the real story soon - watch this space!

 

You might be interested to know that the spotlight has now moved to St Aidan's Roundhay where the large Binns there has suffered recently. The bellows weights were stolen and replaced by house bricks, there is a very clear picture of these on the church's own website. The organ is not in good condition apparently.

 

Ermysted's - I should know that as I've just retired from there having taught music for the past 20 years! John Brown is held in much reverence by many old boys of the school and is remembered fondly.

 

And thanks to DD - me too and I think it's the best H and H I've ever played and I've led a very sheltered life!

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I do have to re-iterate, pace pcnd, that I never found the Redcliffe Harrison to be intractable during a close acquaintance with it as a student, although it can certainly be very hefty indeed. There is no doubt that its placement makes it different from other large organs, but I found that, once one had discovered the parameters in which one had to work, it fitted the building like a glove and was gloriously suitable for accompanimental and recital work. The one caveat to this was that, as was so often the case in those days, the new or revised mixtures were not best matched. There had been some improvement when I played it again about twenty years ago (when I was bowled over, having forgotten quite how fine it was), and I gather that things are better still after the recent complete restoration.

 

There has always been a belief that all Arthur Harrison organs were much of a muchness. However, I think that, although he found a formula which worked, there is far more character about individual instruments than is sometimes realised. There is a unique subtlety about King's, for example, and a rather different character at Westminster Abbey, although the latter is (or was) not especially aggressive. Margaret Street is also very subtle, but different again (a very big organ in a small church, where the liturgy demands subtlety, in contrast to the situation round the corner at All Souls, Langham Place, where Harrisons' had to beef up the Henry Willis III rebuild!). Although it was never regarded among the best of the breed, I rather liked Leicester Cathedral. I wonder how the little ex-RSCM job sounds in its new home in Shrewsbury.

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Just for the record, I looked up All Soul's, Blackman Lane, Leeds on NPOR, and the entry seems a bit "prepared for".

Fortunately, I found this on Wikipedia, which seems to have a ring of truth to it.

The organ was built in 1877 by Abbott and Smith, and restored in 1906 and 1938 by the same builder. It was restored by Wood Wordsworth and Co in 1976, and by John T Jackson in 1997. A specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register.[1]

The ornate organ case was carved by A. Crawford Hick.

It's the 1877 date which is the significant bit, for it places the origins of the instrument firmly in the era of Isaac Abbott.

Tragically, many (if not most) of the old Isaac Abbott organs have been destroyed, and many re-built beyond recognition, but there are a few survivors.

MM

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'and something stirs within my grey matter about pipes being removed (stolen?) by an organ builder, and susbesquently replaced by new pipes. (Does anyone recall anything about this?)'

 

The 'missing mixture' is referred to on NPOR and I have been able to check this out. The pipes were 'removed' (for which read almost certainly stolen) by the incumbent of the time, one Revd. Sanders, and it is presumed he sold them for scrap metal. Many other valuable items were ransacked from the church during this unfortunate period, including some very important plate items and sanctuary valuables, decorated with precious stones by all accounts, which were never recovered and were originally presented to the church in memory of its founder and benefactor Revd. Hook who was responsible for having the church built and was a very important influence in Leeds. There were a number of references made to this sordid saga in several issues of Private Eye which had a regular column on the place for some time before the maniac incumbent was eventually sacked by the dithering authorities. It was reported at the time that he later became a scrap metal dealer (no joke!). Charges of sexual misconduct were also made and it took an unfortunate suicide by a curate at the church to finally provoke action. These incidents are, I'm told, the tip of the iceberg and it reads like a catalogue of despair, it's hair-raising stuff.

 

John T Jackson was responsible for replacing the stolen IV rank mixture which is now what you hear, perhaps a little louder than the original but it does complete the Great organ chorus rather well. No organ builder was ever suspected of removing the pipes at any time, they were all completely innocent and it might well be that this myth has arisen as a result of the machinations of the obviously manipulative clergy of the time, and I don't imply that many clergy were involved, just the two mavericks who seemed to be at the root of it, and an indecisive senior member.

 

Simply for the record and to tidy up this loose end!

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