Information in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, includes the first known record of organs in the church, when in 1530, “the three wardens bought a pair of new organs, which cost £18 in addition to the old instrument”. No information on the old organ survives, and the new organ was seemingly sold in 1583. In 1633 Godfrey Goodman, Bishop of Gloucester and a canon of St George’s, Windsor Castle gave the church a new organ, but this was destroyed by Puritan soldiers in 1650. In 1789 King George III presented the church with a 3-manual, 17-stop organ from St George’s Chapel, thought to have been by Snetzler. When the old church was demolished in 1820, this organ was transferred to the west gallery of the new building; in 1845 it was transferred to St Mary’s, Haggerston, but was eventually destroyed in a 2nd world war air raid. In 1844, Dr (later Sir) George Elvey, Organist of St George’s Chapel (and who was additionally appointed to the Parish Church in 1849), loaned the church a chamber organ, now in the church of St Peter & St Paul, Little (Bardfield) Sailing, Essex. In 1845, Gray & Davison provided a 2-manual, 18-stop organ. At a meeting in the Guildhall in 1905, the need for a new organ was outlined by the vicar, the Rev’d John Ellison, supported by a letter and report by Sir Walter Parratt, Organist of St George’s Chapel. On installation of the current organ, the Gray & Davison instrument was moved to Langford Methodist Church, Biggleswade.
The Hunter Organ
Following a tendering process, the contract for the new organ was awarded in 1905 to A Hunter & Son. The estimated cost of this project was £1,455, of which 50% was funded by Mr A Carnegie. The contract, signed on 28 April 1905, provided for 12 of the stops to be installed later, when funds permitted. The full specification consisted of 3 manuals and pedals; Great 13 stops, Swell 16 stops (1 of which never completed), Choir 11 stops and Pedal 9 stops on a concave but not radiating pedal board. The action was tubular pneumatic. Voicing was “to secure power and balance of tone combined with purity and delicacy in the soft and solo registers”. Keys were of “finest ivory and ebony” and stop knobs of “solid ivory engraved in English block letters”. Specifications for all materials were of the highest quality, including the case in Austrian oak to match the chancel screen by Sir Arthur Blomfield (1898) which had been made to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. To house the organ, part of the north gallery was removed.
Opening of the Organ
The organ was dedicated at Matins on Easter Day, 15 April, 1906. Later in the day, Dr CH Lloyd, Precentor of Eton College, gave the opening recital. There followed an article in The Times, “Ecclesiastical Intelligence” that praised the vicar, wardens and all for their foresight and efforts.
Completion of the Organ
Between the arrival of Geoffrey Leeds as Organist in 1921, and 1926, the prepared-for stops were added in stages. According to 1926 paperwork, the balance of the contract price was paid and all 12 stops, including the Vox Humana, were installed. However, this stop remains something of a mystery. There is a space in the soundboard for it, but the rack boards are not cut out for the pipes.
Influence of the Organ
The reputation of this Hunter organ was considerable. Sir Sydney Nicholson (amongst other distinctions, Organist of Lower Chapel, Eton College, 1904-08) declared it “the ideal parish church organ”. The firm was subsequently engaged to rebuild the 1891 Lewis instrument at Lower Chapel, Eton College in 1927,and to build the organ at All Saints’ Church, Frances Road, Windsor in 1931.
Following a 1934 report from Hunter’s noting a need for cleaning, and for attention to the stop action, pedals, swell and pistons, quotes were received from Hunter, Hill and Rushworth & Dreaper. A recommendation from the Parochial Church Council to accept Rushworth’s quote was accepted by the 1936 Annual Parochial Church Meeting. These works are marked by a plaque on the left stop jamb, “Renovated & Revoiced by Rushworth & Dreaper, 1936”. Changes made in 1936 included enclosing the Choir, new pedal board, new organ blower, replacing the original Great Open Diapason 1 by a more powerful stop, addition of Dulciana 8ft to the Choir, revoicing and several other adjustments shown on the specification.
Since 1979, Bishop & Son under the direction of Maurice Merrill have cared for the organ with sensitivity and expertise. The organ blower was fully overhauled in 2009. Partial repairs have been carried out, but a full restoration is now required. In 2012, the British Institute of Organ Studies (BIOS) awarded a Certificate of Recognition to the Parish, noting the archaeological worth of the pipework and case by Alfred Hunter, and specifying that these should be conserved in any future work on the organ.
There is more information in our leaflet about the organ.