Visit to Organs in North East Cumbria
21 March 1998

One would hesitate to refer to this event as an organ crawl. With six churches on the menu perhaps an organ rally might be more descriptive of Ron Craig's tour which took us to Brampton, Lanercost, Haltwhistle, Alston and Irthington. Greenhead was also on the schedule but fortunately access was not available on the day.

We were met at St. Marten's Brampton by Mr. Payne the organist, who is a retired music teacher. The organ is a 3 manual instrument with a detached console which causes some delay in speaking. There are some fine sounds especially in the reeds. Wilkinson's of Kendal rebuilt the instrument but we were not able to ascertain the original builder, Many of us took the opportunity to admire the Borne-Jones windows.

It is always a thrill to enter Lanercost Priory. Again the organist found time to meet us and provide a specification which was mainly based on 8 foot stops, and therefore lacks some brightness of tone. Perhaps at some future date English Heritage will restore the Priory to its original state and throw in a nice large Cavaille-Coll instrument. Back to earth with urgent call to 'move on'.

At Haltwhistle there is a Johannes electric instrument. The Chairman dashed off a Bach Schubler prelude at double speed, and we were on our way to Alston Parish Church. A music group kindly suspended their rehearsal to allow us to play. The organ is a 2 manual instrument and we were given a fairly long talk about it by the organist of St. John's Garrigill. It is difficult to recall what he said except that we ought to visit Garrigill. The organ did not make a great deal of impression but as usual much more time is needed to fully explore what an organ can offer.

Those members of the party reaching the borders of exhaustion decided to give Irthington a miss, probably assuming that a small village organ was not worth prolonging further calls on dwindling supplies of energy. As it transpired, those of us who did make it to Irthington, voted it the best visit of the day.

We arrived an hour late expecting a locked church, and a hunt to find someone to let us in. Not only was the church open it was lit and heated, with the vicar and his wife waiting for us with tea and buttered scones at the ready at the threshold of the beautiful Norman chancel.

Our delight was further enhanced at the sight of a beautiful looking small Harrison organ almost pleading with us to be played. Each of the stops, 4 on the great and 3 on the swell contributed beautifully and totally to the ensemble with a fine balance between the manuals. A good example of small is beautiful. The Chairman, egged on by Ron Craig played Bach's D major fugue. His peddling. apparently being applied straight from the hip, caused a tracker to give way on the great. The vicar kindly told us not to worry about it but we subsequently sent £55 as compensation for their inconvenience until their tuner's next visit. This venue could well be next visited for a recital event.

Despite the clarion calls to 'move on', the afternoon gave us a kaleidoscopic view of organs over a wide area that few of us have ever visited, and we are grateful to Ron Craig for making it possible.


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