Introduction Progress Sponsor a Pipe List of Sponsors

Project Progress

Some pictures of the work taking place during August, September and October.

Quick Links:

September Update October Update November Update

The old organ prior to removal.

Dismantling begins.

The organ's innards exposed. Much of the pipework - in a lead/tin alloy - is musically valuable and will be taken away by the builder for reuse in other restorations.

Woodworm in the frame.

As the swell-box is taken apart, a large sheet of asbestos is discovered at the back - the white panel visible behind the pipes. This is highly unusual; asbestos was occasionally used as sound insulation in organ blowers - finding in it the swell box is unexpected. A specialist firm is called in to dispose of it.

The organ in bits on the floor of the church.

The large wooden pedal pipes, almost 200 years old, which again will be recycled. These pipes are of an unusually wide scale, and it's quite possible that they have been sawn down from the even larger pipes of a GGG compass pedalboard - in its original early-19th century incarnation, the organ had an archaic GG compass, and GGG pedalboards exist in a number of instruments of this period. A notable survivor of this type is the magnificent 1829 organ in St James', Bermondsey, built by James Bishop who was in all probability the builder of the St Mary's instrument.

One of the organ's two soundboards, stood on its end. The soundboard controls the admission or air to the pipes, which are arranged in rows above it. Problems with this particular soundboard, and the eye-watering expense involved in fixing or replacing, signalled the death-knell of the organ...

A close-up of one of the splits running through the soundboard, caused by environmental and heating damage. The circular holes are channels for wind to individual pipes - it should be apparent how the splits would allow wind into the wrong pipes. All those bum notes weren't the organists' fault! (well, not always).

A sad end.

It's gone (except, temporarily, for the asbestos).

Work in progress to strengthen the gallery floor structure. Even a small parish church organ is heavy - typically 3-4 tonnes or so - and while the new organ isn't necessarily much heavier than the old one, the weight bears on the floor in different places so reinforcement is necessary. Some of the existing structural timbers show evidence of having been salvaged from elsewhere - it's possible that these cam from the old 18th-century church which was demolished when St Mary's was built.

New electrical supplies in place for the blower, the organ's internal electrical system, and the console lights. The decoration has been made good, as the new organ will be about two feet away from the side wall to allow maintenance access.

All's now ready for the new organ, which arrives on Sept 17th. Assembly takes about a fortnight, and then, from the start of October, there's a period of voicing the instrument to suite the church's acoustic - there are over 1000 pipes, all of which need tuning and adjusting, so this exercise could take a while!

The organ arrives on the morning of Sept 16th. It takes quite a big wagon to deliver it....

Construction starts with the organ's internal frame, rather nicely made in Brazilian mahogany. This supports the weight of the soundboards, on which most of the pipes are mounted. The swell soundboard is already in place.

The swellbox in place - this box encloses all the pipes of the upper (swell) division, and will be fitted with heavy wooden moveable shutters which act as a sort of volume control.

Part of the organ's "action", the mechanism which links the keys to the pipes. These linkages are entirely mechanical; electrical or pneumatic linkages were commonplace during much of the 20th century, but this centuries-old technology has shown its superiority and made a comeback - mechanical actions are simpler, more reliable and long-lived, and much nicer to play on. This particular piece of the action is a rollerboard - a vital piece of kit that transmits the movement from the keys horizontally so that the pipes can be placed independently of the keys. Amazingly, the rollerboard was invented in the mid-1400s, and is still at the heart of instruments built in the 21st century.

Another part of the action - the trackers - thin strips of lightweight wood that pull down the pallets (valves) that allow air into the pipes. An organ with mechanical action is commonly known as a "tracker organ".

The console, with two keyboards ("manuals" - the third keyboard, not seen here, is played with the feet)

The organ's casework, made of solid oak and oak panelling, starts to take shape.

New deoration has been applied to the pipeshades at the top of the case to match the church's historic colour scheme.

The blower, basically a big electrically-driven fan in a soundproofed box.

The two resevoirs for the wind - these incorporate sheepskin bellows which rise when the blower fills them with air; heavy iron weights on the top (not yet fitted) keep the air supply at a constant pressure - otherwise the pipes would sound like children playing recorders badly.

The organ's brain, installed below the swell box. Although the key actions are mechanical, the stop action, pistons (which operate combinations of stops) and pedal action are electric. The 1980s-vintage switches and relays have been replaced with a custom-built solid state system, smaller and neater with no contacts or moving parts to wear out!

November Update

Progress over the past few weeks has unfortunately been slow. The new pistons (the little buttons that sit under the keyboards) aren't the most important part in the organ, but they needed to be fitted before the keyboards could be connected - and they spent twelve days lost in the couriers' system, shuttling back and forth across the country or sitting in depots. And this had a knock-on effect with the work schedule, as the builders have to juggle work on site against work in their workshop and commitments to other customers.

Nevertheless this hasn't necessarily delayed the end date, just used up the contingency built into the plan. We are still expecting the organ to be finished and signed off at the end of November, and used on Advent Sunday.

The organ is now partially working, and making organ-like sounds, albeit with a limited amount of pipework in place. The remaining work includes making the final electrical connections, refitting the rest of the pipework, finishing off the side case, and voicing and tuning.

The first pipework in place - the Open Diapason (metal) and Claribel Flute (wood). The strange-looking mtetal objects at the right hold the vibrating brass reeds of the 16' Contra Fagotto stop on the pedal; long trumpet-like resonators will eventually be fitted into the top of these.

The gold-painted display pipes are the lowest notes of the Open Diapason.

The pistons, the innocuous-looking buttons under the keyboards, which caused no end of trouble. The pistons allow combinations of stops to be changed on the go without the hands having to leave the keyboards. On the old organ, this was effected by means of brass levers operated by the feet - there were only four of these and they made a dreadful racket.

A complete new set of stop-knobs in turned rosewood and synthetic ivory, custom-made by the Devon firm of Renatus.

The project consultant, Paul Hale, checking over the first sounds made by the organ

Assessing the sound level in the church - this is a single stop, the 8' Open Diapason, against which the rest of the organ will be balanced.