Jump to content
Mander Organ Builders Forum

Stairs To The Loft


nfortin
 Share

Recommended Posts

On my recent visit to Lichfield accesss to the organ loft was via a stone-built staircase within the north wall adjacent to the north transept. It stikes me now that this is somewhat unusual. Except for examples of stone-built pulpitum staircases (eg. Exeter) , what other examples are there of organ loft access built into the masonary of british catherdrals?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On my recent visit to Lichfield accesss to the organ loft was via a stone-built staircase within the north wall adjacent to the north transept. It stikes me now that this is somewhat unusual. Except for examples of stone-built pulpitum staircases (eg. Exeter) , what other examples are there of organ loft access built into the masonary of british catherdrals?

 

Wasn't Truro's original console accessed by spiral stone steps?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On my recent visit to Lichfield accesss to the organ loft was via a stone-built staircase within the north wall adjacent to the north transept. It stikes me now that this is somewhat unusual. Except for examples of stone-built pulpitum staircases (eg. Exeter) , what other examples are there of organ loft access built into the masonary of british catherdrals?

 

Hi

 

Saffron Walden parish church has the console on the rood screen accessed by a spiral stone staircase. Also, ISTR Norwich cathedral is similar - but it was a long time ago, and only one visit, so I can be sure.

 

Certainly, some organ loft access routes leave a lot to be desired on the health & safety front - I used to play at Christchurch, Summerfiled in Birmingham - not a stone staicase, but the story is the architect forgot to put any access in, so to get there you open what looks like on of the cupboard doors in the vestry and ascend a steep (literally 45 degree) wooden staircase - with the widest part of the treads on the 180 degree turn about 9 inches - no handrail (there's not enough width). No fun at all when the blower failed and I needed to get down into the church to the piano for the closing hymn one Sunday (which had already been announced by the time I realised the blower would not start!).

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wells is fun - not much room in the loft - ladder and trap door - if you are page turning and forget you could end up falling through if you leave it open.

 

AJJ

 

PS St Albans has a vast space - I remember once about 4 or 5 of us all sitting round in arm chairs watching Peter Hurford Play for Choral Evensong.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Certainly, some organ loft access routes leave a lot to be desired on the health & safety front - I used to play at Christchurch, Summerfiled in Birmingham - not a stone staicase, but the story is the architect forgot to put any access in, so to get there you open what looks like on of the cupboard doors in the vestry and ascend a steep (literally 45 degree) wooden staircase - with the widest part of the treads on the 180 degree turn about 9 inches - no handrail (there's not enough width).

Rochester is a rather similar (and also of wood, not stone). That ascent must be at nearly 45 degrees, though it does have a handrail. Also, the opening into the loft is rather restricted so, if you haven't been warned (or even if you have), you can guarantee you'll crack your head.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Is anyone familiar with the Willis/Mander at St Michael's West Croydon? According to the parish website ...."The organ loft housing the organ console is one of the highest in England.......". And for those of us who don't like heights, it is quite scary - perched on the side of a wall over 30ft above the ground, with nothing underneath by way of support. I'm sure it's perfectly safe, but it certainly frightens the life out of me.

 

Have any other contributors been unnerved by the siting of a console? I believe Chester Cathedral is similar in this respect.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The climb up to the console at Chichester is interesting. It’s got nothing to do with spiral staircases, steep steps or the lack of headroom, just that to reach the console you end up walking through the organ so you see the (tracker) action and some of the pipes (pedal I think). It’s a rare chance to see the insides of an organ at all, let alone one so beautifully crafted as Chichester.

 

:unsure:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest delvin146
The climb up to the console at Chichester is interesting.  It’s got nothing to do with spiral staircases, steep steps or the lack of headroom, just that to reach the console you end up walking through the organ so you see the (tracker) action and some of the pipes (pedal I think).  It’s a rare chance to see the insides of an organ at all, let alone one so beautifully crafted as Chichester.

 

:unsure:

 

With my old bones, I'm waiting to have a stanna stairlift installed so I can elevate in dignified appropriate ladylike fashion. Actually I think it's a legal requirement that we have to install a stairlift in case somebody with no arms and no legs should want to come and play the organ.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Manchester Cathedral has a stone spiral staircase to the console. Last time I was there with a visiting choir, our organ scholar 'missed his stop' and ended up on the roof.

 

I seem to remember that both Exeter College Oxford and Keble College Oxford have/had stone stircases to the loft. I'm sure that someone out there will be able to verify, or not as the case may be.

 

Chester is by no means as scary as some, mainly because the stone gallery behind theconsole is of a reasonable height.

 

Lichfield is a bit vertigo-inducing, although sitting at the console is not to my mind as unnerving as standing to the side of it.

 

I think that the Armley organ may be reached by a stone staircase, but it's 20+ years since I was last up there, so my memory is a little hazy.

 

The sofa on the screen at Canterbury is a wonderful touch.

 

However, I doubt if any loft within these shores is as terryfying (or as hard to get to) as those frequently encounterd on the continent. Chartres sticks in my mind somewhat...

 

Ascend a spiral staircase at the end of the s.transept.

At the top, pass through a door and descend a few steps (no handrail and a 40' void to your right) onto the triforium.

Proceed along triforium

Pass throuigh a door into the triforuim roof space.

Proceed through a series of dimly-lit lofts, making left turn at some piont. These lofts are used by the cathedral masons, and you risk falling over a decaying/half completed gargoyle if yu don't keep a look out

Up another staircase (passing the organ blower apparatus).

Emerge below 16' pipes, just to the side of the Positif case, with a low rickety wooden barier to your left.

Slide onto console, draw deeply upon steroid inhaler.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Have any other contributors been unnerved by the siting of a console? I believe Chester Cathedral is similar in this respect.

 

Chester's a doddle. Lichfield I find a little unnerving if the curtains are open, but it is in a fantastic position for accompany in the choir stalls.

 

I played once at a church in Staffordshire - can't even remember where - where the organ console was on a stone/concrete shelf somewhere above the choir stalls, with your back facing into the church. All that was behind you was a about 8" of stone, then a low chain. I was petrified.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, this is the case. It is still the means of access for tuning and maintenance.

 

Please spare a thought for the tuner. You might feel the console is up high enough - the tuner keeps on going. The scariest one I ever knew was the old New College, Oxford organ in the days of H K Andrews. Mind you he could be scary enough.

 

FF

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It was some 20 years ago, but I seem to recall the ascent to the Choir console in Liverpool Cathedral is via a set of wide stone steps, passing en-route some huge pedal pipes.

 

At Bristol you enter via a back door in the north aisle and up a wooden staircase inside the instrument to the console. Not much room, if memory serves.

 

St Albans and Westminster Abbey organ lofts are both positively palatial, with room for an orchestra or choir.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please spare a thought for the tuner. You might feel the console is up high enough - the tuner keeps on going. The scariest one I ever knew was the old New College, Oxford organ in the days of H K Andrews. Mind you he could be scary enough.

 

FF

 

 

The Bath Tuba was pretty scary. It's un-nerving standing on a passage board being able to look down the 32' and being closer to the fan-vaulting than the floor - I only went up there once!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
Please spare a thought for the tuner. You might feel the console is up high enough - the tuner keeps on going. The scariest one I ever knew was the old New College, Oxford organ in the days of H K Andrews. Mind you he could be scary enough.

 

FF

 

 

Talking of tight staircases and H.K.Andrews as we were, most serendipitously, I feel this is the obvious moment to let loose to a new generation of organ-addicts a fairly gory story. Those of a sensitive disposition, please scroll speedily past!

Thanks.............................*

 

 

Now: At the Inauguration and Dedication Service of the new H&H organ (which H.K.Andrews designed) at Trinity College, Oxford he died at the keys. Most unfortunately, the loft staircase was so tight and awkward they couldn't get his mortal remains down afterwards. In the end, they had to lift him up and drop him over the side into a blanket. Sorry, I couldn't resist adding this true story to your discussions. I hereby apologise to any of H.K.Andrews' heirs and successors for my tactlessness in bringing this up after such a while. Mind you, best way for an organist to go would be at a grand old age and at the keys, surely?!

 

If we're nominating tight corners, I agree that Lichfield could well be the tightest. It must have been worse at one stage, because after the HN&B rebuild in the 70s the booklet made mention how the console had been moved a little further in!

 

More spacious but less sensible is the Hereford Cathedral loft, which is more an upstairs broom cupboard than anything else. In fact, to turn the pages, your minder has to lower a hatch in the floor or fall 9' back down. Not as if the console was placed in this loft so that the organist could see out to the stalls, because you can't. In the days before CCTV, it must have been, at best, a good-sized-mirror-job.

 

This isn't the most scary one. My wife has turned pages in some dodgy places; she has always maintained that by far the worst is the organ loft at Shrewsbury School (HMC establishment which had/has a 3-manual Roughwork and Creeper). The loft is about 18' up and the downstairs floor is marble. The console is sited at an angle in the gallery and goes very close to the edge - no real danger to the player - but all there is to stop a page-turner going down to more-or-less certain death is a parapet which can't be more than 2' tall - if that!

 

 

 

*Oh, you're still here....ah well.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It was some 20 years ago, but I seem to recall the ascent to the Choir console in Liverpool Cathedral is via a set of wide stone steps, passing en-route some huge pedal pipes.

 

At Bristol you enter via a back door in the north aisle and up a wooden staircase inside the instrument to the console. Not much room, if memory serves.

 

St Albans and Westminster Abbey organ lofts are both positively palatial, with room for an orchestra or choir.

Having played Bristol at half-term, the loft and stairs are palatial in comparison with Lichfield - the only annoying thing about Bristol seems that once in the loft you must have the door closed otherwise all you can hear is a pedal bourdon coming through the dooorway.

There seems to be a few interesting things going on with the action there...has anyone else encountered anything - we had an interesting end to the Sunday Eucharist - the final hymn was Harewood (Christ is our corner stone) but on the last line with the final three chord progressions mid G stuck on the great... :o:o but came off with the final chord....something to do with the pneumatics? It didn't happen anywhere else over the weekend, and no matter how I tried the progression...it still did it.

 

Lichfield I found incredibly tight, and at 6' 7" in height it wasn't a problem once sat at the console.

St Augustine's Edgebaston in Birmingham has a tiny staircase to climb.

St Mary's in Shrewsbury (closed but with a 4 man Binns) has a very dodgy metal spiral staircase which feels like its suspended in the middle of the transept!

There is also a village in Herts - between Luton and Harpenden where the stairs to the loft are outside...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
St Mary's in Shrewsbury (closed but with a 4 man Binns) has a very dodgy metal spiral staircase which feels like its suspended in the middle of the transept!

 

 

 

It is. Not a lot of headroom on that spiral stair either....I caught myself several times on the skull scurrying back up in order to get on with our anthem after taking communion!

 

You think that's scary, you should try climbing onto the nearest passage board (the Tuba) from the St.Mary's organ loft. You go over/past some seriously fresh air and a 30' drop! I wouldn't do it today, but I used to shin over that at least once a month in my attempts to 'keep the show on the road' when I ran a recital series there 1981-84.

Today's Health and Safety inspectors would have a purple fit if they saw the casual attitude towards tuner safety that this layout presented. This goes for quite a few organ-tuning positions, actually.

 

Shouldn't moan.... it's a sport after all.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is.  Not a lot of headroom on that spiral stair either....I caught myself several times on the skull scurrying back up in order to get on with our anthem after taking communion!

 

You think that's scary, you should try climbing onto the nearest passage board (the Tuba) from the St.Mary's organ loft. You go over/past some seriously fresh air and a 30' drop!  I wouldn't do it today, but I used to shin over that at least once a month in my attempts to 'keep the show on the road' when I ran a recital series there 1981-84.

Today's Health and Safety inspectors would have a purple fit if they saw the casual attitude towards tuner safety that this layout presented. This goes for quite a few organ-tuning positions, actually.

 

Shouldn't moan.... it's a sport after all.

 

 

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

 

 

I could never quite believe the "fresh air" nature of the tuning at Blackburn Cathedral prior to the re-build.

 

They have improved things now, and even installed a fall-restraint system.

 

Still, the things we did as youngsters only seem to raise hair when we considered the risks as mature adults.

 

I recall cleaning the top of the case at Huddersfield Town Hall at the age of 15; just sort of hanging out from the framework and happily wiping and dusting away for about 6 hours, and for a while almost upside down, hanging from my feet, cleaning the wheel of trumpets!

 

That would have been at least a 45ft drop onto a stage, and then a tumble down the choir tiers. It doesn't bear thinking about!

 

Fortunately, I was into climbing and pot-holing at the time, and I had not the slightest doubts about my athletic abilities. After all, "safety" was all about "technique" in those days, and climbing-safety was merely restricted to having three points of bodily contact with something stable at any one time; the rest entirely due to physical strength and endurance.

 

Even the high-wire acts often appeared without a safety-net in those days.

 

Compare that to the safety precations taken during the restoration of St.Lauren's, Alkmaar, a couple of year back, when there was a whole wooden-floor installed at roof height, with proper lighting and a wide, hand-railed metal/wooden staircase leading upwards from the floor of the church, and very firmly attached to the masonry. All materials went in a properly caged elevator!

 

Of course, some of the more "extreme" sportsmen do far more dangerous things, like the freestyle climber I once met, who went "cave climbing," where he climbed up on side, then traversed across the top of a cave, hanging by just his fingertips!

 

Still, there were/are some very brave people in organ-building, and didn't one organ-builder die at Westminster Cathedral, following an accident inside the organ?

 

:o

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Blimey, Vierne, H.K Andrews, who else?

 

 

At the other end of the scale I recall reading a memorial attached to the small organ at Hinton Martell parish church in Dorset in memory of the lady organist of many years who had reached her final cadance at the console during Sunday worship.

 

Sadder still was the organist of St. Mary's R.C. Canton in Cardiff who passed away during a wedding a few years ago.

 

I can also think of at least two theatre organists who never got to press the 'down' button....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

At the other end of the scale I recall reading a memorial attached to the small organ at Hinton Martell parish church in Dorset in memory of the lady organist of many years who had reached her final cadance at the console during Sunday worship.

 

Sadder still was the organist of St. Mary's R.C. Canton in Cardiff who passed away during a wedding a few years ago.

 

I can also think of at least two theatre organists who never got to press the 'down' button....

 

A close friend of mine's son was born while he was at the console, in the same room, playing Thaxted. Does that count?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...