February 2010

Visit to Hampton – 13 February 2010 - Report by Melvin Hughes

Our visit to Hampton embraced 3 workhorse organs – the sort that most of us know so well from our experience of parish churches. A treacherously cold day fortunately ameliorated by a lunchtime sojourn in the somewhat faded surroundings of The Bell, Hampton (soon to be refurbished), although the service and food were excellent.

The first, St Mary the Virgin, Hampton, built in 1831, with a sanctuary added by Blomfield in 1888 (unfortunately he was responsible for the undistinguished 1901 organ case as well) contained an organ of very good pedigree, having its origins in an instrument provided for the church by J C Bishop in 1831. This was a modest instrument of 16 stops placed in the West Gallery, where it was moved from in 1879 to coincide with the introduction of a surpliced choir. The firm of Bishop and Son rebuilt and enlarged it with a new Choir division and various refurbishments and alterations were made in the 20th century by Rushworth & Dreaper (1955) and J W Walker (1975). Any hopes that a historic rebuild might one day be attempted, as with the J C Bishop of 1829 at St James, Bermondsey, seem ruled out by the mention in the church’s organ leaflet that only 8 ranks from the previous organ were used in 1898. Its faults lie in manual reeds that seemed to cut too much through the texture, hard Great diapasons (the Great Chorus sounded better with just the Clarabella underneath it) and an underpowered Trombone. But, of its type, a good workhorse organ. Of more interest was the fact that S S Wesley was the first organist of the church. As one of the Victorian Age’ organ virtuosi it was clearly necessary for members to live up to that standard. We heard Mendelssohn, Thalben-Ball, Bach, Greene and Vaughan-Williams – the latter the prelude on ‘Hyfrydol’ (or ‘Hydrofoil’ as it was once memorably announced to one of our meetings).

St James, Hampton Hill, the church of eccentric architectural design and detail dates from 1863, has an organ substantially by Hele & Co. There was an unexpected link with the first church, for the Hele rebuild incorporated Bishop material from a previous organ. It is currently in the care of John Males (formerly of HNB). It is said the original organ by Bishop and Son was built in the 1830's for St Peter's, Eaton Square. It was purchased and installed in the new organ chamber in 1874. Again a workhouse organ of no compelling distinction, and following the cold snap out of tune, but good enough and members in a DIY visit ventured Bach, Stanford, Mendelssohn, Gordon Young and Vierne. The church lacks an organist and seeks one for a salary of £3400 per annum plus fees. It is good to see at least one church offering a realistic rate of remuneration for its musicians.

All Saints, Weston Green was completed in 1939 by Edward Maufe, who otherwise designed the red brick power station which dominates the skyline at the top of Stag Hill in Guildford. It was almost as if a Mediterranean seaport white church had been dropped into Surrey, although without the accompanying climate. It has a small organ by Henry Jones in the West Gallery (restored recently by David Wood), transferred here from elsewhere c1940, possibly from Byfleet Boys' Reformatory. I have never liked organs by this firm thought I recognise others thought differently and they installed at least one mega instrument, into the Westminster Royal Aquarium (which was demolished in 1902 to make way for Central Hall, Westminster). As so often with organ builders of the second rank, the smaller the instrument the better and 13 stop was relatively charming and shown to particularly good effect by the organist, Douglas Reed, in a rendition of Parry’s Prelude on ‘Melcombe’. Because of an evening commitment I had to leave early and I missed what members played on it.

In the evening at the Fairfield Halls the sumptuous textures of Tchaikovsky and the flexible jazzy rhythms of Gershwin had thankfully put pipe organs and their music far from my mind. Up pops an ESOA member in front of me with did I know you can play the slow movement of the Tchaikovsky Symphony on the organ?”. No escape!

Thanks to James West for organising an interesting day and our Chairman for researching a hospitable pub. I have driven past Hampton church for many years. Now I know what is inside it!