Recently I found myself travelling to Peterborough to meet a potential client. Having time on my hands I decided to revisit nearby Fotheringhay Church where almost 20 years ago now I used to meet James Parsons for a monthly lesson. This was on the wonderful Vincent Woodstock organ that resides there. These trips were really enjoyable, a half day outing as it is about an hour drive from my home.
Fotheringhay Church – ‘half a church’
I used to arrive at about 1.00pm and go to the adjacent pub for an excellent lunch. Allowing myself just half a pint of beer for fear that my playing would be the worse for the liquid lunch. Then have perhaps half an hour playing, before James would arrive, just to enjoy this beautiful instrument and the amazing acoustic of the church. More precisely perhaps ‘half a church’ as you see from the picture. Courtesy of the church web site this is explained below.
‘The chancel (eastern end of the old church) was enlarged and rebuilt after 1411 consisting of a Quire (Choir) and Lady Chapel by Edward Duke of York and was still under construction when he was buried there after being killed at Agincourt.
He envisaged a great collegiate church, together with a cloister, Master’s lodge and Chapter House to house a company of over 30 men who were to say prayers for the souls of previous kings and for the family of York. The building that we see today was the new Nave or western end built to match the existing Quire and Lady Chapel constructed 20 years or so before.
This building was begun around 1434 funded by Richard, third Duke of York and designed to match the existing eastern end. This Nave was always the parish church of the village and so it escaped the fate of the eastern end and the college buildings when Protector Somerset dissolved the chantries in 1548. The whole complex of buildings including the Church which was therefore once twice as long as the present structure, must have made a magnificent spectacle in its day, visible from many miles away’.
The Vincent Woodstock Organ at Fotheringhay Church
I cannot praise too highly this Woodstock organ. Small in comparison to the space it may be, but it fills the church which as you can see is huge. The tracker action is feather light and today perhaps 18 years since I first played it is as crisp as the day it was made.
I had forgotten that the pedal board is straight concave which is the only feature I rather regret. The swell (or perhaps more accurately) positive pipe work sits immediately opposite the players head with swell shutters just behind the decorated front bringing a very different character due to the immediacy the player hears it. The great and pedal are heard with far more of the building reverberation blending the sound and the difference between the result at the console is very striking.
Wingfield Organ by Goetze and Gwynn
By a stroke of luck on the day of my visit I found another instrument at Fotheringhay which I immediately recognised, how sad is that!
It is a very striking instrument built by the renowned firm of Goetze and Gwynn and based on the remains of an early English instrument dating from the mid 1500’s. It is know as the Wingfield Organ. There is a short recording of the instrument on their website.
This instrument is hand blown so I resisted the temptation of trying to fill bellows at the side and then dash to the tiny keyboard for perhaps 5/10 seconds of play before the bellows needed another pump.
While the church and the Woodstock organ were just as I remember them the pub I regret had changed hands. With lunch I allowed myself a pint on this visit and could have drunk another in the time I waited to be served!
Happy days but rather daunting to think how many years had passed since I was last there with James.
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.
Dr Kenneth Dean says
Thank you for this very interesting and informative post. The genius of the old builders and the magnificent old churches is so awesome and amazing.
John Worthington says
How interesting to read about “The Vincent Woodstock Organ” at Fotheringhay.I worked with Vincent at Peter Collins workshop,Redbourne,Hertfordshire, 40 more years ago.