If you’ve visited St James in recent months you are sure to have either spotted the Organ Pipe in the porch, or had a brochure shoved into your hand, all related to our appeal to have our organ restored. Well, as of yesterday, the workmen finally arrived to start the job, by taking the whole thing to bits, and moving it to a workshop in Kent, where it will all be rebuilt, repaired and in certain areas modernised. Of course then they’ll take it all to bits again, and put it back in St James, hopefully just in time for Easter!
There wasn’t much to see at the pipe end of things, but when I stopped by the Church for a look, work was beginning on taking the console apart. Now it has to be said that various organists have said various things about this console at times – some suggesting either a bonfire, or use of an axe, but apparently the console is going to be restored too! However the key difference will be in what is going to be modernised, the electrics.
The organ was put into the Church in 1936 (in fact the last person who referred to it as the ‘New Organ’ has only died within the past couple of years) to replace a small chamber organ in the north aisle, and was built by the Compton Organ Company – better known for their cinema organs, including the organ at the Odeon Leicester Square. You can read a history of the company here. As with the cinema organs, our Compton is what is termed an Extension Organ, where maximum use is made of the minimum number of pipes by reusing the same pipes for different stops on the organ console. This meant that St James could fit a reasonably versatile instrument into a pretty small church, and to be frank it is the only option for a real pipe organ in the building. In order to get all this pipe reuse working, the only option was electric action, so the bit that is getting modernised is the bit that has been causing the problems, the 1930’s original switches, circuits and wires. These are in such a state that when the initial survey of the organ was carried out prior to this work there was concern about moving the wires in case some of them broke. Looking into the back of the console as it was dismantled there is a warning in red pen written on a label inside, fairly obviously from later than the 1930’s warning of the danger of electric shocks from the wires in the back – something like this would never get past health and safety today!
What we’re looking forward to later in the year is that with the modern electronics, we’ll actually be able to get a mobile(ish) organ console. Whilst currently we were afraid to move anything, the new wiring will have two different points where we can plug the console into the organ, allowing the organist to be better located whether the choir is singing from the front for Matins, Evensong and the like, or the north aisle for services that need the altar rail.
Anyway, I’ll be sure to take another picture of the finished article in a few months time.