The present organ was installed in 1968, being the very first organ “custom built” for the Church. At least four second-hand organs had been used from the time of the consecration of the Church in 1899. The last of these was installed in 1948 and only lasted until its demise - completely worn out - in the late 1960s.
The organ we now have is the work of J W Walker & Sons, a firm established in 1828 and well known for their high standard of craftsmanship. (The organ in Liverpool R.C. Cathedral is an example of their large-scale work.) Our organ is one of many small instruments built to a largely standard design known as the Walker ‘Positif’. This type of instrument was designed to provide an economical, small scale and ingenious answer to the problem of providing a real pipe organ at a reasonable cost.
The organ has two manuals and pedals, making it a versatile instrument for accompanying services and giving scope for the performance of a large range of organ music. A professional organ expert consulted some years ago was surprised to find a Walker Positif in a Church as large as ours, but was very pleased to hear the way it filled the building with sound, helped by its position and the Church’s acoustic. (It’s often said that the best stop in any organ is the building in which it’s played!). The tonal style is much influenced by the “Organ Reform Movement” of the last 60 or more years in which the treasures and design principles of older instruments - particularly from Bach’s time - were being re-discovered and re-applied. Our organ does not have a ‘heavy’ sound; it has a ‘bright’ quality especially valuable for leading congregational singing when, as in our case, there is usually no well-rehearsed choir to take a lead.
Technically the organ is constructed on the ‘unit’ or ‘extension’ principle where many of the pipes are called upon to perform more than one function. This is made possible by the connection between the pipes and the keys and pedals at the console being electrical. Every pipe has its own electrically-controlled valve; the sounding of each one depends on which key or pedal is being played by the organist as well as which stop or combination of stops the organist has selected. The multitude of electrical switches necessary to do this is evident in the ‘telephone-exchange’ appearance of the interior of the console. But, of course, the organ is a pipe-organ controlled by electric action: it’s not an electronic organ! Naturally this ‘economy-class’ design principle has its musical drawbacks: a pipe asked to play two roles can still only make one sound. To the very keen ear the tone may lack a bit of the richness that would result from having every pipe of every stop completely independent. However, the skill of the organ builder in adjusting the speech of each pipe to suit its polyglot requirement can mitigate this defect (and Walker’s are very good at this!) And the cost? Our organ contains 391 pipes. If it had had the same stops, but ‘straight’ (every pipe independent) the number would have been in the region of 1300. (The organ fund of the 60s would have to have been much bigger as would the space to put the organ!)
The organ has served the Church excellently for the last 44 years. Very little has ever gone wrong with it, thanks to Walker’s excellent design and workmanship. Michael Broom of Walker’s pays a twice-yearly visit for tuning and maintenance (in fact, Michael worked on the instrument at the time it was being built). It is, however, beginning to show some signs of age and deterioration, unfortunately accelerated by severely crumbling plaster on the wall behind it. The major problem is that, to repair the wall, the organ will have to be partially (or possibly completely) dismantled. This forced choice will naturally provide an opportunity for a complete overhaul of the instrument, halting the deterioration and making good wear and tear of the last 40-odd years: the organ would be put in first-class order for at least another half-century. The organ isn’t worn out and isn’t in imminent danger of collapse. But it is an extremely valuable asset to the Church and we ought seriously to begin to set aside funds for its restoration and conservation.