'Royal Connections' - Visits to Aldborough Hatch and Goodmayes on 28/09/2013 by David Sutton

The title first of all is something of a misnomer in the sense I had assumed incorrectly when putting this day together that the organ at Aldborough Hatch featured in the 1851 Exhibition (Prince Albert was the mover and shaker here). The instrument actually was (possibly?) exhibited in the London International Exhibition of 1862. Only eleven years out! However it could well have been as will be revealed.

Alborough Hatch 001Our day started at St Peter’s Church Aldborough Hatch in the morning. We were met by Kate Lovesey the priest-in-charge, Ron Jeffries churchwarden, and Bob Alder the organist. Ron gave us a very informative and amusing introduction. As well as being churchwarden he is also an historian which gave an authoritative slant. After Ron’s introduction Bob gave us a short demo of the organ’s remarkable capabilities finishing with a toe-tapping routine which would have graced the Blackpool Tower Ballroom.

After the 1862 exhibition, the organ was purchased and installed in a public house – or so the story goes. The position is not entirely clear on this point. Somehow it survived unscathed and was acquired for St Peter’s by the local land-owner and farmer, a Mr Painter, in the 1890s some thirty or so years after the church was consecrated. The organ in its tonal scheme was an instrument typical of its period but that is where we part with typicality. The visual aspect of the organ is stunning with an unusual double row of front-pipes which are richly decorated. The case is a masterpiece of decoration with well executed paintings in the panels and the player has lettering just above the music desk depicting the first line of the Magnificat richly illuminated. (Quite how this went down in the pub one cannot quite fathom. Perhaps it was added after its arrival in St Peter’s). A very similar instrument (whether it the actual one at Aldborough Hatch is open to debate) is depicted in Sir Frank Dicksee’s painting 'Harmony' which is held at the Tate Britain. 

The tonal output of this instrument is now a million miles from what Gray and Davison built in the 1860s. The original 5 stops (8/8/8/4 plus pedal bourdon) was transmuted in the mid 1950s into a 19 rank two manual by electrification and the full use of extension by an un-named organ-builder according to a label on the console. In 1993 Hill Norman and Beard carried out a full restoration of the action so everything works. Everything is enclosed bar the diapason rank.

We all had our customary try and were generally impressed with the singing clarity and 'bloom' of the tone – the best the Victorian period could produce. Although the extension idea stretched things to the very limits, it is remarkable what the instrument can do. How the 1950s builder did it without massacring the case and its artworks I don’t know, but there is a small well-hidden separate top note chest bracketed to the wall beside it which gives a clue. I tried to work out how the tuner got inside but gave up!

After thanks being given to Kate Ron and Bob, we adjourned to the nearby Miller and Carter for a tasty lunch enlivened with discussions on many worthy subjects.

Suitably fortified, we moved on to quite a different venue. St Peter’s has fields and the forest in sight but All Saints Goodmayes is situated firmly in late-Victorian suburbia. It is a large building serving a parish formed at the start of the 20th century and the first to have an evangelical ethos in the predominantly anglo-catholic one in the area. The building was consecrated in 1913 and a year later was to have the first vicar appointed in the newly formed diocese of Chelmsford.

Charles Witham, CLESO member, welcomed us after going on ahead from Aldborough Hatch. He felt it might be a good thing for us to have a mini guided tour of the church as they are celebrating their centenary. The building is impressive with references to the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement with its splendidly furnished doors (hinges and locks) and chandeliers. The glass is particularly fine with examples of late 1940s Whitefriars stained glass. The foundation stone was laid by the Earl of Warwick whose wife has gone down in history as the inspiration for the music hall song satirising the social mores of the time and the liaisons of the then Prince of Wales – Daisy Daisy (with a bicycle made for two). She was Daisy Brooke. 

Apparently there was no specific organ envisaged for the church and it seems the Great War got in the way of completing matters. However, fortuitously the authorities got to hear of a Walker organ in store needing a home. It came originally from Sandringham church and was a gift of Queen Victoria in 1880. King Edward VII (yes, he features again!) replaced the Walker at Sandringham in 1909 and it went into store. Hence the Royal Connection(s)! So it was that it was acquired and reassembled in All Saints in 1919. A glance at the console and casework shows no expense was spared in its construction and the highest possible quality of materials was used. It is also evident in the generous tone which is clear and unforced and, because of its position, it speaks well into the church which has a rich acoustic. We all enjoyed the very satisfactory experience of playing an organ which sounded so well (it had just been tuned) and all worked. The Swell has tubular pneumatic action whilst the Great and Pedal has mechanical action. Not often we have this situation. To my recollection there was no discernable difference in touch or feel between the two manuals which is a tribute to the organ-builder. The pneumatics make possible such things as sub and super-octave and unison-off couplers – not feasible with mechanical actions I think. The organ is not large by any means – Great 8/8/8/4/4, Swell 8/8/8/8/4/2/8/8, Pedal 16/8 - but gives an impressive account of itself. Nonetheless Charles hinted at what could be usefully changed in the tonal scheme. The late Albert Wilson, a notable former organist and teacher of one of our members, Malcolm Bell, managed to do this without changing a stop! In his memory the Swell Horn has been re-named Wilson Trumpet. There is a lack of upper-work in the choruses etc etc. but some would regard it as sacrilege to change things in this modern climate of conservation at all costs.

Thanks was expressed to Charles (and the priest Petros, who joined us for a short while) for giving access to this lovely instrument and a very interesting church building. Although the sun did not shine it did not rain, and we all had a very interesting time in two contrasting venues with two very different organs – not forgetting our convivial lunch!         

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