Bath Abbey - Architecture - Interior - Main Organ

Main Organ

The first mention of an organ in the abbey dates to 1634, but nothing is known of that instrument. The first properly recorded organ in Bath Abbey was built by Abraham Jordan in 1708. It was modified in 1718 and 1739 by Jordan's son. The specification recorded in 1800 was one of twenty stops spread over three manuals. The compasses of the manuals were extended, one and a half octaves of pedals were added and the instrument renovated in 1802 by John Holland; further repairs were effected by Flight & Robson in 1826. This instrument was removed first to the Bishop's Palace at Wells in 1836, then to St Mary's Church, Yatton, where it was subsequently rebuilt and extensively modified.

The abbey's next organ was built in 1836 by John Smith of Bristol, to a specification of thirty stops over three manuals and pedals. This instrument was rebuilt on a new gallery in the North Transept by William Hill & Son of London in 1868, to a specification of forty stops spread over four manuals and pedals, although the Solo department, which would have brought the total to well over forty, was not completed. It was mostly removed to the Church of St Peter & St Paul, Cromer in 1896, the remainder being kept for incorporation in the new abbey organ.

A new organ was supplied to the abbey in 1895 by Norman and Beard of Norwich. It had 52 stops spread over four manuals and pedals, and stood divided on two steel beams in the North and South crossing arches, with the console standing on the floor next to the north-west pier of the crossing. New cases were to be provided to designs by Brian Oliver of Bath, but were never executed. Norman & Beard re-erected it in a new case designed by Sir Thomas Jackson in the North Transept in 1914, with the addition of two stops to the Pedal. It was again rebuilt by them in 1930, and then by Hill, Norman and Beard in 1948, which brought the number of stops to 58. In 1972 this was increased to a total of 65 speaking stops. The Positive division, with its separate case behind the console, was installed at the same time. Problems caused by the tonal scheme's lack of coherence – the 1895 pipework contrasting sharply with that of 1972 – and with reliability, caused by the wide variety of different types of key actions, all difficult to access, led to the decision to have the instrument rebuilt yet again.

The organ was totally reconstructed in 1997 by Klais Orgelbau of Bonn, retaining the existing instrument as far as was possible and restoring it largely to its 1895 condition, although the Positive division was kept. The instrument as it now stands has 63 speaking stops over four manuals and pedals, and is built largely on the Werkprinzip principle of organ layout: the case is only one department deep, except for parts of the Pedal sited at the back rather than the sides of the case. New 75 percent tin front pipes were made and the case completed with back, side walls and roof. Pierced panelling executed by Derek Riley of Lyndale Woodcarving in Saxmundham, Suffolk, was provided to allow sound egress from the bottom of the case. The old console has been retained but thoroughly rebuilt with modern accessories and all-new manuals. Twenty-two of the organ's 83 ranks contain some pipework from the 1868 instrument. Four ranks are made up entirely of 1868 pipework, and 21 contain 1895 pipework. Only two ranks are entirely of 1895. Forty-eight ranks contain some new pipework, 34 of which are entirely new. Old wind pressures have been used wherever possible. The old wind reservoirs have also been restored rather than replaced. The instrument has tracker key action on the manuals, with electrically assisted tracker action to the pedals. The stop action is electric throughout.

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