Report of the visit to St Edmund’s South Chingford on 22/11/2008 – by David Sutton
Six members turned up on a chilly overcast day to have a marvellous afternoon with a vintage (1904) three manual Harrison. This instrument was a replacement for a previous installation of two manuals which had been added to “like Topsy” over the years and had “passed its sell-by date”. It appears the current instrument is the first of note to be installed in this church, which was opened during the summer of 1939.
St Alban’s Acton Green was a redundant church which, we were told, was virtually the first in London to have a Harrison and Harrison and St Edmund’s could not believe their luck in getting such a prize. A former member of the church had made a substantial bequest in his will, and coupled with a grant from the Heritage Lottery fund, made this purchase and installation by the Village Workshop possible. Christopher South, the organist there, was instrumental in getting all the parts of the equation together following a chance meeting at the inaugural concert of the opening of the organ at the Royal Albert Hall.
Christopher introduced us to the sumptuous, fully-equipped detached three manual console (second-hand and adapted from St Peter’s, St Albans) and proceeded to play a Festal March by Henry Smart which showed off the substantial range of tone colours available – typical H and H! We heard a rich, but bright, vibrant diapason chorus, chorus reeds which really sang, and a floating pair of quasi-solo reeds on the great and choir, a truly magnificent pedal 16’ reed, lovely quiet registers including a full length 16’ Dulciana and undulating strings on the choir, and many more examples of Arthur Harrison’s meticulous voicing. We were told by Christopher that, due to the Heritage Fund being involved, nothing tonally was altered from the original. The only thing was the electrification and restoration of the original pneumatics. Also on this organ there was no extension apart from the bourdon/bass flute on the pedal. Perhaps because of this there was severe pressure on space within the organ chamber, and the pedal open wood has been “banished” to a gallery in the central tower space. There was absolutely no room in the main case for it.
All of us thought this organ was a splendid addition to the instruments available in our part of London and thoroughly enjoyed exploring its tonal resources further. The acoustic of the church itself was warm but not overly spacious, allowing the sound to fill the church space quite adequately. The volume of full organ at the console was breathtaking, but in the nave it was tempered by the arch separating the central tower from the rest of the building. We sampled all this while Chris played us out with a spirited performance of The Imperial March by Elgar, a piece more or less contemporary with the birth of the organ on which it was performed. All in all we had a splendid afternoon.