Even though currently silent as restoration progresses, the focus of our Heritage Open day in St Mary & St Giles church was the Willis pipe organ. The double attraction of seeing inside the organ and talking to the organ builders proved a wonderful winning combination for many people who arrived at St Mary & St Giles Church on Saturday 13 September between 10am and 3:30 pm. Some had seen the Heritage Open Day bunting and our cake signs outside the church then discovered more when they came inside, others had heard about the day and made a special journey. Several people rode their bicycles and came in to sign the register for Ride & Stride then stayed a short while to see the exhibition, explore the church or eat cake before cycling to the next church on their list.
The exhibition, which was placed along the central aisle of the nave, absorbed many as they read about the fire that destroyed the previous organ which provided music for worship in St Giles until 1964, discovered more of the Edinburgh history of the Willis before it arrived in Stony Stratford or studied the photos of the restoration in progress and admired the new casework diagram. The interactive timeline, which compared happenings during the past 200 years with the history of the Willis organ, proved very popular with children and adults alike, as they added dated fact cards to the different sections of the timeline. Some people attempted the quiz (which was a little too hard) and a few children took the colouring sheets away with them. The short ‘Dan the Magic Musician’ video, which was being played occasionally in the Parish Hall, was the least popular activity of the day as people had the real Willis to examine – it and the organ builders Steve and Sam were definitely the stars of the day. In fact, many people who had previously sponsored pipes were able to use the pipe sponsorship book to identify pipes they had sponsored, photograph them (and in some cases even hear them) when Steve or Sam located them amongst the neatly arranged ranks.
The organ fund team had some wonderful conversations with visitors throughout the day who eagerly asked questions, offered ideas for future concerts with the organ when it can play at concert pitch and requested restoration progress updates. Several people asked us to repeat the open day when the restoration nears completion in a few months time and this is now something we’ve added to our events planning. In addition, a couple of generous pipe sponsorships were made during the day. This meant that the open day focusing on outreach and education (for the Heritage Lottery project) also became a very satisfactory fundraiser towards the missing pipes fund as refreshments, donations and pipe sponsorships raised £846.33.
I would like to thank the wonderful group of volunteers who looked after refreshments (cake, tea, coffee, soup & rolls and sausage rolls) all day, the organ fund team for all their front of house help in making the event run smoothly and Eleanor for taking photos and helping set up the exhibition. Most of all we would all like to thank Steve and Sam of F.H. Browne & Sons for coming from Kent for this event, it gave over 200 people a new insight and appreciation for the art of organ building and restoring.
More photos of the Pipe Organ Heritage Open Day can be viewed at https://www.flickr.com/photos/78058413@N06/sets/72157647198888800/