Visit to Organs at Wath Brow, Cleator and Hensingham
2 April 2005
Review by Samuel Carradice

For our annual excursion this year we had hoped to visit the rebuilt organ at Blackburn cathedral, but communications did not go according to plan and the relevant people were not available on the day. Instead, Chris Price organised a tour of three churches in West Cumbria not previously visited by the Society. Six other members attended, including four from Carlisle.

The Wath Brow Mission church, near Cleator Moor, houses a small organ of considerable historic importance. It was built by J C Bishop around 1840, but is of unknown provenance. It was probably built for a domestic residence. A prominent Rushworths label indicates some restoration work by the Liverpool firm, but no dates are available. The character of the pipework suggests it may be largely original.

The instrument has one manual and eight stops; Stop Diapason Treble and Base (8'), Open Diapason 1 and 2 (8'), Dulciana (8'), Principal (4'), Fifteenth (2') and Mixture (III ranks). The manual compass is GG to f. (with no bottom G#). There is a two-octave permanently coupled flat and straight pedal board (with no independent stops). The whole organ is enclosed, with a trigger swell pedal.

The tone of the instrument is quite remarkable. The Fifteenth is particularly bright, and would be ideally suited to Handel's concertos with a small chamber orchestra. The unusual compass takes some getting used to, (unless you don't look down!), but provides a rare opportunity to play some early English works in their original form.

Wath Brow Mission

To tour continued to St. Leonard's Church in Cleator where there is a small, but predictably fine, instrument by Harrison & Harrison, built in 1903.

Pedal   Sub Bass   16
Great   Contra Salicional
Open Diapason
Claribel Flute
Swell   Geigen
Lieblich Flute

St. Leonard's Church, Cleator

Unlike so many organs, the pipework is not encased by stone walls but speaks clearly into the church. The Swell is amazingly effective, but was sadly almost unusable due to ciphers - the church is suffering from extreme damp and is in the process of major renovation work.

Finally, we continued to St. John's Church at Hensingham, where Chris is the regular organist. After lunch, sitting on the wall in the sun, Chris played a short demonstration on the Allen ADC2160 digital computer organ installed in 1987, and then continued to explain its special features in detail.

At first sight, the organ has a typical classical specification of 31 speaking stops, but it also has the ability to install up to two additional voices from an extensive library of punched cards. These can be anything from large-scale English diapasons to bright "chamade" trumpets. The samples are largely (but not exclusively) based on pipework by Skinner and Phelps. As usual with electronic instruments, there are numerous other fiendishly ingenious features such as romantic and classical tuning, chiff on or off, enclosed Great, crescendo pedal, and chimes.

St. John's Church, Hensingham

Everyone noted the instrument to be the easiest of the three to play - and there was not a cipher or out-of-tune note anywhere. The sound is not sufficiently perfect to fool an expert ear - very few electronic instruments are, even with today's technology - but the effect is generally acceptable, and sometimes really impressive.

The day concluded with tea and biscuits in the excellent facilities attached to the church, and adequately compensated for the disappointment of missing the Blackburn organ.

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