During St Luke’s Parish Communion service on Sunday 10th May 2009 we gave thanks for the completed restoration of our pipe organ, which had been out of service since July 2008.
The celebration was the end of a story that began in 2006 when we recognised that the organ was ailing and needed the sort of overhaul that only comes around once in about 25 years.
Three years of fundraising began with then-Vicar Steve Benford’s epic 39-hour sponsored walk along the 100 miles of the Cleveland way in 2006. St Luke’s Music fund kicked off properly in 2007 with St Luke’s Music Festival and the amazing Strictly X-Factor Idol, and was boosted by a host of individual donations and 20p coins collected in Smartie tubes! A series of grants were applied for and won, and by the summer of 2008 we were able to thank God for the generosity that had enabled us to find the whole cost of the overhaul.
The organ was restored to full health with new leather and rubber seals and re-wired electrics; its frontage and console stripped and re-varnished; and a range of additional bass pipes has added “oomph” to its lower registers.
Meet the organ
If you’re into these things you’ll appreciate the detailed survey of the organ by the National Pipe Organ Register, but for most St Luke’s members it’s simply been the church’s ‘voice’ since 1959.
It sets the scene for St Luke’s weekly worship for half a century; it has accompanied times of thanksgiving, celebration and joy in the lives of many, and it has been a source of strength to those who mourn.
But how did the organ get here, and where did it come from?
We think it goes back to the building in the 19th century of Bowesfield Lane Methodist Chapel in Stockton-on-Tees (pictured), when it was probably supplied new by organ builders H J Nelson of Durham, whose plate is still attached.
H J Nelson & Co was founded in 1880 by an enterprising employee of the still-extant firm of Harrison and Harrison established in Durham in 1872. For 20 years, Nelson senior probably ran the business from home at Crossgate Head in Durham, but a small factory in Holly Street was built and occupied by the firm from 1902. The pipe work would have been bought in from specialist makers. The organ building firm was taken over and the works closed in 1967, while the factory lived on as ‘A J Nelson DIY’ until it was demolished early in the 21st century.
Bowesfield Lane Chapel closed as part of the rationalisation that followed the unification of the Primitive and Wesleyan Methodist traditions, and despite having a congregation of around a hundred it closed its doors for the last time on the 6th July 1958… while in York the Church Council at St Luke’s was continuing the quest for a substantial pipe organ to replace one that had been giving trouble since the 1930s.
St Luke’s considered a number of options including a redundant cinema organ from Scarborough!
Eventually the organ from Bowesfield Lane was bought for £100, and following some structural work to enlarge the organ chamber on the south side of the church (during which one wall partially collapsed), it was installed in St Luke’s in 1959.
Over the last several decades many pipe organs have been removed from parish churches.
The ‘traditional’ sound of a pipe organ in church has often been blamed for some churches being out of touch or old fashioned. At St Luke’s we believe that just as we can learn about God in a variety of ways, so there is a variety of ways we can praise him, and so we embrace a variety of musical styles – often during the same service. Young and old alike value both the piano and the guitar, or the drum kit and the organ.
The organ was played for the last time before the overhaul on the 6th July 2008, the exact 50th anniversary of the final service at Bowesfield Lane Chapel, and it was slowly dismantled by Principal Pipe Organs of York under their boss Geoffrey Coffin.
A movable pipe organ loaned by Principal Pipe Organs looked so hideous that it was immediately shunted to the back of church! Later, another chamber organ was loaned and sat in the Chancel opposite the hole where our own should be.
Over the months, more and more of the organ disappeared and what was left looked more and more forlorn, but everything came back together surprisingly quickly in time for the renewed voice of the organ to be heard for the first time on Easter Sunday 2009, after nine months of work, and complete with the promised extra ‘oomph’.
The re-dedication of the organ gave us cause to remember many times and many people.
We were delighted that the late Geoff Eggett, Archivist to the Methodist District of Darlington, joined us on the 10th May 2009 to give thanks for the organ and all the ways it has enriched the praise of God in two separate places.
Geoff himself was baptised at Bowesfield Lane Chapel; his parents were married there, and amazingly his grandfather was organist there until his death in the 1920s. Geoff was a very real link with the organ’s past. In the summer of 2008 he had reminded the Minister at Stockton’s Yarm Road Chapel that it was a half century since around 100 members of Bowesfield Lane Chapel had moved there, and indeed four of those people were still in the congregation at Yarm Road. It was an extraordinary moment when Geoff, an organist himself, played the organ that would have been so familiar to his grandfather.
We also received good wishes from Eddie Errington, whose father was appointed organist at St Luke’s in the early 1960s, and Margaret Hill who held the post in the 1980s and early 1990s.
A plaque fixed to the organ on its arrival at St Luke’s in 1959 commemorates the Gray, Greenwood and Blenkin bequests that helped fund the organ purchase and move, and the contribution of 1950s organist Mr C Morton in bringing the present instrument to St Luke’s.
But for many at St Luke’s in 2009 the restored organ was a poignant reminder of Alison Morse, St Luke’s Musical Director and Organist from the mid 1990s until her death on the 25th October 2008. An additional plaque dedicates the organ’s restoration to the glory of God and to Alison’s memory.
Alison was one of the prime movers in St Luke’s Music fund which raised the money for the overhaul; she booked Principal Pipe Organs to do the job; and we knew she would have been like a dog with two tails on its restoration.
If you seek her memorial – just listen.