A visit to St Mary of Eton Hackney Wick on 23/04/2016 by David Sutton

St Mary of Eton Hackney WickThe church interior is light and airy – a Bodley design built in the 1890s – and has a rich resonant acoustic to match.
It was lovely to revisit the place after making friends with it in the mid-1960s when this two manual Grant Degens and Rippin organ was built, incorporating some ranks from the previous two manual Walker. The sound of this instrument matches and enhances (in my view at least) the open sunny and reverent atmosphere the building generates.

When Grant Degens and Rippin built it in 1965, the console was placed in a north gallery opposite the pipework which is situated in bays on the south side of the rear nave. Now the console has been re-sited at floor level in the nave behind a pillar on the south side. This may put the organist ‘more in the thick of things’ but the adjacent pillar tends to mask the tonal output to some extent. This however does not temper in any way the glorious sound this organ makes. To my mind the specification is almost a perfect amalgam of the romantic and neo-classical. The Great division has a fully developed diapason chorus topped by two compound stops – a four rank Mixture and a two/three rank Scharf.  This is offset and complemented by a flute chorus at pitches of 16, 8, 4, 2⅔, and 1⅗. To cap it all, there are the 8 and 4 Harmonic Trumpets on slightly higher pressure wind. There is also an 8’ Dulciana to accompany any solo stops on the Swell division. The Swell on the other hand is considerably more romantic in character equipped with undulating strings, a diapason chorus topped with a three rank Mixture and an 8’ Gedeckt. The chorus reeds are a 16’ Horn (duplexed on the Pedal), 8’ Trompette and a 4’ Schalmei. A useful touch is that the Great 8’ Harmonic Trumpet is also available on this manual. The Pedal division has developed choruses of both diapasons and flutes (topped with a three rank Mixture) and has reeds of 16/8/4 and the Swell 16 Horn.

For registration aids, there are three thumb pistons to each manual plus three generals – a bit ‘mean’ perhaps for the number of registers involved (34 speaking stops + couplers).  The reversible are not labelled – could be confusing at first. Another Grant Degens instrument (of three manuals at St Mary’s Woodford and almost contemporaneous) only has a similar number of controls. The original refurbished Hackney Wick console had this number and it seems to me there was no ‘thirst’ for increasing this number despite the provision of a multi-channel solid-state piston setter and stepper.

Notwithstanding the above (a rather petty gripe!), the whole playing experience was for me wonderful. The organ did everything demanded of it. The very generous acoustic was a joy to work with. We had numerous members of the general public come and view our various players at work as the church was a hub for a diocesan event that day. Adrian Gunning of CLESO was our host – he did the opening recital last year - and he demonstrated the vast range of tone colour in pieces by Mozart and Andriessen. Although the instrument overshadowed the area occupied by the visitors they did not seem to mind at all – even at full blast! Manders have done a lovely job in restoring this gem.

The good news is this instrument is available to play currently (April 2016) at a rate of 20 an hour. Please contact the church – churchwarden@stmaryofeton.org.uk. The parish is in an interregnum currently and also, amazingly, has no organist either despite the existence of this beautiful instrument. The worship of this church with its Anglo-Catholic tradition is crying out for someone. So organists, where are you?
CLESO is indebted to the church for allowing us to play the instrument and to Adrian for demonstrating it for us.

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