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Holy Trinity, Bradford on Avon

Martin Cooke

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As referenced in another post about Peter King's forthcoming recital here, this splendid Henry Willis III organ of 1926 has just been restored and rebuilt by Harrison and Harrison. The work was part of a wholescale reordering of this beautiful riverside church and I thoroughly recommend a visit. My family and I encountered the church for the first time on a walk, last June, along the River Avon and the Kennet and Avon Canal, and we walked back through the churchyard to return to the car. I found the interior of the church inspiring with its new stone floor, newly cleaned walls, computer driven lighting system and delightfully light, fresh and easily moveable furniture. (The only fixed items in the church now are the organ itself and the font - the console is on a mobile plinth.) But the organ was obviously missing! It had had to be removed as the floor beneath it was in danger of collapse, and in fact, it had been taken to Durham in December 2015. The church was out of commission through most of 2016 and came back into use in time for Christmas.

The organ was reinstated in the summer of this year with final voicing taking place in August. The specification is more or less as you find it in NPOR and I will arrange for that to be updated soon. I only became Director of Music at Holy Trinity last month so it is marvellous to have become organist at what is, to all intents and purposes, a new church, with a splendid, versatile and newly rebuilt Willis organ, and an SATB choir. The rebuild has afforded the opportunity to move the organ out of its corner at the top of the North chancel aisle. It is now centrally placed at the head of that aisle and the newly gilded pipes in the extended case make it all look most attractive. It hasn't been possible to fulfil all dreams at this stage, but provision has been made at the console and within the extended case for an 8/16 Tromba/Trombone rank for the Great and Pedal - the Tromba to be available on the Choir, too - and for an 8/4ft Principal/Fifteenth rank for the Pedal organ. This latter is highly desirable, I must say. The Pedal consists of a Sub-bass which is actually a Great organ stop, available at 8 and 4ft pitches, and a massive 16ft Open Wood available also at 8ft and temporarily wired to the Pedal's new Fifteenth stop knob at 4ft pitch. It has, however, been possible to add a 2ft Flageolet to the Swell and a 4ft Gemshorn to the Choir organ and these two stops enhance those two divisions very considerably especially with the usual octave and suboctave inter manual availability. The Choir, Great and Swell all sit on new slider soundboards.

The console has also been refurbished and the instrument is a delight to play with so many beautiful ranks. The Cornopean is splendidly versatile - a powerful chorus reed that is quite big enough to carry off a Trumpet Tune with light Great accompaniment. The organ is quite close to the congregation, so one has to be wary of the impact one is making and judicious use is called for both of this stop, and the very large Great Open Diapason. Many stops are to die for - I can't decide if my absolute favourite is the Choir Clarinet or the Great Spitzflöte. But there again, what about the lovely Cor de Nuit on the choir, and... and...?

I live 25 miles from Bradford on Avon, but it is worth every moment of the beautiful drive, especially early on a Sunday morning. Several organists' associations have already made arrangements to visit next year, and I would be only too pleased to facilitate others if they are interested. Bradford on Avon is easily accessible by road - perhaps 40 minutes from the M4 - and by rail - it's on the Portsmouth to Cardiff main line with at least one train an hour, and there are daily direct trains from Waterloo. The church is a short, pretty riverside walk from the station - you can even feed the swans! 

To save you having to look elsewhere, the re--opening recital is on Friday 17th November at 7.30pm and is to be by Peter King who needs no introduction here. There is a reception in the church at 6.30pm when there will be an opportunity to meet representatives from Harrison and Harrison and the church, and also to meet Dr King himself. I hope any forum members who are able to attend will make themselves known to me, and I would welcome PMs from any members who might like to come and see the church and the organ.

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The former West Gallery organ at Holy Trinity Organ is mentioned in the Sperling notebooks as being built by GP England around 1800.  Boeringer makes the comment that this is apparently the only source that preserves this information.

In 1798 the organ was rebuilt by John Maddey of Bristol for £163.  In 1807 it was repaired by Todd (who was he?) and Smith (presumably John Smith I of Bristol).  A flute and a dulciana were added by John Holland of Bath in 1808 and 1810 respectively, and Holland maintained the organ until 1828. Further improvements included a new keyboard installed by Fricker of Bath in 1833. 

The Holy Trinity organs and organists are well documented between 1729, when a vestry meeting decided to have an organ built, to the present day, apart from a gap for the years 1813 to 1819.  It is possible that GP England built an organ for the church sometime between 1813 and his death, but is it probable?  If so, why did Sperling date it to c1800?

A further mystery is the 'device ' fitted,  by  Gray, in 1856. As far as I can see there is no entry for this in the Gray and Davison accounts in the British Organ archive.  The writing is obscure in the churchwardens' accounts and it is unclear whether Gray (unspecified in the accounts) was working with a Mr Dawson or Mr Davison.   'Charles Dawson' is mentioned in Boeringer as 'an inventor of organ devices, active from at least 1849 to 1851' and I presume that the 'device' was some sort of pneumatic lever which must have made the instrument easier to play.  (According to the Trowbridge Advertiser Robert Gray gave the first recital after the work)

All this glory was destroyed between 1864 and 1866 when the church was largely rebuilt.  William Sweetland, 'the eminent organ builder of Bath' installed an organ in 1870, but that's another story

Comments would be very welcome please





Edited by annewillis11
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