20240313 SMT Chapel Organ Dismantled 42 RS

Cote Lane chapel organ restoration project begins

A once-in-a-lifetime restoration project is underway to preserve the chapel organ at the Trust's Cote Lane Retirement Village for future generations.

The St Monica Trust has commissioned a full restoration of the nineteenth century organ by a team from Britain’s leading organ builders, Harrison & Harrison Ltd, with the support of professional organ advisor, Dr William McVicker.

Dating back to the 1890s, the three-manual, charge-pneumatic pipe organ was built by master organ builder, “Father” Henry Willis and originally installed at the Barley Wood home of the Trust’s founders, Henry and Monica Wills.

An organ builder with a top pedigree

Following the completion of St Augustine’s Chapel in 1926, the organ was relocated to the Trust’s Cote Lane Retirement Village and installed in its current location.

Dr William McVicker, said: “The organ in St Augustine’s Chapel is a complex pneumatic instrument and following a review of the different tonal adjustments made to the organ over the years, it was determined that the organ required a thorough overhaul of its mechanisms.

“The work requires restoration of the actions, soundboards, chests and extensive re-leathering of the wind system, and all other leather components within the instrument.

“Its successful restoration demands an organ builder with a top pedigree like Harrison & Harrison to restore the components and undertake sympathetic tonal revisions, which are in keeping with the organ’s history.”

Hundreds of moving parts

Work started in March this year when scaffolding was put up in the chapel to enable the organ to be dismantled and transported to Harrison & Harrison’s workshop in Durham for the restoration work to begin.

Weighing in at eight tonnes, most of the chapel organ has been dismantled, including six soundboards and actions - which together have hundreds of moving parts - as well as 1,436 pipes, with the largest being 5m tall and the smallest the size of a pencil.

The organ is used for more than 60 services each year, as well as for concerts and weekly lessons for pupils from local schools. While the organ is being rebuilt a Clavinova digital piano will take the place of the chapel’s organ during services.

Part of the St Monica Trust's history

It is hoped that the work will be completed and the fully-restored organ welcomed back to St Augustine’s Chapel with a concert of rededication in early 2025.

Head of Well-being and Resident Engagement, Wendy Hodsdon, said: “We feel privileged to be the custodians of such a historically significant musical instrument. It is part of the St Monica Trust’s story and has a place in our wider national heritage too.

“In undertaking this ambitious restoration project, we want to ensure the organ is kept working for another 100 years in order to widen opportunities for it to be enjoyed by future generations of residents, their loved-ones, organists and organ enthusiasts everywhere.”

For future generations to enjoy

In one of life’s coincidences it was Harrison & Harrison Ltd who originally relocated the organ from Barley Wood to St Augustine’s Chapel nearly 100 years ago.

Harrison & Harrison’s Projects Manager, Owen Woods said: “The purpose of this work is to consolidate and complete the restoration of the organ, which means that it will be reliable for a long time to come. We are also returning the sound of the instrument to something approaching its original character.

“The organ is historically important, being a late Willis instrument with its original pneumatic action, and so is well worth sensitively restoring for future generations to enjoy.”

For further information on Cote Lane Retirement Village or to arrange a viewing please contact the St Monica’s Trust sales team on 0117 949 4004 or e-mail sales.team@stmonicatrust.org.uk.

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