Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Organ Archaeology

Martin Renshaw and I are currently restoring an organ that was taken out of Aylesford Methodist Church when it closed a number of years ago. Like may organs it has been moved around and modified quite a bit over the years and its early history is as yet unknown. We have had to strip it right back to almost its basic components in order to rebuild it to something like its original state whilst recognising that some later additions can be usefully retained. Along the way we are coming across intriguing signs of its early history that may or may not tell us something interesting about the origins of the organ. Here are a few of them.

1. When the organ was first stripped down the covering of the rear of the bars on the Great soundboard was found to be pieces of parchment (the traditional material) from several legal documents. Some of the ink had been transferred to the bars and parts of the documents are thus 'offset printed'. The legal documents appear to related to land transactions in the early 18C.

2. It is relatively uncommon to find layouts of the actions marked up in old pipe organs. In many cases it appears that if such layouts were made they were then erased by planing and it may have been considered 'bad form' to leave such information. On this organ - by chance - we noticed traces of marking out lines on the underside of the Great pallet box that indicated the position of the backfall beam and backfalls. On removing the layer of jeweller's rouge and glue 'paint' the layout could be clearly and something that will aid us greatly in the restoration - the exact position of the notes taken off to the other end of the chest using a rollerboard.

 3. Finally, a real surprise - the intake valves of the reservoir were found to be seated upon parts of sheets of printed music that looked quite early. The music seemed to be a basso continuo part printed using movable type.
Fortunately, one of the sheets came from the title page which, even though it corresponded to less than a quarter of a page with three large holes drilled through, could be unequivocally identified as a piece published in Amsterdam in 1701. Not as early as we first thought but interesting nonetheless.
None of the above pieces of information sheds any direct light on the maker of the organ but might fit into place when other evidence come forward. Our best guess is that the organ was probably built as a one manual instrument in the late 18C or early 19C which then had a short compass Swell added. The Great has the sliders for a 'piano' action (i.e. as second set of a sliders operated by a pedal to take off the upper registers). The Swell was then at some point extended to the same compass as the Great. The organ was moved to Aylesford from an unknown location in 1900 when other work was done.

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