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List of beautiful English Organs


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Playing on NPOR today, I came across this organ in the church of St Cosmas and St Damian in Sherrington, Wiltshire:



There are some better pictures of this instrument on the church's website at https://upperwylyevalleyteam.com/our-churches/st-cosmas-st-damian-sherrington/

Although the front pipes are actually wooden dummies, the whole case is lovely, even more so in its location at the back of the church. I imagine somehow that the sound of the organ is exactly what one would hope and expect to hear.

Ss. Cosmas and Damian is a rare dedication in Britain, despite the noble and instantly attractive name. I can find 5 Anglican churches (one redundant) and one Greek Orthodox. I've met a good few Da/emia/e/ons in my time, all of them fine fellows as one would expect, but only one Cosmos - actually Cosmo. Although I noticed some Bach CDs in his study a couple of times, I never got around to finding out his musical involvement or forming a combo.

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Considering the current threads on beautiful organs, and pipe v electronic blind hearing tests together, I noted that many effective organs don't need to be large. One often hears of players with relatively small pipe organs which have a particular stop, usually a quiet diapason, principle, or flute, which they say are so lovely that they can happily play for hours with that one stop. I am pretty sure that this is not the case with typical electronic instruments, having tried it. The point is that simple but well-made instruments are often more than adequate, they provide the sense of quality, craft, and life in an instrument that others often can't, and in that musical sense can be considered beautiful. One example I know well demonstrates this.

The Saxon Church, Escomb, County Durham:




A Nigel Church organ, for this very tiny, very very old church reputed to be about the oldest in England, and built, using re-cycled stones from the Binchester Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall, on the site of an even older church/worship/mass site. A simple but elegant case, interesting pipe display, with a beautiful tone it sounds just right in this ancient but active building. My father in law has played here for longer than anyone can remember, my wife played here frequently, and occasionally, if I get the opportunity, so do I.

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2 hours ago, Damian Beasley-Suffolk said:

One often hears of players with relatively small pipe organs which have a particular stop, usually a quiet diapason, principle, or flute, which they say are so lovely that they can happily play for hours with that one stop. I am pretty sure that this is not the case with typical electronic instruments, having tried it.

Not so in my experience with high end modern digital organs. There were any number of beautiful (sampled) sounds on the large 4-manual digital instrument I played regularly before retirement, and the same is true of the three manual home instrument I have now which uses synthesised sound. I don't think some folk realise how much tonal polishing some digital builders put into their installations. 

I do know what you mean though about small pipe organs. There is a one manual Hill near me which delightful tonal quality, and I could happily play on it all day. I would be slightly more inclined to do so if it were tuned and maintained properly and if a modern pedalboard could replace the twelve pull downs it has and the instrument be fitted with a 30/32 note pedal 16ft.

Conversely, I once took one of this country's leading church musicians to play a large (50-stop or so) three manual pipe organ by a major builder of the day - (no names, no pack drill). He played it very thoroughly for about 90 minutes listening carefully to every register and combination. At the end, he declared that there was just one stop on the entire organ that he could live with - a 16 foot wooden stop on the Great. 

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I guess that in many respects I'm guilty as charged, having expanded the "English" bit to include other parts of the British Isles, posting organs that are not by English builders, flagrantly ignoring suggestions to avoid newer instruments, etc.

"Beautiful", I suppose, is a subjective term and what may appear beautiful to me may not be so to others.  What this thread has highlighted, I think, is that there are a lot more good-looking instruments in Britain than we might have thought.  There are a lot of boring pipe-racks in Europe and North America, too.  Again being subjective, I don't care for the "stainless steel"  style that seems to be popular in Europe, or the number of modern cases with whole rows of pipes arranged so that their tops make a horizontal line, or that big blue Fisk in Japan (Rikkyo Gakuin) which looks to me like a cross between something pressed out of plastic sheet and a half-sucked boiled sweet.  But who am I to judge, especially from mere photographs?  On the other hand, Grenzing's cases at Brussels Cathedral look fabulous to me....

"Organ" as applied to electronic instruments: a tricky question.  I always used to use the term "electrone" but that's archaic and really applies only to Comptons (which were decent enough specimens in their day).  A friend of mine over here, a well-known recitalist, is an agent for a well-known make (no names, no pack drill, either of the agent or the firm) and refers to them as "appliances", and a lot of people use the term "toasters', both of which are hardly polite.  In North America, folk tend to say "pipe organ" when referring to the real thing.  I suppose that if one thinks of the name as denoting the function of the instrument, then "organ" is as good as we will get.

More pictures, beautiful or not according to taste, but in any case showing imagination and a little bit out of the ordinary.

Andrew Hayden, writing in "Choir and Organ" (May/June 2015) describes the collaboration between the East Anglian-based artist Jack Shenton and John Budgen of Bishop & Son (Ipswich).  This resulted in about a dozen instruments in which colour added interest to existing case-work.  Andrew highlights Thorpe Morieux and East Bergholt, as well as an original Shenton case design at Rattlesden which unfortunately never received its intended colour scheme. I knew the instruments but I didn't know about Jack Shenton until I read the article.

I can't find a picture of Rattlesden online, but the church is worth a visit in any case.  Thorpe Morieux is in the same benefice and is not far away.  The organ is an original J.C. Bishop of 1840 which came to roost here in 1968 after various peregrinations.  It is the first thing you see as you enter the church, being on the north wall opposite the south door, and it looks extremely well.  The picture is from Simon Knott's Suffolk Churches site, but there is another on NPOR.



At East Bergholt, right in the middle of "Constable Country", the church is one of Suffolk's best (which is saying a great deal), but lacks a tower.  Round the back is a unique bell-cage containing the world's heaviest ring of five (tenor 25cwt), which are rung in the English fashion but without ropes and wheels.  You push the bell over and catch it as it comes up.  Highly dangerous, really, but when I was a teenage bell-ringer, you could get a ring on them if the ringing-captain was in the right mood.  I don't know if I'd dare to risk it now, but I did then.  The 1897 Bishop organ in the church came from a Presbyterian church in Gravesend in 1966, replacing a Hammond, and has since been slightly enlarged. Shenton designed a scheme of colouring for the two cases, which is certainly effective:




One might not want to do this sort of thing everywhere, but it seems to work here.  After reading Andrew's piece, I wondered if the 1867 Walker organ at Great Bromley in Essex had received Jack Shenton's attention also.  it has an absolutely plain and typical pipe-rack front, but the pipes are painted alternately blue and gold. Again, one wouldn't want to see this everywhere but I think it's effective in this case.  The organ itself is a very fine little job, giving a lot more than its five stops would suggest, although it's a pity that it lacks a Pedal bourdon.  The church is a probably the finest in this part of Essex.




Referring to the Escomb organ which Damian illustrates a couple of items before this, I played this one about five years ago and it is indeed a beautiful little job, perfectly suited to the Saxon church where it resides.

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The Great Bromley Walker organ of 1867 pictured above with pipes alternately blue and gold is not the only one they produced around this time.  Near me in Frampton on Severn, Gloucestershire there is a Walker of 1866 with the same basic colouring but enhanced with stencilling over the top. Maybe this was a Walker design option (or maybe Great Bromley was repainted?)  http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N05709  

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The Frampton organ looks as though the front pipes were decorated when it was built, but at Bromley they were painted when Bishops' restored the organ in the sixties - hence my surmise about the Shenton connection. Frampton looks to be a particularly fine example of stencilling.

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20 hours ago, Martin Cooke said:

Not so in my experience with high end modern digital organs. There were any number of beautiful (sampled) sounds on the large 4-manual digital instrument I played regularly before retirement, and the same is true of the three manual home instrument I have now which uses synthesised sound. I don't think some folk realise how much tonal polishing some digital builders put into their installations.  

If you don't mind, I have replied to this on the Blind Listening Thread.

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Well - they are all, well nearly all, in the City of London - lots of, what looks like, Wren!

1) All Hallows, London Wall

2) St. Martin's, Ludgate Hill

3) St. Mary, Woolnoth

4) St. Stephen's, Walbrook

5) St Mary at Hill

6) ?

7) St. Mary le Bow

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Quite right!  They are all City of London churches, except that St. Mary, Aldermanbury was transported and rebuilt at Fulton, Missouri, where our hosts provided a new organ. Here are the stop-lists:

All Hallows, London Wall


A very pleasant Hill residence organ, slightly modified and installed by Noel Mander in 1962, in a neat little church by George Dance.  When I called in there some years ago, the building appeared to be mostly in use as an office and library, but now it's occupied by a charismatic congregation and charity.  The organ is still there.

St. Martin, Ludgate


One of the least spoiled interiors in the City, having escaped the Blitz.  The organ is by Bates, whose workshop was nearby, with minimal alteration by Lewis & Co (they transposed Bates's 16' Double Dulciana to 8').  Noel Mander restored it in 1956 - an early example of his work in this field.  I gave my first ever organ recital on this organ in 1970, and a second one shared with Martin Cooke, who is a regular on this forum (thank you for introducing me to Ireland's "Alla Marcia"!).

St. Mary Woolnoth


An excellent small three manual Hill which deserves to be better known.  The picture shows the west end case (perhaps by Dallam or maybe Father Smith), which contains only the Choir Viole and Vox Humana, both apparently modelled on Hope Jones patterns - very odd for Hill.  The rest of the organ is at the east end in a plain but acceptable case by Hill.

St. Stephen, Walbrook


A glorious George England case.  I was at the opening recital in 1970 when the famous Hill organ was rebuilt (I thought Walkers did it, but the recitalist was Joanna Fraser so it was probably HN&B) and subsequently gave a recital there myself as part of the Organ Club's Silver Jubilee year in 1976 (I remember getting the key from Chad Varah in the Samaritans office in the crypt).  Hill, Norman & Beard later supplied a new console and transmission.

St. Mary at Hill


A landmark Hill organ of 1848 with the "German" compass.  HN&B provided a new positive-style Choir organ in 1971, and I played there shortly afterwards. The organ was badly damaged in a fire, but in 2002 our hosts restored it to its original state.

St. Mary Aldermanbury

In 1940, as a young fire-watcher, Noel Mander watched this church burn.  In 1969, he was commissioned to build a new organ when the church was transplanted to the USA.  He incorporated two ranks of pipes and a case front by George England from St. Mary's, Woolwich.

Great: Open Diapason, Stopt Diapason, Principal, Nason Flute, Twelfth, Fifteenth, Tierce, Fourniture IV, Mounted Cornet V

Swell: Gedeckt, Salicional, Celeste, Principal, Chimeny Flute, Octave 2, Larigot, Cymbale IV, Cromorne 16. Trumpet, Clarion. Tremulant

Pedal: Subbass, Principal 8, Bass Flute, Gemshorn 4, Mixture III, Fagott 16

St. Mary le Bow


Rothwell had the care of the organ in the church before the Blitz and Rushworth's inherited the remains which they incorporated in the organ which they built for the restored church in 1964.  It was not a very distinguished instrument, although it sounded decent enough in the building, and its best feature was the fine case designed by John Hayward (he also designed the stained glass) as part of Laurence King's restoration.  It was not until 2010 that the church got the organ it deserved, when Kenneth Tickell built a large two manual in the existing case.

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In reference to the Hull Minster thread, St. Gregory's Minster, Kirkdale is one of the smallest minsters and is a beautiful church in idyllic surroundings, with a nice little organ, originally by Abbott & Smith.

The stop list these days is given by NPOR as:

Great: Open Diapason, Stopped Diapason, Geigen Principal, Block Flute

Swell: Lieblich Gedact, Salicional, Gemshorn, Oboe

Pedal: Bourdon

Usual couplers, plus Swell Octave and Swell Octave to Great

When I played it in about 1970, the Great had Open, Wald Flute, Dulciana and Harmonic Flute 4, and the Swell Geigen, Lieblich Gedeckt, Gamba, Gemshorn and Oboe.  I wonder if one register has been omitted on the NPOR list.  Temple Moore restored the church, so may have designed the case.


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  • 4 weeks later...

During a short break in the village of Coln St Aldwyns, in the Cotswolds, I was able to play this organ. The front, Open Diapason, pipes are beautifully decorated as are, more unusually, the Bourdon pipes placed at either end of the organ. This view shows them to a reasonable extent. The console can hardly be described as beautiful but the sound of the organ is decidedly so. The Gamba is almost Oboe-like and blends perfectly with the Stopped Diapason and 4' Flute; the OD and Principal and quite powerful and bright and supported well by the Bourdon Treble, an unusual manual double for such a small organ and judging by the stop knob a later addition to the organ.

The console is unusually sited at the East end of the organ facing West and directly under one set of Bourdon pipes and needs a double mirror setup for the organist to see the choir stalls.

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  • 1 year later...

One that got away two years ago (I think!) was Moccas in Herefordshire (Walker 1877), recently given a full historic restoration by Nicholsons.  The case is by Giles Gilbet Scott Junior [correction: George Gilbert Scott Junior, oops!]:



The church is a lovely tower-less three-chamber Norman building retaining many Norman features including its apse, set in lovely countryside.  A gem.


ETA: NPOR has perhaps an even more atmospheric photo:



Edited by SomeChap
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Sorry to be pedantic.  Relying on the Nicholson description, the case is by George Gilbert Scott Junior (not Giles), son of the famous supreme Victorian architect of the same name, but always known as Sir Gilbert Scott. The Scott family interchanged their Christian names freely, and their denominational affiliation as well.  I believe George Gilbert Scott Junior converted to Roman Catholicism, and his son Giles Gilbert Scott (grandson of Sir Gilbert) was a born Catholic.  Giles Gilbert Scott was, of course, the architect of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and is buried there.  A truly talented and ecumenical dynasty.

Agreed that it looks to be a very beautiful church and organ.

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  • 2 months later...

Another pretty good Victorian facade is Thorney Abbey in Cambridgeshire.  The current parish church is the remaining nave of a large monastic church; the organ sits in a transept which I think is either a 19th or a 20th century addition to the building.  The Nave has a very strange-looking ceiling - does anyone know if it's a tent or is it solid (eg plaster)?  Is it temporary?


The organ is pretty historic btw (BIOS Cert) and has had quite a few builders work on it.  The cases are either by Bevington or Bryceson, 1858, though NPOR says the organ was originally on the West gallery, divided, so Hill must have re-worked it in their 1888 rebuild when it was moved.

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... and in a not dissimilar style, I hope we can gently flex the off-the-beaten-track rule so that Selby Abbey counts!  The 1909 cases were designed by John Oldrid Scott (assisted by Arthur Hill I believe), who was (deep breath, try not to get it wrong this time) son of Sir George Gilbert Scott, brother of George Gilbert Scott Jr and ... er ... uncle of Giles Gilbert Scott.  Right?



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  • 6 months later...

Every so often another one of these pops into my head; I hope people don't mind!  We are on page 12 of this thread but I don't think we've had Marlborough College Chapel yet.  The organ is modern (an heroic 4-man Beckerath from 2006), as are the case pipes, but the case itself is Victorian so we're allowed it; I believe it was designed by Bodley and Garner:

MBORO_COLL_BECKERATH_ORGAN_72x400.jpg (400×533) (sslso.org.uk)

[having trouble inserting the image, sorry you'll have to click through if interested]

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Thank you SomeChap for resurrecting this thread. One of the advantages of retirement is that my time is my own and I have just spent a wonderful couple of hours looking through this thread.

Without wishing to detract from other contributors to the thread it has to be said that the late David Drinkell's encyclopaedic knowledge is staggering - and, and I speak personally, is much missed on this forum. 

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