Friday, 14 September 2018


The Parish Church of St Peter in Chester installed a new Willis organ in 1856 to replace an organ that was deemed not loud enough. This 'inadequate' organ was probably installed in 1818. When the new organ arrived the old organ was advertised for sale in a Chester newspaper and appears to have been bought by Saltney Primitive Methodist Chapel who ceased to use it at some point and it was placed in storage.

The organ is by George Pike England (1767-1815) - one of the finest organ builders of the late-Georgian period. It is a one-manual organ of five ranks in an unusually large case for such a modest instrument. Martin Renshaw acquired it and is currently restoring the organ in his workshop in France. My task is to restore the case.

During its travels one of the tower cornices was lost and I made a copy last year (see my earlier post in November 2017).

The first step was to assemble the upper part of the case to see what was missing/to be restored.

The entire back of the upper case is missing - so the middle tower cornice cannot be put in place yet. The light coloured cornice on the right hand side is the copy. The interior of the solid mahogany side panels was covered with fibre board - hence the light inside of the far panel. This has now been removed.
 Here is a closer view of the new tower cornice.

The new frame for the back of the case is underway.

This project is of particular significance to me as the first organ that caught my attention was the G P England organ (c1811) in St Andrew's Shifnal Shropshire - my home town. When I first encountered the organ in the late 1960s and early 70s it was part of sprawling 3-manual instrument Abbott and Smith instrument buried in the south transept. Andrew Freeman photographed the organ in 1938 (see below, courtesy of the Cadbury Research Library, Univesity of Birmingham) - just around the time that my father - William Alfred Shuker (1915-1998) was a choir member, organ blower and bellringer in the church. I only played the organ once  - very tentatively -, but I do recall noting that a number of stopknobs had 'England' engraved on them.

In 1973 the organ was rebuilt as a two-manual instrument by Hawkins of Walsall and relocated under the arch of the south transept. I attended the opening recital given by William Smallwood although I can't recall the programme - hopefully some English eighteenth century repertoire was included. By the standards of the time it was a good attempt to return to something like the original England organ but the large pedal division and the proliferation of couplers made it a fairly unauthentic restoration. It is interesting to see that after 45 years some major work is planned and the photo below comes from the organ appeal website.

It is therefore with some considerable frisson that I find myself working on an organ case made by G P England. I have to say that my preference is for the classical case fronts rather than the Gothick varieties, as at Shifnal, with the rather fussy details surmounting flat towers. The fun of the eighteenth century classical organ case with sensuous curves on the pipe flats and clean, round towers was beginning to give way to an overwrought heaviness that. to my mind, is a feature of Victorian design.

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