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Restoring a Unique Organ

Hebden Bridge History Society meeting report.
Speaker: Peter Jeffery

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Restoring a Unique OrganSt Michael's, Cornholme, is the home of a unique church organ, but as Peter Jeffery explained to Hebden Bridge Local History Society no-one realised quite how special it was. In a fascinating talk to the Society, Peter told the story of how the organ came to be restored during the time when he was vicar of Cornholme.

The first surprise to many in the audience was just how complicated these organs are: behind the serene exterior of the shining pipe façade, a thousand pipes, 'a collection of tin and wood whistles', operated by keyboards, foot pedals and stops, work furiously to make the magnificent sounds. The very earliest organs used wooden rods to open and close the airways to the pipes. By the 19th century, a pneumatic system, based on networks of lead pipes, used air to operate the mechanism.  Cornholme organ, built in 1904, used this system.

Peter explained that organists always commented that it was a fine organ, but in a bad way. Repairs were likely to cost £20,000, a sum way beyond the parish. However, a generous gift of £1000 towards repairing the organ set the whole process of restoration on its way.

As various experts visited it became clear how important an organ this was. It had been constructed using  experimental techniques by Peter Conachers of Huddersfield. One distinguishing feature was the use of stop keys instead of the usual pull stops, previously known only on theatre organs and introduced in 1928. Such an important and unique organ, which had never been rebuilt since its installation, had to be restored, it was agreed.

The estimated cost of restoration rose until it reached a seemingly unachievable £62,000 – until the Heritage Lottery Fund offered £50,000 – the maximum it could grant. The remainder of the money was raised by the parish, and restoration work could begin. The work was carried out by Woods Organs, Huddersfield, and proved a difficult and demanding task for their experienced workforce. They had to purchase five complete sheepskins to replace the leather parts of the bellows, and locate rabbit fur glue for the fixing.

The result was a magnificent organ as good as it had been one hundred years before. On 6th October 2006 the church was packed for an opening recital by Mytholmroyd organist Darius Battiwalla. A final treat for the audience was to hear a recording of that day, the soaring sounds of Widor's Organ Symphony making maximum use of the organ's newly restored power. All that amazing music controlled by puffs of air travelling through the festoons of lead pipes. Magical.

The next meeting of Hebden Bridge Local History Society will hear Paul Kenny's Railway Roundabout - a collection of slides and stories from Hebden Bridge's former signal man. Wednesday 10th February at Hebden Bridge Methodist Church, starting at 7.30pm. All welcome. www.hebdenbridgehistory.org.uk

With thanks to Sheila Graham for this report

Previously, on the HebWeb

Tales along the Packhorse Way with speaker John Billingsley(18 Jan 2016)

Vanishing for the Vote with speaker Jill Liddington (17 Dec 2015)

Widdop and the Shackletons with speaker John Shackleton(1 Dec 2015)

The History of Calrec: part 2 with speaker Stephen Jagger(19 Nov 2015)

What's in a Name: with speakers Keith Stansfield and Barbara Atack. An insight into local dialects and surnames of the Calder Valley. (9 Nov 2015)

The Lost Kingdom of Elmet (1 Nov 2015)

When Oxford University Came to Hebden Bridge (29 Oct 2015)

The dam that isn't and the great floating plug of the Colden (1 April 2015)

Gruelling Experiences - in the workhouse (16 March 2015)

Pre-History on our hill tops (9 March 2015)

Growing up in Sowerby (16 February 2015)

Patterns in the Landscape: the evolution of settlement and enclosure in the Upper Calder Valley (5 February 2015)

Wakefield Court Rolls for Family History: Sylvia Thomas (18 Jan 2015)

Happy Birthday Stoodley Pike: by Nick Wilding (16 Dec 2014)

Wills, Inventories and Economic Activity in the Parish of Halifax at the end of the 17th Century: Alan Petford (30 Nov 2014)

Local History Society Archive explored - Following the 65th AGM, members of Hebden Bridge Local History Society were treated to a sample of some of the treasures to be found in the Society's archive. (19 Nov 2014)

Views from two communities on the outbreak of war in 1914 - Mike Crawford, Wolfgang Hombach and Nick Wilding (27 Oct 2014)

The Listed Buildings of the Hebden Bridge area with Peter Thornborrow. (14 Oct 2014)

Valley of a Hundred Chapels by Amy Binns (29 Sept 2014)

History Group Study Day report: Power and Potability (11 Sept 2014)

Whose land is it anyway? How parliamentary enclosure shaped the landscape of the Calder Valley: speaker, Sheila Graham. Read more (6 April 2014)

Yorkshire Life between the Wars: speaker, Ian Dewhirst. Read more (20 March 2014)

Industrialisation and the Calder Valley: Communities in a unique landscape - Talk by Dr Stephen Caunce Read more (3 March 2014)

Quarrying in Calderdale: George Bowers gave a talk on the history of stone quarries in our local area. Read more (15 Feb)

Calder Valley Buildings of the Seventeenth Century: the craftsmen and their patrons Read more (27 Jan)See Small Ads (12 March)

Some thoughts on historic buildings and their repairs by Alan Gardner


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