Every so often we get to work in exceptional buildings and extraordinary circumstances. The Jesuit Chapel at Stonyhurst College managed to combine both these attributes in a single commission.
On entering the chapel at Stonyhurst College you would be forgiven for thinking it was the work of Augustus Pugin, but it is actually that of Charles Alban Buckler who studied under Pugin and was clearly influenced by his style. As well as the Puginesque wonderful decoration you are also immediately struck by the fine pipe organ case high on a west end gallery.
Pipework suffering from too many rebuilds
Sadly today it is only the case that makes an impact for this instrument as the action and pipework have suffered from too many rebuilds of dubious merit. Many ranks are silent and others unreliable. There is no entry on the National Pipe Organ Register.
Some of the pipework is from the original Willis instrument which hopefully will find its way into another instrument or perhaps an eventual rebuild of this instrument. But for the time being there is no prospect of funds for a £million plus project which would be a shared responsibility of the college and the Jesuit authorities. This is actually a church open for public worship that just happens to double up as a private school chapel.
As you will see from the photographs this was a substantial installation requiring the console, split into two halves, to be raised nearly six metres onto the gallery.
Scaling a ‘rickety ladder’ to install organ speakers
18 main speaker cabinets are located inside the pipe case. All pipework had to be cleared from the great soundboard into safe storage before we arrived but a considerable quantity of other pipework remains in place. The 8 cabinets placed on the great soundboard carry the great and pedal departments while 10 speakers on the passage board between the façade pipes and the two swell boxes take the rest of the instrument.
Access to that high location is up a rickety ladder so typical of those we encounter in larger instruments. Not designed to take too much weight perhaps because the space it leads to, a walkway between the two swell boxes can only be traversed by a ‘thin man’. This may well be an unintended early safety system to prevent an overly rotund organ tuner becoming trapped higher up the instrument!
There are additionally 2 sub woofers, one of which is located along with the amplification in the blower chamber, while a second is at a lower level in the main case.
A great view from the Organ Console
The Viscount Ouverture organ console has been placed 180 degrees round from the pipe console allowing organist a good view straight down the building to the east end. The terraced design greatly reduces the console height and further improves the line of sight.
The plinth, yet to be stained on which the console sits, was made by college joiners. In due course the pipe organ console will be dismantled and I understand is destined to find a new role as a home practice hauptwerk platform.
I have had a passion for church organs since the tender age of 12. I own and run Viscount Organs with a close attention to the detail that musicians appreciate; and a clear understanding of the benefits of digital technology and keeping to the traditional and emotional elements of organ playing.
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