Repairs return Henleaze church organ to top form

September 03 2015
Repairs return Henleaze church organ to top form

Repairs return Henleaze church organ to top form

THE organ at Henleaze Parish Church is in top form again after repairs costing £12,500.

The money was raised through a special appeal which included the production of a CD, and the verdict of members and friends of St Peters, including organist and choirmaster Reg Parker, is that it is sounding as good as it must have done when it was installed in 1927.

But there is more to this organ’s history than that.

It was built in London in 1869 by Henry (‘Father’) Willis who has been described as ‘the greatest organ builder who ever lived’. It was around this period that Willis also built the organs of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, Salisbury Cathedral, Birmingham Town Hall, the old Colston Hall in Bristol and many others that became world famous.

The organ, containing 1,082 pipes, had been commissioned by a wealthy benefactor Mr St Vincent Ames – not for a church but for the new village hall at Westbury-on-Trym.

The same Mr Ames paid for the building of the hall, and the Willis organ featured at a grand opening concert there in June 1869.

According to a Western Daily Press report at the time, the concert was a great success, with Mr Frederick Archer of London performing several solos.

“His masterly playing was truly a treat,” said the Western Daily. As far as we know Mr Archer only played it once. By contrast Mr Reg Parker has been playing this magnificent instrument for 65 years, at St Peter’s Church.

The reason being that the hall agreed to sell the organ to the newly-built church in 1927 for the sum of £200. According to official UK inflation data, that was equivalent to just under £11,000, though experts would value the organ at hundreds of thousands now.

For such a magnificent instrument, it seems St Peter’s got a true bargain.

The only possible reservation is where they located the organ in a 20th century building with space.

Organist Reg Parker commented: “It is unfortunate that the architect of St Peter’s had little idea of the ideal place for an organ of this pedigree, vanquishing it to the loft almost as an after thought.

“Nevertheless it still has the nobility of sound which one associates with a ‘good’ organ. It only has four years to its 150th birthday and, of course, bears no resemblance to a modern electric organ with an estimated life of 10 to 15 years.

“St Peter’s must therefore treasure this very valuable historic organ and regard it as a legacy from reputedly one of the greatest organ builders who ever lived,” Reg added.

Photo: An empty St Peter’s, but it is expected to be full when Reg Parker makes his farewell at Christmas