History of the Organ at St. John's New Alresford

A Brief History of the Organ

St. John the Baptist, New Alresford, Hampshire

The earliest known records of the organ indicate that there was an organ placed in the church in 1836. This organ, donated by the parish bailiff at a cost of around £150 is believed to have been built by Fosters. Placed at the east end of the south aisle, approximately opposite the current console position, it consisted of a single manual. Stop configurations are not known. No further work was done to this organ until 1880 when a pedalboard, the corresponding 16ft Bourdon pedal stop (and presumably a coupler) were added to the organ.

Around 1895 to 1897 the church was demolished and, apart from the tower, totally rebuilt. Very old photographs of the former church can be seen among displays at the back of the church. A newspaper article, a copy of which now hangs in the ringing chamber of the tower, talks of a visiting band of ringers coming to ring the first peal on the new bells in 1897. Upon arrival they were surprised to see that the tower was standing complete, but the walls of the church were no more than four to six feet high throughout the rest of the church.

Building work must have continued apace, for the next record we have of the organ being rebuilt is from 1898. This organ, though employing the sound-chest and some of the pipework from the earlier one manual organ, was built as a larger two manual plus pedal organ in the current position in the south chancel. The organ was built by George Conduitt of Alton. No records survive of the layout of this organ, except that the organ was extended downwards in the bass from G below tenor C to CC.

In 1926, a very well known local organ builder, James Ivemey of Southampton, was responsible for a major overhaul of the organ. His firm also added stops to the organ at that time, at a total cost of £800, and it is this organ for which we have the earliest complete record, shown below.

Great Organ   Swell Organ  
Open Diapason 8’ Open Diapason 8’
Claribel 8’ Leiblich Gedact 8’
Dulciana 8’ Gamba 8’
Principal 4’ Celeste 8’
Wald Flute 4’ Gemshorn 4’
Fifteenth 2’ Harmonic Piccolo 2’
    Cornopean 8’
    Contra Oboe 16’
Pedal Organ      
Open Diapason(Wood) 16’ Mechanical stop action  
Bourdon 16’ Pneumatic key action  

 

Electric blowing was added to the organ in 1935 by Ivemey, along with other routince cleaning and maintenance.

In 1979, the organ was becoming somewhat unreliable. In particular the swell action was leaking wind due to running on the soundchest, and suffered ciphers or missing notes due to leaky pneumatic action. A scheme was undertaken to have the organ overhauled by Richard Boston of Owslebury.

Unfortunately most of the investment in this work went to extending the organ with new stops on additional electric soundchests, and to altering the specification of the organ itself. A number of the original stops on the organ were replaced or moved. For example, the Claribel on the Great organ was replaced with an 8’ Wald Flute similar to the 4’ flute, but named a Stopped Diapason. The 2’ Fifteenth on the Great was replaced with a Recorder, and the Dulciana was extended to provide 4’, 1 1/3’ and 1’ stops. A clamp was added to the Great soundchest to allow a 3 rank mixture to be added, and an 8’ Posaune was placed on a separate soundchest outside the arch that leads under the organ. Not being a display case pipe in any sense of the word, this strange array of tubing was to remain visible and prominently audible until the 2001 rebuild.

The rebuilt post-2000 organ

It still being a relatively short period of time since the 1979 work, there was a primary wish to put the mechanics of the existing organ back into good working order, rather than to enlarge the organ further. Indeed, some of the pipework was removed as part of the new rebuild. A period of some seven years saw several invitations for proposals, with visits from builders, organists, and diocesan advisors. With a budget of £75,000 it was decided to focus the rebuild not on extending the organ, but on replacing or at least completely overhauling the action. The work was coupled to the church’s centenary appeal, which at the time of writing in 2000 is still under way. The contract for the work was given to F H Browne’s Organ Builders who are now based at Ash in East Kent, but who have a number of organs for which they are responsible in this locality. Perhaps the largest organ in their care nearby is in Godalming parish church, whose organ they rebuilt in 1998/9.

The original 1836 sound-chest, much extended and altered, which had been used as the Great organ sound-chest in the two manual organ, was finally discarded, and replaced by a new electro-pneumatic chest. The Swell chest was disassembled, glue flooded, and had mostly a new top half with plastic sliders for the stop action. Each of the pedal chests was overhauled with new electric action where necessary.

All stop actions were converted to use electronically driven solenoids. The Dulciana extensions were removed. The only concessions to new pipework were to replace existing stops with alternatives that better blended with the ensemble: A 2 2/3’ Twelfth replaced the high Dulciana mutation; a true open metal 16’ Diapason replaced the Open Wood that previously was labelled as a Diapason; the Great Mixture was redesigned to remove the break-backs in the middle of the range; the Posaune was extended down to 16’ and repositioned so that it is no longer visible outside the case, and now provides a more mellow sound.

In keeping with the reordering of the church, the inclusion of a Nave altar and other ongoing alterations to church layout, the detached console provided the most sensible way to decouple the organ and choir positioning from the as yet unfinalised layout of the church. Its present position at the east end of the north aisle is a compromise. While too far from the organ itself for fast fingerwork because of the acoustic delay, it does provide collocation with the choir, which has spent most of the years since 2001 alongside the console in the north aisle.

Specification

Pedal CC – F, Electric stop and key actions

Great CC- A, Electro-pneumatic key, and electric stop actions

Swell CC-A, Electro-pneumatic key, and electric stop actions

Detached mobile drawstop console using electronic multiplexed transmission

Balanced Swell pedal, with radiating concave pedal board

Six plus three general pistons on each of Great and Swell, six plus six general toe pistons (every piston can be programmed to adjust any subset of stops on the organ).

Reversible thumb and toe pistons for Sw-Gt and Gt-Pd, plus general cancel.

Electronic piston setter system, with 30 separate programmable channels.

Great Organ   Swell Organ  
Open Diapason 8’ Principal 8’
Stopped Diapason 8’ Leiblich Gedact (metal) 8’
Dulciana 8’ Gamba 8’
Principal 4’ Voix Celeste 8’
Wald Flute 4’ Gemshorn 4’
Twelfth (was former Recorder 2’) 22/3 Fifteenth 2’
Fifteenth (New) 2’ Mixture III
Mixture III Contra Oboe 16’
Posaune 8’ Cornopean 8’
    Posaune (Gt) 8’
Pedal Organ   Tremulant  
Open Diapason 16’    
Bourdon 16’    
Principal (extn) 8’    
Flute (extn) 8’    
Octave Flute 4’    
Contra Posaune (Gt) 16’    
Posaune (Gt) 8’    

                      

Acknowledgements are made to the British Institute of Organ Studies and the National Pipe Organ Register at the University of Cambridge for providing much of the background material for this article.

SD Smith 25/11/2000, converted to HTML 18/12/2009

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