St Mary the Virgin, Silchester

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Organ Refurbishment

This pipe organ is by Bates of London, and is one of the few Victorian organs of its type remaining in its original state in the Diocese. Of considerable historic interest, the organ has a tracker (mechanical) action, with sixteen speaking stops.  Wind pressure is supplied by an electrically powered blower (1950), but there is also a hand-pump for use in emergencies.  .

It is thought to date from around 1860 and it was obtained second-hand and installed here in early 1895. It was last overhauled in 1982 but there is a distinct possibility that the organ was only cleaned out. This makes 1964 the last thorough overhaul.  Although tuning and maintenance has been undertaken regularly and such (minor) problems as have occurred being, for the most part, dealt with in situ, there are inevitable signs of wear and tear.

In 2012, it was decided to obtain an independent assessment of the condition of the organ, with an opinion sought as to whether retaining the instrument was worthwhile.  This was undertaken by Mr Ian Bell, a long-established and highly respected consultant in the organ field.  He advised that the organ was in generally sound condition, but that a complete overhaul should not long be delayed.

What Work Has Been Done?

Work commenced in the beginning of June, 2014, and in view of its historical significance, no variation of any other aspects of the organ was proposed. There will be no alteration to the keys layout, the stop list or the swell box.

After having the organ chamber (church walls/roof) accommodating the instrument fully cleaned of all debris, flaking plaster etc. the organ itself has.had all the accumulated dirt, cobwebs, dust etc. removed  (the organ was stated to be exceptionally dirty).

After this, appropriate pipes were removed for repair in the organ builder’s workshop.  A key operation here was to have the pipes revoiced and tonally regulated. In other words, the pipes were processed to give out the appropriate sound when a key on the manuals, or pedals, is depressed.

The two keyboards (known as the Great and Swell) were removed and sent to a specialist for refurbishment.  For example, considerable play or looseness can develop in the key action over the years and this was dealt with.

Although it was a condition of the Winchester Faculty (i.e. permission to proceed with the overhaul) that the type and number of stops must remain unaltered, approval was given for the installation of a new pedal board.  And here the installation had to be of exactly the same type as previously.  As time moves on, the pedals are subject  to much wear and tear, with looseness of operation leading, e.g. to clattering and other problems.

Another factor was that Winchester insisted that the keyboards could  not be modernised .  They are an octave shorter than the keyboard of today, meaning that playing the Widor Toccata (beloved of brides) and other works in the repertoire must remain problematical.

The mechanism operating the stops has been overhauled, also the mechanism connecting one manual to another.  The objective has been to produce a smooth-working operation throughout the controls to the organ.

Much work has also been carried out within the organ itself.  This behind-the-scenes renewal is vital for a complex machine, to function satisfactorily.

At times, the amount of air needed to produce an adequate volume of sound has been lacking and the 1950’s pump (or blower as it is known) has been replaced by a more powerful unit.

The wooden casework, at the front of the organ, has been renovated and two new doors fitted.

To the right-hand side of the organ, there are seven grey coloured pipes which do not match the rest of the visible pipes and which display a pleasant Victorian design.  These pipes are to be repainted, to give a uniform Victorian presentation

To sum up, we now have an historic fully operational and restored example of a Victorian-designed organ and which should not again require further major attention for another thirty years or so.

Ralph Atton


Read the Post-Conservation report

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