The first organ to be installed in St Luke’s Church was originally built by Gray and Davison for a house in Kippington Road. The organ was subsequently moved from Kippington to St Luke’s Church by Rest Cartwright.
When the organ had been installed in the south transept in 1908, the organ builder, Rest Cartwright, expressed his opinion of it: ‘architecturally, I have no doubt the general public would look upon it as a very fine organ. Candidly I’m afraid to an architect it will never look as if it was built or intended for the church.’ Its cramped position in the south transept also prevented it ever being heard to advantage. In spite of a new blower in 1931, extensive repairs in 1937 and a thorough overhaul, cleaning and repair in 1952, the organ was by the 1960s becoming increasingly noisy and unreliable.
In 1964 the distinguished historian of organs, Dr W.L. Sumner, prepared a report, estimating the cost of rebuilding as £4-6000. That was clearly prohibitive, but now for the first time the proposal which would prove the key to the problem was made by Mr Pite. This was that the organ should be redesigned and resited on the upper west wall of the nave which his recent extension had created. The Organ Committee, which had been formed back in 1959, recommended in June 1968 the acquisition of an organ costing not more than £2000, which could be sited on the new west wall. But a reconstruction, using pipes from the old organ would be much cheaper than acquiring a new instrument; so in November 1968, after investigating seven different proposals, the Organ Committee recommended that Ralph Arnold of Orpington should be commissioned to rebuild the organ, resite it on the west wall, with a floor-level console, at an estimated cost of £2340. The contract was signed in November 1969, and by the autumn of 1970 the newly recreated instrument was ready to play. Mr Geoffrey Gilbert, organist 1966-1971, explained in an article in the parish magazine in March 1971 how the new instrument differed from the old: ‘The original instrument had 24 different stops and the new one has 22. The old one had about 1160 pipes, but the new one has only about 440. Thus by reducing the number of pipes and the actual physical size of the organ Mr Ralph Arnold, the builder, has skilfully used a modern principle of organ building known as the “extension principle”. To explain this briefly, against the 24 separate ranks (or rows) of pipes each containing 58 individual pipes, which the original organ had, the new one will have but 6 ranks. It is from these six ranks that the twenty-two different stops are derived. This is made possible by extending each rank in length (i.e. number of pipes) below and above the usual number of 58 per rank so that notes of all required pitch can be sounded.’ The new organ, reduced in size and placed high up, so that only the console, sited at the east end of the south nave aisle, occupied any floor-space, freed up the entire south chancel aisle and transept.
The organ was modified in the 1980s with the addition of a Nineteenth stop, extended from the Diapason rank, and also the console was supplied with a rudimentary combination system which provided the player with four thumb pistons to each division of the organ.
The reality of the situation was that the resulting instrument from the Arnold rebuild was a mongrel of an organ, with pipework taken from the previous organ, and completed by the addition of other second-hand pipework from stock. Outwardly, the specification of the organ looked complete, however the organ relied heavily on the extension system and provided the parish with little more than a bread and butter organ. The sound of the organ was either too quiet, or shrill and harsh – perhaps a protest from the pipework from the original organ at being press-ganged into performing in a way alien to the original builder’s voicing for the house organ in Kippington Road.
In 2011/12 the organ became somewhat erratic in its behaviour with stops, or notes refusing to work and it became clear that something needed to be done. Our own organ builder (an acknowledged expert and a fine organ builder) provided the church with a report which sealed the fate of the present organ. Perhaps it is best to let the organ builder describe the organ and its idiosyncrasies:
The organ is located high on the west wall of the church. The Great and Pedal bass pipes are on a cantilevered platform. The Swell is built into a compact room formed in the roof void behind the west wall. The Swell shutters are set in what would have been a window opening.
Access was originally all from the front of the organ, by removing large pipes at one side. This was later supplanted by access provided into the roof void from the west end of the church roof.
Access is generally VERY difficult due to the compact design. Servicing Soundboard action faults means removing pipes and top boards to reach action magnets.
Since installation, very few changes have been made. In our files we can find records of:
- Installation of simple fixed piston system.
- Revoicing of Great Dulciana
- Repair of Swell Flute rank stoppers
- Repair of faulty wind control valve to Pedal wind regulator
These ranks are all recycled and not chosen specifically for suitability but by availability. Therefore the balance between Swell and Great is very unequal. The Great is too bold, the Swell too shy and retiring. The limited range of stops only provides the most basic of support for hymn-singing and offers little scope for the skillful accompanist or organ soloist.
- Wind system: The wind system employs a small electric blower feeding three single-rise wind regulators controlled by simple slide valves. These units are notorious for providing erratic pressure regulation, even when ‘idling’. Demand on the wind regulators produces pressure loss which results in mis-tuning. Electric action relies on the original 1968 electrical relays and multi-way switches, which are noted for being unreliable in a random way. What works today may not work tomorrow.
- Inaccessibility of direct-electric action magnets for maintenance purposes is a particular concern.
- Tuning Issues: With half the organ located very much in the church and half concealed without, use of church heating can lead to large pitch differentials, as the pipes exposed most easily to heat and convection currents will sharpen readily.
- The limited tonal resources are clearly unsatisfactory. Yet, there is no space in an already very congested chamber to make stop additions that would redress the balance.
- The electric action system has little else to offer, except unreliability. The multi-contact switches and relays will always be troublesome and unpredictable in operation.
- The detached console is equipped with the most basic playing aids and is poorly located in terms of how well the organist can judge the balance of registration and make it appropriate to the required accompaniment.
- There seems therefore little point in looking at ways of making small changes as a means of overall improvement. This is going to waste valuable funds.
- This is a budget instrument that has outlived its original purpose and design. Limitations of space and general un-worthiness of the original material make it unsuitable as a basis for further development.
- So, the parish was presented with a situation where the current organ had been condemned and it was clear that to spend any more money on it was clearly bad stewardship.
- The search began for a new organ, which eventually proved to be a little more complicated than originally thought. There was a clear desire from the musicians and also the parishioners, that any new organ would have pipes. We therefore looked at various options in pipe organ terms – a brand new instrument or sourcing a suitable redundant organ from another church. It was quickly pointed out that our situation was a challenging one, with limited space in which to accommodate an instrument. The site of the original organ in the south transept was discounted because the area concerned was now used for a number of different purposes, and that any organ placed in this area would block out valuable light, and also create a blockage in terms of people returning from communion. St Luke’s was faced with one position – that of the west end platform, which in reality, could only accommodate the smallest of instruments, and certainly not large enough for present day needs.
- One possible option – a wild card, was suggested; that of having a combination organ. A combination organ uses both pipes and electronics, and while a potentially controversial option, it was felt that it was worth investigating further so a visit to St Peter’s Church, Nottingham was arranged to hear the substantial instrument installed there. The organ had been designed specifically to accompany their fine choir, and also to be a versatile recital instruments.
- Our parish representatives were very impressed by the quality of the sound and the attention to detail of the organ builders, together with their clear commitment and enthusiasm for working on such projects. St Luke’s PCC agreed to purchase a custom- designed combination organ to be built by Modular Pipe Organ Systems (MPOS) and Rodgers Organs. This would be the first instrument in St Luke’s Church which was designed specifically to meet the musical needs of the parish. The opportunity was taken to ensure that the organ was a first rate accompanimental instrument by placing the majority of the organ at the west end, and placing a separate Choir Organ in the south transept. The stoplist was designed to cover a variety of accompanimental needs as well as to allow the player to perform music of a variety of musicial periods convincingly. The mobile console was to be placed closer to the choir in the south transept where the player would be in better contact with the choir and conductor.
- The PCC subsequently submitted all the designs to the Diocesan Committee for approval. This was an unusual situation as our organist (Paul Isom) is also Diocesan Organs Advisor, so the DAC sought advice from the Council for the Care of Churches in order that there was an independent organ advisor. The CFC agreed that the situation was a difficult one and agreed, with the DAC that St Luke’s could proceed with the purchase of a combination organ.
- The organ was installed in time for Easter services in 2013 and from the very first moment, it was clear to all concerned that this instrument was something really quite special. It has already proved to be a versatile and expressive instrument capable of a wide range of expression. The organ builders have also built a beatiful new case which graces the west end of the church and appears to be floating in mid-air. The console is also a beautiful piece of furniture and is extremely comfortable and has a wide range of playing aids which really do help when accompanying the choir and congregation.
- The blend of the digital stops and pipe ranks is really quite superb and it is quite difficult to tell which is which. St Luke’s Church is very proud of the new organ, and the end result would not have been possible without the talents of the organ builders at Rodgers and MPOS, and also the many generous donors who willingly backed this project, raising the money in record time. Thanks are also due to Revd. Mark Griffin and Nancy Wolfe for their enthusiastic backing of this project.
Gifts of Fittings
The church has been enriched by many notable fittings, particularly during Archdeacon Richard Mason’s time. The altar in the Lady Chapel was designed by Geoffrey Gilbert and made by his pupils at Sevenoaks School. Several fine altar frontals were commissioned. Most striking of these is the festival frontal designed and made by Nancy Tatham of Lewes in 1984-5. The Trinity frontal, of 1990, is by Pat Savage of Seal Chart Studios, in her distinctive style. Hers too are the batik falls on pulpit and lectern, and the banner made in 2000 to celebrate the parish’s links with other churches. During 1993-4 the church was provided with a complete set of embroidered hassocks, made by a working party of parishioners to commemorate the 90th anniversary of St Luke’s church. The individually designed hassocks, each commissioned by a member of the congregation, form a remarkable record of the interests and memories of members and their loved ones. The Agnus Dei roundel of stained glass in the south transept was set up in 1996 in memory of Judge John Newey. Its designer was Judy Hill of Keith and Judy Hill of Marden.