Music at St Saviour

The Organ of St Saviour was originally built in 1907.  Like the building which received it, it was, at first, only partially constructed, allowing for the work to be completed when funds became available.  And just as the building was the work of an architect of distinguished pedigree, Arthur C. Blomfield (son of the architect of the Royal College of Music and grandson of a famous Bishop of London), the new church’s organ was entrusted to William Hill and Sons, one of the most prestigious organ‑building firms in the British Empire.

By 1907, William Hill, the founder of the firm, was long dead and the company was directed by his grandsons, Walter and Arthur.  Much of the house-style established by William was retained in their instruments, including the light, fluty, sound of the chorus work and the rich, rather French, reeds.  The instrument provided for St  Saviour’s was skeletal indeed, with many stops missing, no casework to speak of, and a plank where the third manual was intended to go.  Nevertheless, both the mechanism and the pipework were of excellent quality, in spite of being made on the assumption that the church would, one day, be rather larger than it actually is.

St Saviour’s was the first new church to be built in tChurch Organhe Diocese of Southwark (inaugurated 1905).  Had it been completed to its original plan, it would have had a huge tower over the entrance and a cathedral-like nave of six bays.  The view from the railway would have been stunning.  The choir, Lady Chapel and first four bays of the nave were built, with a temporary west wall, in 1905-1908.  Alas, in the financially-straitened times between the wars, the completion of St. Saviour’s Church was not to be, and there was therefore no possibility of any money being spent on the organ.  In any case, the instrument was understood to be of high quality, albeit incomplete.  And there, although (probably) nobody realised it, lay its salvation.  Few new organs were built in England between 1918 and 1960, for economic reasons, resulting in much tinkering with existing instruments, in a misguided attempt to bring them up to date.  Many Victorian and Edwardian organs were mutilated, while that in St. Saviour’s was left almost exactly as its maker intended.

The instrument gave ninety-one years’ service before major work was necessary, a tribute to the craftsmanship of 1907.  In the meantime, the wooden halls to the rear of the church had become unsafe.  In 1989, it was decided to sell the land on which they stood, allowing the present hall and upper room to be constructed and the building to be made permanent, thus opening the way for work on the organ.  In 1998, thanks to funds raised by parishioners and a lavish donation from the late Patrick Fitzgerald, it was completed as a two‑manual instrument by F.H. Browne and Sons, of Canterbury.  The worn-out first stage of the old action was replaced with a solid-state system, freeing space for the Chapel of All Souls, but the original second stage, of the Barker Lever type, is still doing sterling service.  Using pipes copied from other Edwardian Hill instruments, Browne added three stops to the Great, three to the Swell and three to the Pedal.  The specification was devised by the then Organist and Director of Music, Christopher O’Neill, in consultation with the late John Hunt.  Voicing of the new pipework was by Roger Greensted of F.H. Browne.  Only one older stop, a mixture added in 1978, was re-voiced: the Hill pipework of 1907 was simply cleaned.  As well as being a superb liturgical instrument, this organ lends itself to a surprisingly wide repertoire of organ music.  The specification is as follows:

Open Diapason I      8          Hill
Open Diapason II     8          Hill
Hohl Flute                 8          Hill
Gemshorn                              Browne
Principal                    4          Hill
Harmonic Flute        4          Hill
Fifteenth                    2          Hill
Mixture                      III        Browne
Posaune                     8          Browne
Open Diapason        16        Hill
Bourdon                    16        Hill
Principal                    8          Browne
Bass Flute                  8          Browne, 
ex. Bourdon
Trombone                  16        Browne
Open Diapason        8          Hill
Rohr Flute                 8          Hill
Echo Gamba              8          Hill
Voix Celeste              8          Hill
Principal                    4          Hil l
Stopped Flute           4          Browne
Fifteenth                    2          Bro wne
Mixture                      III         Hill,  Norman & Beard, 1978; revoiced by Browne
Oboe                         16      Hill    was Oboe 8; transposed in 1978
Trumpet                    8          Browne
Swell Octave
Swell Sub Octave
Unison Off Balanced
Swell pedal (mechanical)