The Priory Nicholson Pipe Organ
Last updated Wednesday, 20 March, 2019
The Priory is fortunate to possess one of the finest pipe organs in the south of England. With over 4000 pipes and 63 speaking stops, it has the flexibility and power to be able to play a wide variety of music, as well as provide a kaleidoscope of colours for accompanying the choirs.
Used regularly both for worship and in the popular series of organ concerts, the Priory’s organ is at the heart of the music making in the church.
The Main Organ - History
The first organ was built by Alexander Cumming in 1788 at a cost of £500, a legacy from Gustavus Brander. The organ was erected on the quire screen and comprised 3 manuals, Great Organ, 8 stops, and Swell, 4 stops with the Choir being entirely borrowed from the Great. A pedal board was added in the 1830's but by 1848, the organ had fallen into disrepair and was rebuilt, enlarged and moved from the screen to the south transept. In 1865, the organ was rebuilt by the renowned Henry 'Father" Willis who added to the Swell and built a new Choir. He also extended the Pedal Organ. Willis carried out further works in 1880 and in 1890. Messrs. Ginn Bros. added to the Great and Pedal Organs. By this time, the organ comprised 13 stops; Swell 9 stops; Choir 6 stops and Pedal 8 stops. Apart from essential repairs and cleaning, no major works were carried out until 1951 when the organ was rebuilt and electrified by the John Compton Organ Co. who added a few extra stops. The organ was placed on a new gallery in the south transept and a detached console was placed on the north side of the nave. The scheme provided for numerous "prepared for" stops some of which were added in later years (including a nave triforium section by Degens and Rippin in 1964) but it was not completed neither was the organ provided with a case. At the time of its demise, the organ consisted of Great 21 stops; Swell 13 stops; Choir 14 stops and Pedal 18 stops. Some ranks were borrowed or extended. The pipe organ fell silent in 1973 and although the console was removed, the pipework was kept in situ allowing for restoration in the future should circumstances permit.
A Compton-Makin electronic organ was installed in 1973 with speakers placed out of sight on the quire screen and in the nave in the south triforium. This organ was played from a four manual mobile console and was removed in 1999 on completion of the restoration of the pipe organ.
The opportunity to restore the pipe organ arose during the 900th Anniversary Celebrations of the Priory Church in 1994 when an Appeal was launched for both building and organ restoration. A successful appeal and an application to the Arts Council for Capital Lottery Funding in 1997 enabled works to be carried out during 1998. The organ was rebuilt on the existing gallery in the south transept using the majority of the original pipework which was restored whilst respecting its historic importance. The fine new case of English oak with spotted metal front pipes was designed by David Graebe. Organ Builders were Nicholson & Co. (Worcester) Ltd. of Malvern.
The oldest pipes by Cumming dating back to 1788 form the basis of the Choir Organ placed in a projecting "chaire" case; new chorus work has been added to the Great Organ and the Swell Organ which contain much of the surviving pipework by "Father" Willis. New actions and soundboards were provided to the main gallery organ to ensure durability. The nave triforium section was retained as a Bombard using the existing electro-pneumatic soundboards which were renovated (a new 8ft and 16ft reed was later added to this section in 2000). In addition new blowers were installed to serve the main organ and the nave section. The organ now has a total of 58 speaking stops.
The organ is played from two new consoles; the first is in the organ gallery and is connected by tracker action to the main organ. A second mobile console is provided in the nave connected by electro-pneumatic action via multiplexer system. Both consoles have four manuals (Choir, Great, Swell and Nave/Bombarde) and Pedals. The mobile console is designed so that the organist is able to maintain contact with the choir and congregation during services and is moved into the centre of the nave so that the performer is visible to the audience during recitals. The attached console in the organ gallery is used for practice and teaching where the sensitivity of tracker action is used to advantage.
The Chamber Organ
A chamber (or box) organ, built by Peter Collins Ltd of Melton Mowbray was purchased in 2002. This has just four stops and is playable from a single manual. This organ is fully transportable and is used for concerts as well as accompanying services in the Lady Chapel.