Pugin, Lewis & the BBC


Sir, — last August’s 2002 KCOA Journal is of absorbing interest. I chuckled, though, having been led by the nose as, doubtless, others were, over Michael Cooke’s delightful shaggy dog story: A problem solved, which Franz Joseph Haydn, I’m sure, would have relished to the full. But never in Cardiff, although he was in London from 1st January 1791 to the middle of June 1792.


The first page of meeting reports refers to Augustus Pugin (1812-52), and his 1849 St. Augustine’s, Ramsgate. It may interest members, those in the Wilds of Kent, to know that his former magnificent tabernacle at Ramsgate, for some years has adorned the north wall in the Harvard Chapel of St. Saviour’s Cathedral, Southwark.


One is mindful too of the fact that, when those years ago now, His Holiness the Pope came to London, and had “tea-ed” at Buckingham Palace with Her Majesty The Queen. On the morrow, being with Prince Charles, he said to him: And yesterday, I had tea with your mother!


But the Pope’s first port of call was to the other one, Pugin’s 1848, St. George’sCathedral, St. George’s Road, Elephant and Castle. The BBC’s 6.00 p.m. News though, in introducing their programme on that day, filled our T.V. screens, depicting the majestic tower of London’s first Gothic structure — 1205-1238, St. Saviour’s Cathedral. How on earth were the BBC, at Wood Lane, W 12, to know that Southwark has two Cathedrals?


To Pugin, architecturally, nothing was more sublime than our Gothic Cathedrals. They still remain awe-inspiring national treasures whether one is in a Lincoln, a Norwich, or a Wells, all severally, are just wonderful. To him, though, as the Gothic style — originally, the epithet was not complimentary! — evolved during the Christian era, ipso facto, to Pugin, anything Classical or Romanesque, was pagan.


He — a convert to Roman Catholicism — therefore, stipulated, that any new church should be cruciform, not realising that his obiter dicter later would prove a thorn in the flesh, not least to many an organ builder, to this day! That was of a period before our first Public Hall, and its organ by Wm. Hill, a 4-manual colossus at Birmingham Town Hall, which by 1835, contained the world’s first 8ft Tuba (yclept Ophicleide!), speaking on about 12 inches of wind. Nationally, other Town and City Halls sprang up, together with their organs. The latter’s influence prompted larger organs, especially in our Cathedrals.


By 1844, the ever-enlightened Gray & Davison had built the largest church instrument in the land — save York Minster’s — at Chester Cathedral, with 40-stops! This contained a Continental feature, an independent Pedal Organ of seven stops from 16ft, to include a 31/5 Tierce and a Sesquialtera II ranks; both features disappeared in the Whitely Bros. rebuild there of 1876! But that was not to stop Dr. William Longhurst of Canterbury Cathedral, as late as 1884 writing to Musical Times saying, that his organ had only one octave of pedals, and a swell organ descending merely to Tenor C.


Wonderful, therefore, as our Gothic cruciform Abbeys and Cathedrals are with their marvelous vistas, look at glorious Exeter, with its early English Decorated style, and that: the longest stretch of Gothic vaulting in the world - more than three hundred feet in length. But, in a little Victorian-Gothic village cruciform church, as with others, with a little chancel, transepts maybe of a couple of yards in length or width where, on earth to put the organ?


An 8ft Open Diapason, per the Laws of natural physics, with its, say 61 pipes, cannot be reduced in size pro rata to fit into a small village cruciform church with a minimal chancel and transepts. Where, then to put just the smallest of pipe organs, with an 8ft Open? I leave that to your Journal’s excellent Co-ordinator, to work out!


About Lewis organs (mentioned on page 14 of the last journal) a crucial year was 1883. I had it from the late Mr. H. Peter Hamblen, a Director of Henry Willis & Sons Ltd., that T.C.Lewis & Co. was legally closed down on the 1st August 1883 (they’d gone bust!), only to rise again on 6th October 1883, as: Lewis & Co. Ltd. Tom Lewis was much respected and liked, and Peter, whom I knew very well, had full documentation of all those who had contributed, and how much each.


John Michell Courage’s May 1896 specification for the firm’s magnum opus at St. Saviour’s, and its nomenclature, was cracked up to the skies by Dr. E.J.Hopkins — well, he would   he’d been out to the 1794 firm of J.F.Schulze & Sons, Paulinzella, and had had about a dozen stops from them added to his instrument at the Temple Church! But, otherwise, Southwark’s organ was just dammed, it just did not comply with current fashion. There was Wedgwood’s famed 1905 Dictionary of Organ Stops, its author considering the work of Hope-Jones as magnificent and epoch-making, the true complement to that of Father Willis!


And the lovely little Lewis in Westminster Cathedral of circa 1906, didn’t emanate from the Ferndale Road, Brixton Works! Tom, in the later 1890s, had received the elbow from Ferndale Road. With five excellent craftsmen, to include Freddie Tunks, who’d voiced Southwark’s organ, and who, with his son Victor, I knew in the 1930s, was advertising in the 1910s, as of Museum Works, Brixton Hill, and the Builder of the Organ in Westminster Cathedral”! Henry Willis & Sons & Lewis & Co. Ltd. built the Grand Organ there between 1922 and 1932.


Mea culpa! I did correct Percy Buck’s date from 1839 to 1871 (February 2002 Journal), and then — the phone rang, or something, and returned thinking I'd already programmed it through!


Harry Coles
Loughton, Essex

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