Report on visit to St John’s Epping on 19/03/2011 by David Sutton
Spring had truly sprung on this sunny Saturday afternoon – one of the best of the year so far. Epping has a fine parish church. Surprisingly one did not exist for this market town until the late 19th century when this building was constructed. The architect G .F. Bodley conceived a gothic revival church of spacious proportions and it was beautifully equipped with a dramatic rood screen and rood above, and, to complement its fine surroundings, an organ was commissioned from Wordsworth of Leeds.
The organ-case by Charles Kempe is something to behold! There is an extensive pipe display and sumptuous carving on no less than three sides. Angelic beings, complete with metal trumpets, herald what is contained inside and the whole thing is painted in dark green (originally red!) with the carved detail (and angelicals) heavily gilded. It is quite glorious. We were informed that all the display pipes in the casework are dummies. The writer at one time started to count them but gave up after reaching 100 – the task unfinished! It seems no expense was spared.
We were not disappointed with the effect on the ears either. Sadly, Simon Winters the organist, could not be with us due to pressing musical engagements elsewhere. Time and tide (and extra rehearsals) wait for no man! So Geoffrey Martin, CLESO member and assistant at St John’s some years ago stepped into the breach. He, first of all, gave us a short history to put things into perspective and then gave a brief demo of this four manual instrument. He astounded us all by saying there was no borrowing or extension anywhere – not even on the Pedal Organ. He showed off the beautiful flutes and other delicate tones and the bright (yet rich) sound of the diapasons. The Solo Organ has a tuba – a splendid stop which rings round the church. Somehow the Victorian/Edwardian organ builders of quality seem to me to get things so right when it comes to blend. Brian Bunting carried out a full rebuild (electrification etc.) in the mid 1970’s with precious little adjustment to the original tonal scheme and more recently David Wells has done a complete refurbishment.
Then we were allowed to play. Several of us commented on how comfortable it is to play although it is a shame that the console is buried underneath the front of the case which makes it difficult for the organist to communicate with a group which is not accommodated in the chancel (although CCTV is fitted - hoping the camera can be pointed in the right place!). I believe it was mooted at the time of the rebuild to put the console in a more open position but this was considered too difficult because of the general situation vis ŗ vis the case and its importance to English Heritage.
One could run through the whole specification with suitable verbal “oohs and ahs” but suffice to say Epping Parish Church has a very fine organ to listen to, play and to look at. CLESO has been very privileged to be able to share in this. Marian, Simon Winters’s wife is to be thanked for giving us such a warm welcome on behalf of the parish, and of course Geoffrey who did such a splendid job in demonstrating it to us and preparing the notes which were distributed. 14 members attended, including two for their first time as they had only recently joined us. As a bonus, a visitor (just for the day) has now joined. I am sure they were not disappointed with what they experienced that afternoon.
Also member Michael Emerson brought along some music for distribution which had belonged to the late Donald Ray. Don was not a member but was an inspiration to many and a pillar of the local (and not so local) music scene. I know some goodies found a home.