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The picture below right is a view of the "New Organ" in 1962, photographer unknown, but probably taken as a publicity photograph by the John Compton Organ Company.
A report on the consecration service of St. Mary’s Church, Spring Grove, in December 1856 includes the following: "A fine organ is being constructed by Messrs. Gray and Davidson [sic.] which is to be in its place early in the Spring [of 1857]. In the meanwhile, a smaller instrument ... is in use."1 The organ that was being built was a two-manual instrument2 but we know nothing more of its specification or size. The first details we have are from 18953, but this is after two moves and one enlargement of the instrument.
Gray & Davison (not Davidson as in the report quoted above) was a prolific organ building company of the time. There are records of work by the firm on more than 200 organs in the London area, from the 1830s until the 1960s4. Other instruments built or refurbished by the company around the same time include All Hallow’s, Twickenham (1866), St. Anne’s, Kew (1883), Crystal Palace (1857) and the organ in the chapel at Buckingham Palace (1841).4 The company had been formed in 1838 when John Gray joined in partnership with Frederick Davison; Davison had been partner of one of the founding-fathers of "modern" British organ building, William Hill (1789-1870).
The organ was originally built in the West Gallery6, which was the norm from the Reformation until around this time7. The choir would also have been in the gallery, a tradition still followed in some churches, including St. Francis’ on the Great West Road. The reason is that in those days the choir was far less involved in the leading of worship (except in cathedrals). The reason is that in those days the choir was far less involved in the leading of worship (except in cathedrals); it certainly had a role in leading the singing, but that was all. The organ in that position would have sounded well throughout the church, being much less constricted than it is now.
The next recorded mention of the organ is in the Middlesex Chronicle which reports that "on Sunday 3rd November 1867, the congregation had assembled and the organ had been played over once or twice, when it was discovered that there was no minister, he having been prevented from attending by some unexpected cause; so there was no help for it but to go home again, which the assembly, after looking at each other for some time, eventually did".6
In 1870, it was decided that the organ should be moved into the north transept,6 where the vestry for the choir men, servers and assistants is now. This was then known as the north porch, because there is a door (which is now only visible from the outside). When the organ was moved, it was apparently also enlarged, financed by the original church patron, Henry Davies,6 although we have no details of what was done or who carried out the work. This change was a very common one of the time - organs were being moved from West galleries in churches up and down the land.7 This was mainly driven by the "Tractarian" movement and Dr John Jebb who were advocating a return to the cathedral (and pre-Reformation) traditions of a surpliced choir which led the service from between the altar and the people. The organ could not then stay at the back of the church, but the problem always was where else to put it. The north porch in St. Mary’s cannot have been a very satisfactory location.
Hence, only 18 years later, on 27th September 1888, the vicar, the Rev. H. Armstrong Hall, advocated the removal of the organ to the western bay of the north chancel aisle at the approximate cost of £60 where it remains today.6 We do not really know what this area was used for before, but there some hooks on the wall, so it may have been a vestry area. The north transept aisle became a popular place in many churches, partly because it was near the (newly relocated) choir, but also because it was away from any heat from the sun, which could upset the tuning7. The oak choir stalls (removed in August 1997, of which the fronts remain as movable units) were almost certainly installed in 19016, but the choir probably moved into the chancel with the organ in 1888.
From the outside, the organ in 1888 probably looked quite similar to the way it looks now. The Western arch (the one facing down the north aisle of the church) then contained square wooden pipes6 (from the pedal Bourdon stop) rather than the zinc ones there now (from the Great Second Diapason). The pipes in the arch facing the choir were hand-decorated ("diapered") probably in quite bright colours; the outline of the patterns can still be seen (against the light) under the more recent silver paintwork. Some screenwork on the north side of the chancel was installed in 1901 with the choir stalls, but the organ casework now seen in the chancel was not installed until 1948 as can be seen by a plaque on this case.
The playing console was at this time in the middle of the case in the chancel, sunken slightly into the floor - the position of it can still be seen as a difference in the wood. It was only polished to match when it was exposed when the choir pews were taken away in 1997.
In 1895, a proposal was put forward3 to have the organ considerably enlarged by the addition of a third manual (a Choir organ), and several other new stops on the Great organ. It is unclear who made the proposal (it seems most likely that it was the organist of the time), or whether it was put to an organ builder, but clearly the work was not carried out
The proposal is interesting because it (indirectly) gives us a good idea of the specification of the organ in 1895; it confirms that it was in the north aisle of the chancel at the time, and that wooden Bourdon pipes were in the arch facing the congregation. It also refers to an unusually-named stop called a Keraulophon. This is a quiet, reedy-toned flute stop usually with a hole near the top of the pipe, and the name was invented by John Gray in 1820, so is almost solely found on organs made by Gray & Davison.
A number of the features proposed in 1895 were finally carried out 70 years later in the early 1960s (see below).
It is believed that work was done on the organ in the 1950s, by a company called N. P. Mander5 (now an organ builder of some repute, having renovated the organ in St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1977 and built and refurbished a number of other important instruments). This work probably included converting the Swell action from tracker to pneumatic,5 but what else was done is unclear. I spoke to John Mander (the son of the founder) at the company, based in London E2, in May 1998, but he could find no record of the work done. He did confirm that Mr Tom Bishop, who Howard Stephens remembered, had tuned and maintained the organ before Rushworth & Dreaper took over (i.e. before 1962), had worked for the company, and died only in 1995. Other work done at this time may have included new wind reservoirs and an enlarged Swell box, but this is guesswork.
In 1962, the Rev. T. G. McAlister had the organ reconstruted at a cost of over £5,0006 by the John Compton Organ Company of North Acton. A new 3-manual all-electric console was installed at the east end of the south aisle. The swell box was left alone, but new Great and Choir soundboards were built using most of the old pipes8. All manual ranks were increased to 61 notes, and the whole organ was raised in pitch to 440Hz (cps, as it used to be called). A new electric blower motor was installed (27th March 1962), and all the old pneumatic and tracker action was converted to electro-pneumatic. The "new organ" was dedicated at a special service on Sunday 1st July 1962, and a recital was given by Dr. George Thalben-Ball (a well-known organist and composer) on Thursday 11th October 1962. The John Compton Organ Company went out of business soon after this work was complete2 and was acquired by Rushworth & Dreaper Ltd. of Liverpool in 1964. Rushworth & Dreaper tuned and maintained the organ until this company folded in 2002.
Other work done in 1962 included a new 16-stage electro-pneumatic swell-engine for the swell box shutters, a new slider machine for the Swell organ stops, the extension of the two existing pedal ranks to make three new stops, and the addition of a new mixture stop in the Swell box.
In early 1999, the organ was cleaned and refurbished by Rushworth & Dreaper. Two sets of mechanisms that had been troublesome for a number of years were replaced: the pneumatic stop motors on the Great and Swell soundboards were replaced by modern solenoid motors; and all the console stop solenoids were replaced. All the pipes were removed and cleaned, stop sliders were lubricated and worn felt and leather was replaced throughout the organ. The cost was over £30,000.
Since 1999, after some teething problems, the organ has been very reliable. It is tuned four times a year by a local ex-employee of Rushworth & Dreaper, and stays in tune remarkably well. Troughs of water are kept topped-up inside the organ to save the woodwork getting too dry. It is hoped that the organ will stay in good working order for many years to come.
It is very encouraging that the organ is now used for lessons by the Hounslow Borough Music Service and several people practice regularly on it.
Probable 1895 specification deduced from the 1895 proposal3
A question mark indicates that it is not clear from the proposal that the item existed.
|Great Organ - 54 notes||Swell Organ - 54 notes|
|Open Diapason||8ft||Double Stopped Diapason||16ft|
|Metal Stopped Diapason||? 8ft||Open Diapason||8ft|
|Dulciana||? 8ft||Lieblich Gedact||8ft|
|Lieblich Gedact||8ft||Vox Angelica||? 8ft|
|Harmonic Flute Tenor C||4ft||Principal||4ft|
|Harmonic Piccolo||2ft||Mixture||?? 2 ranks|
Pedal Organ - 30 notes
|Swell to Great||3 composition pedals to Great ?|
|Swell to Pedal||3 composition pedals to Swell ?|
|Great to Pedal|
1947 specification from survey5
|Great Organ - 54 notes||Swell Organ - 54 notes|
|Open Diapason||8ft||Double Diapason||16ft|
|Stopped Diapason||8ft||Lieblich Gedact||8ft|
Pedal Organ - 30 notes
|Swell to Great||3 composition pedals to Great|
|Swell to Pedal||3 composition pedals to Swell|
|Great to Pedal|
1962 specification (the same as today)
|Great Organ - 61 notes||Swell Organ - 61 notes|
|Bourdon||16ft||Gamba||8ft||New in 1962, replacing the Double Diapason8
||Open Diapason I||8ft||Open Diapason||8ft
||Open Diapason II||8ft||Voix Celeste||8ft||The old Vox Anglica re-tuned8
||Claribel||8ft||Rohrflöte||8ft||The old Lieblich Gedeckt re-named8
||Fifteenth||2ft||Contra Fagotto||16ft||The old Oboe, transposed, with new bass pipes8
||Trumpet||8ft||Mixture||III ranks (15/19/22)||New in 1962 on electric chests above treble pipes8
||Choir Organ - 61 notes||Pedal Organ - 30 notes
||Viol d’Amour||8ft||Open Diapason||16ft
||Rohr Gedeckt||8ft||Octave||8ft||Extension of Open Diapason
||Suabe Flute||4ft||Bass Flute||8ft||Extension of Bourdon
||Flautina||2ft||Flute||4ft||Extension of Bourdon
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal
Choir to Pedal
Swell suboctave to Great, Swell octave to Great,
Swell to Great, Swell to Choir,
Swell suboctave, Swell octave, Swell unison off.
Composition pistons:5 configurable, double-touch thumb-pistons under each manual,
1. Cutting hung in a frame on a pillar at the back of church, taken from "The Illustrated London News" of December 13th 1856.
2. David Wells Organ Builders of Liverpool - quotation and accompanying text of 31st July 1996.
3. Hand-written notes of a "Scheme for enlargement of the Organ at S. Mary’s Spring Grove, by the addition of a Choir Organ etc." and "Specification of Organ at S. Mary’s Spring Grove after proposed enlargement." both dated Dec. 1895, from Howard Stephens.
4. National Pipe Organ Register provided on the Internet by the British Institute of Organ Studies and details of the current organ on NPOR, including pictures.
5. Details of the St. Mary’s survey of 1947 from the National Pipe Organ Register
6. Church History booklet produced in 1981 for the 125th anniversary of the church written by Mrs Lang.
7. "The Organs of Britain" - John Norman, pub. David & Charles 1984.
8. Copy of "Order No. A.5042" from "The John Compton Organ Company Ltd." dated 18th September 1961 that I obtained from Rushworth and Dreaper records before they closed down.