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Organ Restoration Appeal

Funding Raising Event - with Jules Holland (10 March 2014)

Our campaign

For almost as long as there has been a church on the Heath, there has been the organ that we hear today, an inspiration to celebrated composers such as Arthur Sullivan and Gustav Holst as well as generations of local residents and church-goers. After more than 150 years of good service to the church and the community of Blackheath, our organ is badly in need of a thorough restoration. We have rasied £315,000 to ensure that there will be music on the Heath for another 100 years.

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About the All Saints’ organ

Our organ was built in 1859, a year after the consecration of All Saints’, by the distinguished firm of William Hill & Son and is regarded as a particularly fine example of its time. It was expanded and modified by T. C. Lewis in 1915 and J. W. Walker in 1958. In 1969, Percy Daniel of Clevedon made further tonal adjustments, including brighter mixture stops and some redistribution of pipes within the instrument, and provided a new movable console. Minor repairs were made in 2003

Today, with components failing and wearing out, the organ has become unreliable and its use for recitals and concerts is restricted. A comprehensive programme of repair, renewal and replacement of electrical, mechanical, leatherwork and other components, including pipes, is urgently needed. The PCC sought three tenders and have gone with the firm of Harrison & Harrison, who have an impressive “CV” of work that includes the organs of Westminster Abbey, King’s College Cambridge, and Salisbury and Westminster Cathedrals. Their proposal to adjust the pipework and “voicing” of the organ will restore the integrity, balance and quality of the original 1859 instrument and give it a new life for 100 years.

A rich musical heritage
Some of the most celebrated composers of the late 19th century have performed on the organ, including Charles Gounod (the Frenchman best known for his Ave Maria and the opera Faust), who lived in Morden Road; Sir Arthur Sullivan, accomplice of WS Gilbert, and Gustav Holst, composer of The Planets.

The current President of the Royal College of Organists, Catherine Ennis, is familiar with the All Saints’ organ, while Robert Munns, the former organist for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, taught many young organists on it in the 1960s and 1970s. Munns was a great advocate of contemporary music, and so our organ’s association with living composers was consolidated. In recent years many composers have come to All Saints’ to hear their music performed and to spend time working with the organ on new pieces, including Gabriel Jackson, Paul Patterson, Timothy Salter, Robin Holloway and Laurence Crane.

The instrument is regarded with great fondness and held in high regard by these distinguished musicians, all of whom have found it to be a tremendous source of inspiration due to its wide palette of colours, versatility and quality of tone.

Why does it need repairing?
While All Saints’ has had good value out of its organ, it now needs an urgent overhaul. Parts of the bellows are leaking continuously and nearing the end of their lifespan, the pipework needs cleaning, revoicing and remodelling in places, the electrical system at the console needs a full makeover, with some stops now out of use and the electric key action becoming sluggish and increasingly noisy, which is intrusive during a service or public concert. A complete renovation is absolutely essential to ensure the instrument’s survival and enable it to serve the community for another 100 years.

Work is also needed from a heritage perspective to restore the best of the 1859 William Hill pipework to its original splendour. While there have been occasional running repairs over the years, significant work was carried out in 1969 that involved major changes to the pipes and voicing of the organ.  Though ambitious for its time, it is now felt to  be incompatible with the earlier pipework and sound of the original high quality organ – a view widely shared by the the Diocesan Organs Adviser and other organists and musicians.

We aim to bring back the quality of the organ that Gounod and Sullivan fell in love with. It would have had a very rich and solid foundation tone, generously-voiced flutes and well-blended reeds; at the same time we also need to be aware of present-day musical needs and the benefit of having an “eclectic” instrument on which all kinds of musical repertoire can be played with maximum effect.

Schedule of works
We would like Harrison & Harrison to begin work in April, 2014. With an  estimate  of some eight months to complete,  we hope that our newly refurbished organ would be restored to good voice in time for next Christmas. During the works, a temporary  electronic organ will provide our music.

The future: an organ at the heart of the community
The All Saints’ organ provides more than an accompaniment for religious services, even though our musical tradition is well regarded. It serves the wider community, such as local schools and organisations, and the church hosts concerts and recitals during the year by performers such as the Vanbrugh Ensemble and our international organist Michael Tomassi.

The Blackheath Conservatoire of Music and the Arts already use the church and the organ for rehearsals and performances and this will increase.  It is also planned that once the organ is restored it and the church will play a greater role in the musical life of Blackheath, with more concerts, recitals and community music. 

Our patrons

Terry Waite - the former special envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury and a distinguished local resident, has agreed to be Patron of our fundraising appeal.
Jools Holland - the well known pianist and bandleader who has lived in the area all his life and grew up with the sound of All Saints’ organ
Michael Nicholas - the former chief executive of the Royal College of Organists, former Organist and Master of the Choristers at Norwich Cathedral and sometime Director of Music at All Saints, are Vice-Patrons. 

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Fund Raising Event

Jools Holland the renowned painist and bandleader and one of the patrons for our Organ Restoration Fund, played for a reception held in All Saints' Church in aid of raising funds for the Organ Restoration Appeal.











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