The organ was originally installed in 1907 in the South Chancel (where the new kitchen and upper room are now). The church logbook for 1 June 1907 says “The new organ, built by Messrs Peter Conacher Ltd for the sum of £510 was dedicated this day by the Lord Bishop of Croydon. Mr Andrew Carnegie contributed the sum of £255.”
Organ builders Peter Conacher & Co were based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire – and the name plate on the organ firmly states “THE OLD FIRM” of Peter Conacher and Co, to distinguish it from other companies drawing on this builder’s name.
The instrument underwent the usual repairs and alterations throughout the twentieth century – notably in 1998 Martin Renshaw experimentally transferred the Cornopean stop from the Swell to the Great, and added a Clarinet stop to the Swell.
By the early twenty-first century though, the organists and organ tuner were fighting a rearguard action to keep it operational. Some problems were only solved by temporarily disabling sections of the organ, andby 2010 despairing notes such as “I fear this organ has not long to go!” started appearing in the organ tuner’s notebook.
In December 2010 the tuner was forced to respond to the organist’s cry for help over multiple malfunctions with the regretful note: “There is little can be done…without spending a lot of money. I can make a dedicated visit to attempt some of the pedal problems, but it may be just throwing good money after bad”.
Dr David Flood, Master of the Choristers and Cathedral Organist at Canterbury Cathedral, was consulted on the instrument, and he suggested the organ was certainly of a quality worth saving, and that it would be better located in the North Aisle. Initial quotes for this moving and rebuild were of the order of £100,000, which left the PCC in some despair. However local organ builder Peter Wells of Cranbrook came through with a more achievable sum. (Peter had been tuning and maintaining the instrument, so knew it well.) Fundraising was through a few large donations from local families who felt passionately that the organ should be retained, and if it was retained, then also restored. Moving and restoring the organ became Phase 1 of a reordering scheme for the whole church, and the PCC gave the go-ahead on 1 May 2013.
Between January and June 2015 Peter Wells, assisted by Alistair Curtis, stripped the whole instrument down, and it was an extraordinary sight to see all 1182 pipes plus thousands of other components laid out in boxes in the south half of the church. The rebuild was an opportunity to honour the construction principles of the original builders: stops were returned to their original positions, and much of the mechanism was returned to a more reliable form of action. The only addition was a new Trumpet stop on the Great. (Full 2015 specification below.) Happily the organ fitted its new home to an inch.
In 2016 the brief note “organ moved to North Aisle” appears in the organ tuner’s notebook. I was appointed Director of Music here very shortly after this. It was interesting during the first months of my appointment to play for services encased, along with the organ, in a protective plastic tent while the other building works for the re-ordering of the church were completed (and note how the Edwardian oak panel detailing of the organ case has been picked up in the new oak panelling on the South side of the church). But now it is a great pleasure to play an organ of such high quality for a relatively small village, and of course, delightful that it is in good running order for services and concerts. Alistair Curtis and Peter Wells still visit regularly to tune and maintain it.
Director of Music, St Mary’s, Frittenden
SPECIFICATION OF THE ORGAN AFTER 2015 REBUILD
|Key action EP Stop action Me Compass-low C Compass-high f1 Keys 30
|Key action Tr Stop action Me Compass-low C Compass-high a3 Keys 58
|Key action Tr Stop action Me Compass-low C Compass-high a3 Keys 58 Enclosed
|15:19 / MC 12:15
|moved from Great in 1998
Swell to Pedal
Swell to Great
Great to Pedal
3 composition pedals each to Great, Swell
Further details of the instrument can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register (NPOR) athttp://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N14777