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Philip J Wells

St. Mary Abbots, Kensington, London.

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I have received a request to post the paragraph below for the Board's attention. I note the church has launched a £7 million restoration campaign but the only way the pipe organ features is through its removal! To be fair, it apparently has not been used for 10 or so years, a toaster having been installed. But the pipe organ is still there.

 

The historic 4-manual Hill organ of St Mary Abbots, Kensington will, under current proposals, be destroyed to make way for vestries. This would be a disaster - therefore, please add your names to this newly-created petition to retain it! https://l.facebook.com/l/3AQG-thPTAQEKSYo8KQraRX5Yt0J0FculMW43vpsAe1djdw/https%3A%2F%2Fwww.change.org%2Fp%2Fst-mary-abbots-kensington-retain-and-restore-the-historic-hill-organ

 

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Thankyou for highlighting this vandalism. I used to practice here and at Holy Trinity, Prince Consort Road. Both fine, and very English, instruments.

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I know this church well, having lived in Kensington for two years in the late 1960's. As Omegaconsort has said the information is on the church website.

 

The appeal is a bold one, they have a 'Masterplan'. which 'proposes a complete refurbishment of the entire church building of all the necessary replacements and upgrading of services, and new elements that while retaining the Victorian splendour of St. Mary Abbots will make it fit for a far wider range of worship, praise and prayer and also a place of music and celebration and gathering that will enable us to offer our great church to many more events and projects that build up our community'.

 

The pipe organ is mentioned. 'The old organ, unplayable for more than decade, will be removed and in it's place we will build...................... (vestries and things!!)'

 

There will then be seperate appeals. 'The former organ was a distinguished instrument but quite in the wrong place. Hidden behind stonework and boxed into a solid chamber, it was successively enlarged throughout its 125 years of life to try and make it louder in the nave - but this largely made it deafening in the choir without improving sound elsewhere in the church. A major flood some 15 years ago rendered it essentially unrepairable'.

 

We will build a completely new organ on a gallery above the second bay of the North aisle.................................. The console gallery will be able to accomodate small choirs and soloists performing out to the congregation. The new location means that the organ can be built with traditional design that have been tried and tested over centuries ..................... It will have a striking case that will add to the visual impact......................

 

New Choir Organ. A small organ will be installed in the gallery that houses the console of the previous Grand organ ................ to accompany small services that take place in the choir alone.

 

The total estimated cost of the new organ projects is £1,085,000

 

Nowhere, that I can see, does it say that the Hill organ is to be destroyed, it is to be removed and, in it's place, are to be two new instruments. It strikes me, and I may be wrong, that they recognise that they have a fine instrument on their hands but that, and if it is historic and worthy they will have taken advice, it is beyond repair because of flood damage and being lain unplayed for over 10 years. It is also in the wrong place and doesn't speak properly. The solution to remove (it may, if it is that worthy, find a possible reincarnation somewhere more suitable!) and build a new main instrument together with a smaller organ for accompanying the offices in the choir seems to me to be eminently sensible!

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Furthermore, the source of the online petition that refers to the 'destruction' of this organ seems to me at least to be not totally reliable. We do perhaps need to exercise caution....

A

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It appears that I must apologise for misleading the Board. I did check on the appeal website for organ information before passing on the information I had been asked to but did not find the information noted above. I obviously need to go back and have another look at their site before commenting further.

 

I note the NPOR has pictures showing pipe fronts with iron 'posts and rails etc' Interestingly last week I obtained a copy of an architectural drawing by J Oldrid Scott showing two wooden gothic type cases on either side of the choir. It was sold as circa 1893 and I had assumed was published in 'The Building News' as it was similar to another I had seen for Croydon. However, perhaps it was only a proposal?

 

Again apologies.

 

 

Edit: I have found this link elsewhere which repeats the above information re two new organs. Why I can't find this directly on their main website or the appeals site I am at a loss to understand! http://stmaryabbotsappeal.com/.../06/Appeal-Site-PDF.pdf

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In order to give a balanced viewpoint I give below the Response of the Vicar of St. Mary Abbots to the petition - together with the 'robust response'!

 

The Vicar

 

We could not share more deeply your concern for the musical heritage of the Anglican church (a glance at our weekly service schedule indicates how our Sunday and Festival worship is saturated with the great classics of Christian choral and organ music). As the Petition is addressed to me personally as Vicar, it might be worth pointing out that I am a founder member of the British Institute of Organ Studies, have researched the history of York Minster organ, and could not be more personally committed to the preservation and renovation of historic organs.

Unfortunately it is not at all accurate to state that our pipe organ is ‘one of the least altered Hill organs still extant’. Your own list of additions and rebuilds (4 within 114 years) tells the real story: whatever the excellence of the original design and voicing, it was from the start largely immured within a stone chamber with the result that only a small proportion of the sound reached the main body of the church. The rebuilds were all attempts to remedy this basic fault, but only made the instrument louder and louder in the choir while still poorly balanced and distant as far as the congregation was concerned.

By 2001 it was not by any standards a largely unaltered 1872 Hill: it had been altered many times over – but in that year a violent storm caused catastrophic damage. The soundboards etc were saturated beyond repair and the electrics declared unsafe. Following professional consultation it was agreed that rebuilding in the same situation would result in the same musical inadequacies. Since then we have with reluctance used as a temporary measure a 2 manual Allen organ (which has given excellent service) while drawing up plans for the long-deferred renovation of the whole church.

A key element of our vision for the refurbished St Mary Abbots is the provision of a major pipe organ to serve our liturgy, to act as a recital instrument, and be used for a far wider range of performance and teaching than has ever been possible. We hope that this will incorporate the best of the Hill pipework – we will of course take our organ builder’s advice on this.

Of course, traditionally-built organs are more sensitive to dust and dirt than anything else in a church, so it will be the final crown of our refurbishment programme. We urge all organ-lovers to support as generously as they can either our renovation appeal so that we can build the new organ as soon as possible, or the organ appeal itself, so that St Mary Abbots can continue and develop its commitment to the unique choral and musical tradition of the Anglican church.

 

The response

 

The situation in the chancel chamber is exactly as it should be: the organ’s primary role is for choral accompaniment, and as such it is only right that it should be where it is. That this is now regarded as a fault is merely a reflection of how greatly liturgical fashion has changed – as is the disastrous proposal to install a nave altar. The rebuilds were, as far as I can see, simply (a) Hill adding the Solo, ( B) HN&B rebuilding it once in 1927 [a mere four years after Dr Hill’s death] and then again in 1986 [simply replacing the action and console] and © the 1951 work was simply putting right war damage. Saturated soundboards can be replaced, pipework restored and, where appropriate, tonal alterations made via close examination of unaltered Hill material of the same era. Regardless of the instrument’s state, it was a very fine instrument, as Gary Cole, Philip Prosser and others have stated. Hill, Norman & Beard’s own work is now increasingly recognised as being worthy of preservation – the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook west end organ is a particularly notable example – and even if this instrument were only to be taken as a 1927 HN&B incorporating Hill pipework, it would still be worthy of restoration on that basis. The proposals I have heard for a suspended organ in the nave, perhaps as you say making use of some Hill pipework, would make a nonsense of the integrity of this carefully-designed George Gilbert Scott church – to what end, precisely? If there is a need for more organ tone in the nave (which I doubt – St Mary’s is not a huge church, and a 4/57 Hill should be more than adequate in this regard), then a nave division could be added outwith the chamber – but it would be entirely wrong to remove the organ altogether from its existing position. I strongly suggest, if British organbuilders are still obsessed with tracker action, suspended casework etc, that you contact Jack Bethards at Schoenstein & Co., who has produced some remarkable results in chancel chambers and is a noted authority on English organs – and is due to be installing a new instrument at St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield in the next few years.

 

I am not too convinced by the response but I too, like contraviolone, (perhaps for the same reason!) have, now distant, connections with St. Mary Abbots and I, too, will follow the progress of the restoration of the church with interest.

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Looking through the documentation, I see that the sum set aside for the new Chancel organ is £35,000. I would not think this buys much new pipe organ - are they intending to install an electronic organ??

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I have received a request to post the paragraph below for the Board's attention.

 

 

To my mind, the opening sentence of this thread is its oddest aspect. Why did the interested party ask a respected member of the forum to post on his/her behalf rather than join the forum and make the point him/herself?

 

My question is rhetorical, as I am not naive. I would suggest moderators might like to take a look here. And if they so decide, I would be quite content for this post to be deleted, having made my point.

 

CEP

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Looking through the documentation, I see that the sum set aside for the new Chancel organ is £35,000. I would not think this buys much new pipe organ - are they intending to install an electronic organ??

 

The church I used to worship in spent £18,000 on a small box organ suitable for accompanying the offices in the side chapel. I think, perhaps, that is what St. Mary Abbots probably have in mind!

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It seems to me that the incumbent at the above church has put his point concisely and succinctly and I await news of further developments with interest.

 

A

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It really is a most interesting situation, and I can see merits and minuses in both sides of the argument.

 

It appears that St Mary Abbots already has a recently purchased chamber organ, see "The Organs of St Mary Abbots" in here

 

http://smanews.weebly.com/uploads/5/0/2/5/5025325/kpn_-_advent_2013.pdf

 

so it seems they already have a small box organ that might accompany the daily offices as SL suggests above. With this in mind, I remain curious as to the design and function in the overall scheme of the proposed chancel organ - and what they will get for £35,000!

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Bearing in mind the young non-organ-playing enthusiast who has initiated the petition, I am bound to treat his campaign with dispassionate caution.

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Bearing in mind the young non-organ-playing enthusiast who has initiated the petition, I am bound to treat his campaign with dispassionate caution.

Quite!

 

A

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Bearing in mind the young non-organ-playing enthusiast who has initiated the petition, I am bound to treat his campaign with dispassionate caution.

 

Whence my remarks in #13.

 

If we aren't careful, this topic could impact negatively on the forum.

 

CEP

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Whence my remarks in #13.

 

If we aren't careful, this topic could impact negatively on the forum.

 

CEP

 

 

Agree with you, Colin.

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Whence my remarks in #13.

 

If we aren't careful, this topic could impact negatively on the forum.

 

CEP

 

 

I don't disagree with that!

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Bearing in mind the young non-organ-playing enthusiast who has initiated the petition, I am bound to treat his campaign with dispassionate caution.

 

Indeed.

 

Since the same source informed me categorically a couple of years ago that there was 'virtually no chance' of the organ in Christ Church, Spitalfields being restored and replaced in the church (and the opening recital on this rehabilitated instrument was given a week or so ago, by John Scott), I would also suggest treating this 'information' with caution.

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