The Early English Organ Project

The Instruments

Most of our work consists of making and restoring British classical organs. We have learnt from an extensive study of 17th and 18th century organs, as well as continental examples, from which we take measurements, detailed drawings and photographs. Our organs are based closely on these models, so that the core of the instrument is always close to the original, but we develop the organs in varying degrees so that they suit the requirements of the customer. The important thing is that the sound and character of classical English organs are once more accepted, but as new organs they usually have modern key compass, balanced swell pedals and pedal organs. On the other hand the opportunity to discover English traditions in church music making by accepting the limitations and challenges of the original instruments is enthusiastically taken on.

Our first organs were chest or chamber organs built for music colleges and Early Music groups; e.g. Peter Holman and the Parley of Instruments, the Eastman School of Music in Rochester New York, the Guildhall School of Music. We have also built chamber organs for hire, including one in late 17th century English style, another in late 17th century Italian style, and a three-stop chest organ in the 18th century style of John Snetzler. These have featured in numerous recordings.

We have made eleven church organs, for churches in Canada, the Netherlands, England, Japan and Germany. The organs in Vancouver, Den Haag, Marldon in Devon, South Shields and Yonago in Japan are based on the organs of Richard Bridge at Christ Church Spitalfields (1735) and St Leonard Shoreditch (1756) in London. The organ at St Lawrence Whitchurch at Edgware in North London (ca1716) is based on the work of Gerard Smith, a nephew of Father Smith; this style we have also used for a new organ at Olpe-Rehringhausen in Westphalia, Magdalene College Cambridge, and St Endellion in Cornwall. The early style of Father Smith was used in our organ at St Matthew Sheffield, based on the organ in the Grote Kerk in Edam. The organ at St Helen Bishopsgate in the City of London, which is partly a restoration, was continued in the style of the original builder, Thomas Griffin (1743). We have also used the work of early 19th century builders as models for those parts considered essential in modern organs, but lacking in originals.

We repair or restore 17th and 18th century English organs, usually chamber organs since they survive in large numbers, but increasingly also of church organs. We have carried out 36 restoration projects, from the church organs at St Anne's Worksop and St Botolph Aldersgate, to a Black Forest Flötenhur (organ clock). Particularly interesting projects have included:

  late 17th century English chamber organs at Canons Ashby (National Trust) and St George's Nottingham.
 mid 18th century chamber organs at St Paul's URC Liss in Hampshire, Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire (National Trust), the Russell Collection in Edinburgh, and the Snetzler at the Cobbe Collection at Hatchlands in Surrey.
  the 1786 Toggenburger house organ now at the Shrine to Music Museum in Vermillion South Dakota.
 the 1675 chamber organ from Lucca which once belonged to Margaret Glynn and to Sheila Lawrence.
 the 1765 John Byfield organ at St Mary Rotherhithe.
 the large chamber organ built by John Snetzler in 1774 for Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, now in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff

A most unusual and rewarding recent project is the reconstruction of two early 16th century organs for the Early English Organ Project, based on two soundboards found in Suffolk in recent years. The larger of the two was found during the conversion of a farmhouse at Wetheringsett. The soundboard is being copied as the basis for a new organ, the other parts of which are based on early 16th century Spanish organs, since Mediterranean organs provide the closest analogy to the characteristics of English organs revealed in the two soundboards and the earliest surviving English organs. The smaller soundboard was found in the church at Wingfield, the pipes are based on those in the ca1600 chest organ at Knole, the oldest surviving English organ. The two organs will appear for the first time together at the Norwich Festival in May.

Underlying all our activities is a desire to revive the classical tradition of English organbuilding and to raise the level of interest in old English organs. Since almost all old English organs have been irredeemably altered or destroyed, it is mainly on new organs, or on reconstructed organs using original parts, that today's players can recreate the music of the past, and create new music with its roots in the English classical tradition.

A strand which has recently run through our work is with organs associated with Handel. These include the organ at St Lawrence Whitchurch, a chamber organ for the new Handel House Museum in Brook Street in London (which lives at St George's Hanover Square, Handel's parish church). We have restored a Clay musical clock for the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, which has tunes by Handel. The organ for Sir Watkin Williams Wynn was built in homage of Handel, whose portrait appears on the Robert Adam case; Sir Watkin being one of the three men who initiated the Handel Centenary Concert at Westminster Abbey in 1784.