Visit to St Dunstan’s Stepney on 8/10/2011 by David Sutton

St Dunstan's StepneyEven the best laid plans come to nought when engineering works on the railway take place. This happened today! Sadly several of our members missed out because they found it virtually impossible to get there because the public transport infrastructure was to all intents and purposes non-existent for them at crucial points in their journey. However those who did manage it (six of us) were treated to a lovely morning exploring and hearing a very interesting Willis instrument housed in an even more interesting church.

Fire has played a significant part in the history of this building and its consequences have been the loss of a Bryceson organ and its Lewis rebuild. Its replacement, a Norman and Beard, also suffered the same fate, and what we have now is a Willis (rescued from St. Augustine’s Haggerston when that building was declared redundant) and re-installed in St Dunstan’s by Manders in 1971.

It is a typical Willis having a bright, forward diapason chorus together with fiery Swell chorus reeds. Rutts had a hand in its life but thankfully did not alter much of that Willis sound though I suspect the 17th was removed from the mixtures in the process. The specification has some oddities. There are two 4 foot flutes on the Great and there is no string tone on the Swell, making one wonder if other plans were afoot in its earlier life. Possibly there was a 'missing' Choir Organ at one time and stops and soundboards were 'shuffled' to produce the organ at Haggerston as surveyed in the 1940’s. Once you get over these peculiarities it is a delight to play and listen to.

Richard Samuels, the organist of the church and host for the morning demonstrated the instrument and at once we noticed how it filled the building which is quite large. My estimate of its seating capacity was 400+. The acoustic is warm and helps the spread of the unencumbered sound from the chamber which is at the end of the North aisle. Those Willis reeds come into their own in this environment! Richard showed us 'back-stage' and I was very taken aback with the Pedal Trombone in that its scaling is 'skinny' to say the least. We are not sure where the pipes came from but lack of scaling was made up in other ways in fiery power – in my view a stop to be reckoned with! The National Pipe Organ Register details suggest this stop and the Pedal 4 foot Gemshorn were added when Mander installed the organ, but do not indicate a provenance.

Richard our host is to be thanked for giving up his valuable free Saturday morning and for the welcome refreshments served up by the church.

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