The Church Organ

The organ at “The Plough” was built in 1897 by Ingram and Company of Hereford and was installed the year after the opening of the present chapel.  Originally the air was supplied by a water-powered pump, much of which survives, with a pump handle for back-up.

The organ was an “off the peg” instrument, there being others of the same specification in the area.  Empty stop holes on the Swell and Pedal suggest that provision was made for the instrument to be extended at a later stage but this didn’t happen until 2010.  Early documents, however, refer to it as being a “fine” organ.
A record of some of the previous work carried out and those responsible for it was discovered in the top of the Swell box.
I first played the organ in May, 2006 and it was immediately obvious that there was a problem and that there seemed to be significant air loss.  The organ tuning was badly out.  The Swell and Great were not in tune with each other and various stops, particularly the Swell Mixture were totally unusable. The more stops drawn the worse the problem became.
Advice was sought from the then organ tuners- Henry Willis and Sons of Liverpool.  They prepared a report which spoke of major work done in the 1980s which was all sound and well.  The problem was that the soundboards were failing badly and that these needed workshop attention.  In order to take them out the entire organ would have to be dismantled and so a clean and some other minor repair work should, ideally, be undertaken at the same time.
A second opinion was sought from The Clevedon Organ Company (formerly Percy Daniels of Clevedon) which concluded much the same.
The Director of Music at Brecon Cathedral recommended that we ask Garry Owen of GO Organs, also in Liverpool, to have a look.  Garry had recently taken over the care of the Cathedral Organ and the Cathedral staff had been impressed by his work.  He too identified the same problems and remedies.
As all this progressed, and as different people looked at the organ it became obvious that if major work was to be carried out then it would be wonderful if some “stop” improvements could be made.  There was no reed or mutation on the Great and the Great “Piccolo” lacked brightness.  The Stopped Diapason was also of very similar volume and tonal quality to the Open, both being made of metal and the Stopped Diapason suffered for a significant and very noticeable tonal change at Middle C.  The Swell lacked a decent reed and the 16ft Pedal stop was extremely light, failing to carry into the chapel and therefore failing to give the sound support. 
Various ideas were considered and in the end it was decided to make the following changes:
The 2ft Piccolo was replaced with a 2ft Fifteenth, a straight swap on the soundboard being all that was needed.
A new Twelfth should be added which could also be used with the Fifteenth to make a 2 rank Mixture.  There was no space on the Great soundboard to add a new stop and so space had to be made for it.  It took all of a nanosecond to decide that the 8ft Dulciana should be sacrificed.
The 8 ft Stopped Diapason would be replaced so that we could get rid of the change in tonal quality and the new stop would be quieter than the Open.  It would be replaced with a 2nd hand wooden rank of pipes, the original having been metal, like the Open.
It was also decided to restore the original decoration to the front “case” pipes.  An original, black and white photograph showed that these had been decorated according to the fashion of the late Victorian era.  This had been painted out during the 1960’s and the pipes had been repainted in a single, rather dull, grey/blue colour.  Part of the original photograph was blown up to reveal the stencil pattern and detective work showed small fragments of original paint colours remained on the back of some of the pipes.  It wasn’t a lot but a specialist firm was able to work from it.
Part of the Gt Dulciana was on the case and this has been retained and acts as the bottom octave for some of the Swell 8ft stops which used only to go down to Tenor C.
An 8ft Cornopean would be added to the Swell, the stop jamb filling one of the vacant holes.  From the position of the existing hole it had clearly always been the original builder’s intention that such a stop should be added.  The blanked off space on the Swell soundboard made this a simple job.  The pipework came from the former Roath Park URC organ.
The bottom of the Swell 16ft was of smaller scale and this was replaced and brought within the box.
Ideally we would have added a Sub Octave Coupler but since the action is Tracker this was abandoned on grounds of both practicality and cost.
The organ’s action is very heavy and a Sub would also have made it even heavier
With the pipes out it became obvious that some of the 16ft Pedal pipes were actually 16ft Manuel pipes and that trying to “louden” them sufficiently was just not possible.  These were therefore replaced with actual Pedal pipes. 
A new 16ft open Wood was added as well which came from a redundant church, St James, Newport Road, Cardiff.  Fortunately there was just about space in the chamber and there was already a hole in the right place for the stop.  A new chest for it had to be made.  This was a significant additional cost but had it not been done would have been a classic case of spoiling the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar- albeit a big ha’p’orth. 
After much thought it was decided to place the contract with GO Organs and to award him the future tuning contract.  Recommended by the Cathedral and at a much lower cost than Willis we terminated the existing arrangement with Henry Willis, thanking them for their help and support over the years.
Work began in July 2009 and it began not a moment too soon.  The decision had already been made to cease regular maintenance and to focus our attention on the repair, clean and rebuild.  By the time the work started the organ was failing badly and loosing air horrendously.  Few stops were still usable and some had insufficient air reaching them to make them sound.  Covering up the problems was no longer possible.
So the organ was dismantled and repairs started to be undertaken.  The case pipes went off to Howell and Bellion in Saffron Walden and the chapel’s hymnody was led by keyboard or by the chapel’s elderly baby grand piano, itself in need of replacement.  As the months went by it became increasingly obvious just how much we took the organ for granted and just how much we relied on it.
 In September 2009 the wind reservoir returned and in the second week of November, 2009 a van drew up outside, loaded with all sorts of parts, including the two soundboards which were unloaded.  These had to be manhandled into the building and up into the organ and the chapel’s architecture made an already awkward job many times more difficult.  Members of the Rees family joined the organ builders and the job was done with more speed, efficiency and good humour than could ever have been expected.    The place became a hive of activity and the schoolroom was turned into a temporary workshop, canteen and rest area.
The third week saw final workshop repairs being undertaken in Liverpool and Garry attending to other commitments.  Lights were added to the Swell box and above the Great and then, at the end the case pipes returned and we were able to see them in all their original glory. 
Part of the organ came back into use in time for the Carol Service.  The congregation literally watched the last case pipes being put in as the service started.  Over the following months the organ gradually started being reassembled and was completed in the summer of 2010.
Current Specification
Great                                                Swell
Open Diapason           8’                  Viola                            8”                    
Stopped Diapason      8’                   Stopped Diapason       8’
Principal                     4’                   Voix Celeste                8’
Harmonic Flute           4’                   Salicional           8’
Fifteenth                     2’                   Principal            4’
Twelfth                                             Oboe                8’
                                                        Horn                 8’
                                                        Mixture  (3 rnk)16’

Bass Flute            8’                         Couplers
Bourdon            16’   
Open Wood      16’                          Sw – Gt
                                                        Gt – Pd
                                                        Sw – Pd
                                                        Sw Octave
The Pedal couplers are of particular interest because they are not on the stop jamb (as the Swell-Pedal and the Swell Octave are). Instead they are under the swell keyboard as 4 thumb pistons, one to bring on and one to cancel for each manual.  They are actually quite well placed but do catch out the unwary.
The action is extremely heavy, demanding of the player some precise finger-work but the organ is capable of making some wonderful sounds, with some particularly beautiful flutes and strings.
These notes were kindly provided by Revd Michael Hodgson
Minister at The Plough from 2006 - 2017