Report on the visit to St Botolph’s Aldgate on 30/04/2009 - by David Sutton
A goodly number of members turned out at St Botolph’s Aldgate for our AGM. The Society hopes that the decision to use a City church in this way will create better links with the City and enable those of our brethren who live and work centrally to take a more active part without having to travel relatively long distances. Also at St Botolph’s we have a big bonus in that the church houses arguably the oldest working instrument in London – a 1704/1744 Renatus Harris/Byfield.
Over the years, like a many instruments, it has been altered and rebuilt to suit the prevailing needs of the times, but in the 1990’s it was felt a full and sympathetic restoration was required. This was undertaken by Goetze and Gwynn in 2006 and the result is stunning. What has been “hacked around” or what was missing from the original design has been faithfully restored, even to the tuning temperament which is a “Harris special”. You could not play the complete Bach “48” on it for example as the more extreme keys would sound distinctly odd. A concession for modern times is the pedal board and two corresponding ranks of pipes, but otherwise it is now “the authentic voice of the 18th Century Organ in 21st Century London” .
Member John Bamford, our host and organist of the church, took us round the instrument and explained the restoration process. There is a fully functional “nags head” swell for the short compass Eccho organ, leaving everything else - Great Choir and Pedal - unenclosed. The sound is bright and forward and the reeds remarkably “muscular”. The Great 8’ Trumpet is the original Harris/Byfield as is the Choir Bassoon. The other reeds, the Choir Vox Humane, Eccho Trumpet and Eccho Hautboy, are reinstated with new pipes in the style of Harris/Byfield and/or contemporary with the period. The fluework as you can guess sings in the way only early English pipes can. It was a joy to both play and listen to, but it must be admitted one or two of us had difficulties with the long compass Great and Choir manuals and trying to work out which labels related to which stops as the drawstop-knobs themselves were not marked. To have a restoration of this order does create other difficulties – some would say not serious – but John did venture the comment he would have to turn down a bride’s request for the Widor as the organ could not cope. There was not a sufficient compass either on the pedals or manuals.
In this connection the large 3 manual Bridge of Christ Church Spitalfields, currently in store in William Drakes’ workshop, we believe is also to be restored in this way. However………
It was felt generally the evening was a great success and we are particularly grateful to John and the church authorities for being so helpful and welcoming with coffee, biscuits etc etc.