The Organ at St Thomas-on-The Bourne
The new church of St. Thomas was built in 1911, but prior to this a harmonium was used in the old church nearby. In 1905 a new organ was built by Nicholson & Co. of Worcester. The organ was originally dedicated on St Thomas's day, 1905, and was subsequently moved to the new church when it was opened.
In 1933 further work on the organ was made possible by a gift given in memory of a son lost during the Great War. The unusual oak casework was added, having been designed by Henry Sidebotham, son of the first vicar of the parish. Despite some minor tonal work during the intervening period, the organ retained its basic sound for almost 60 years until an extensive rebuild in 1964 by Cedric Arnold, Williamson & Hyatt of Thaxted, Essex, guided by the then organist, Vincent James. The stop-list grew to 29 speaking stops thanks, in part, to a little borrowing and extension work, particularly on the pedal.
The current instrument dates from 1990 when the original manufacturers, Nicholson & Co, rebuilt the instrument under the instruction of the then Director of Music, David Gabe. This work allowed a number of additions including the Great Trumpet, Swell Vox Angelica and Great Tremulant as well as the re-making of all of the mixtures and casting of new pipework for the Swell Cornopean/ Clarion. As well as these tonal changes the tracker action was remade, electric stop action was introduced and multi-channel settable pistons were added. Although the instrument still maintained much of its predecessor's character, the harsh edge was thus removed.
In 2004 the quality of the instrument was further enhanced when the original multi-channel board was replaced by a new solid-state one. However, by the end of the second decade of the 21st century, it was clear that the organ needed more substantial refurbishment; an appeal was launched to raise the necessary funds, and a major refurbishment was undertaken in Malvern by Nicholson and Co, the manufacturers of the original organ in 1911.
The 2023 refurbishment of the Organ
The major refurbishment of the organ began in April 2023 and was completed on schedule in July. The total cost of the project, including the associated scaffolding, was £58,400, below the budgeted cost. Both Nicholson and Veryan, the scaffolders, were very professional and accommodating in the work they carried out for St Thomas’ and fully demonstrated their competence for such work. Services with organ accompaniment resumed on Sunday 9 July. This was the first major work on the organ since 1990, which was also carried out by Nicholson and Co.
Much of the work has been carried out to address the sort of issues that become evident only when there is a problem or which can be concealed from an audience by a skilful organist. For example, some of the original leatherwork in the bellows (from 1911!) has been replaced, and some of the mechanical action has also been repaired, so there are no longer a few missing notes! One new pedal stop and an extra octave of pipes have been added, which means that the pedal department now has a greater degree of independence. The pipes have also had a thorough clean and the sound is much brighter than it was before. The benefit of undertaking such a major overhaul when it is required is that it will ensure that the organ will be playable for many years to come with minimal maintenance, so that it can continue to support worship and concerts. In the opinion of Julian Cooper, the Organist, it is a good instrument: its mechanical key action is far superior to electric action, because it affords the player a high degree of control of the sound, and the range of stops is both sensible and interesting, so allowing a wide range of music to be played.
In an age where many churches have opted for an electronic solution (which is cheaper in the short term, but not the long term), it is a considerable achievement for the Parish that we have both managed to retain such a good instrument, and been willing to raise the necessary funds to maintain its quality into the future. The refurbishment of the organ makes it ideal for enhancing the services at St Thomas, and also ensures that visiting choirs and other musicians will continue to wish to use it for concerts. The refurbished organ is also ideal as a teaching instrument, because the mechanical action teaches a high degree of discipline in performance.
In short, this has been a timely, worthwhile and highly successful project. We owe huge thanks to Mike Barter for leading the fund-raising efforts and to Max Hubbard for acting as project manager, both essential for making the whole project possible.