St. Mary’s Organ

The Organ

The organ is on the right of the Sanctuary, behind the side chapel. Our late organist, Donald MacLeod, kindly prepared the following notes.

The Organ: Brindley and Foster, restored by Bishop and Sons in 1973.

Great: Open Diapason 8 Swell: (enclosed) Pedal: Bourdon 16

Stopped Diapason 8 Gedacht 8 Bass Flute 8

Dulciana 8 Violin Diapason 8 Principal 8

Principal 4 Voix Celeste 8 Fifteenth 4

Flute 4 Vox Angelica 8

Fifteenth 2 Principal 4 Couplers: Sw to Gt

Mixture 3 ranks Mixture 2 ranks Sw to Ped

Oboe 8 Gt to Ped

Trumpet 8 Tremulant

Combination pedals: 3 on Gt

2 on Sw Action: manuals ‑ mechanical

(“tracker”) pedals ‑electro‑magnetic

An account in an old Church Magazine seems to indicate that the organ is about 125 years old ‑ it tells of its installation in the church in the early 1870s. Our organ‑builders think otherwise, though. They feel that the main part, the basic instrument to which modifications and additions have been made down the years, must date from about 1830. Their original judgement was based on the sort of sound it makes. Dismantling it for the restoration work in 1973 and examining the mechanical action served to confirm them in their view.

Soundboards and couplers provided the most persuasive evidence. The soundboards have leather tables, which they would not have expected to come across in anything built after 1860. The couplers are of a backfall‑and‑tumbler type, which they had never seen in any instrument built after about 1830. The Principal 4 on the Swell also appears to date from about that time. Brindley, who was still making organs up to the time of the First World War, is unlikely ever to have made an organ with leather tables, so it seems probable that Brindley and Foster took the instrument over from its original builder, enlarged and renovated it, and installed it in St Mary’s in 1871.

What we have, therefore, is an organ that is well over 150 years old, to which quite a lot of alterations and additions have been made in the course of its life. So much so, that part of the 1973 restoration consisted of removing some of the less pleasing additions made by earlier generations – a pneumatic-action Large Open Diapason from the Great, for example, whose pipes now make up the Pedal Principal and Fifteenth. A Lieblich Bourdon 16 on the Swell was replaced by the Voix Celeste. A Great Clarinet, which was not in fact all that unpleasant, nevertheless made way for the Fifteenth 2, resulting in a very much brighter tone to the Great Choruses.

The most dramatic alteration made by anybody, though, was the removal of the whole instrument from its rightful, original place up in the gallery at the back of the nave, and its re‑installation down on the ground behind the choir‑stalls. The story goes that Queen Victoria once said that she didn’t much like organs up in galleries and that churches rushed to pull their instruments down and fix them safely to the floor so as not to displease Her Majesty should she chance their way. An odd and rather sad story if true. But the real reason is probably more prosaic. It seems more likely that the original gallery had not been built to take an organ and that the strains on it started to prove too much. And down on the ground it will have to stay.