Restoring a Unique Organ
Report of talk given by Peter Jeffery on 27 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

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