In January and February the organ chambers were painted while they were devoid of most of the organ actions and pipes and while the organ builders were restoring the Willis in their workshop.
In the middle of March 2015 FH Browne & Sons started to bring the large parts of the Willis organ which had been restored in their workshop back to the church. They had to make some changes to the building frame on which the soundboards are mounted as the organ will be accommodating four new ranks of pipes. This also meant that the Swell box (in the south chamber) had to be enlarged for the 16ft Waldhorn and the Choir swell box (in the north chamber) had to be moved back 7 inches closer to the back wall (and the Violone pipes) and enlarged to include the Piccolo, Tierce and Nazard pipes which were prepared for in 1932 (when the organ was in Edinburgh) but not installed. The Great has also been moved forward to make more space for a wider passage board between the Choir and Great as the previous space between the two was very narrow and the trumpet pipes were in danger of damage during tuning visits.
The organ builders have made great progress in the past 3 weeks. The Swell box is now in place, re-painted (and looking very smart), the lower arch in the wall has been shaped alongside it to make a wider space to get to the pedal pipes beside and behind the Swell box (it was always a tight squeeze and bringing the Swell box forward and enlarging the back meant that the gap was even tighter, hence the wall adjustment – fortunately plasterboard not stone).
All the large re-leathered bellows (reservoirs) are now back in place too underneath the soundboards, only one small one still needs to be fixed in place. It will be a few weeks before the pipes go in as trunking from bellows to soundboards need to be refitted and the structural parts of the casework assembled as well as all the wiring reconnected from the console to the soundboards and stop action (which operates the individual ranks of pipes). The soundboards are the large chests containing the action which relays the wind to the correct pipes when keys are pressed on the console.
This morning I took some photos of the work in progress. The two organ builders present were a little camera shy so I photographed the organ only rather than the organ builders hard at work.
It is wonderful seeing the organ restoration part of the 3 year Heritage Lottery funded project come to fruition as the reassembly work progresses. In the months since July 2014 there has been no musical sound from the Willis (the borrowed electronic organ is no match for the real sound of pipes) and we are looking forward to hearing it in play again.
As the research part of the project has revealed, dedicated fundraising to maintain the organ has happened in the past (notably in the 1980s when the console was moved by Henry Willis IV from the North gallery to the ‘Choir’ gallery between the two organ chambers). Our recent fundraising efforts to restore the organ entirely started in 2006, with the Heritage Lottery project of restoration, research, education and music programme starting in 2014.
Photos and report by Anna Page