Letters to the Editor

“Of Metric, Mixtures, and other Matters”

Sir, — I cannot manage metric: “It’s your age dear!”, but even organ builders now would put St. Paul’s Dome’s Trompette Militaire, and the Anglican Liverpool Bombarde’s Tuba Magna, in some incomprehensible metric, when to everyone else, they’re just on 30 inches and 50 inches, respectively! That registers, as did once a lb. packet of tea, whereas, one of a mere .4536 kilograms, such lends itself to being put as but .450, or .425, or .400, with its price being raised periodically — and no one’s the wiser! Metric, thus, lends itself to fraud!

Passions can be stirred; such was the case of a very worthy musician born in 1839. He was Organist at both Wells and Bristol Cathedrals with a M.A. and Mus.D., later devoting himself to Education, Knighted in 1935, namely Percy Buck, who was “deadnuts” against Mixtures and Mutation stops.

In the early years of the last century, in his Organ Tutor, he strongly advocated, as ideal, a superfluity of 8ft stops on the Great, where with a dozen, to include two Diapasons and the addition of some four or five others of 8ft pitch, would be none too many. To make way for them, the whole tribe of Mixtures, Sesquialteras and Twelfths could well be discarded: “for which an increasing number of organists can find no justification whatsoever" and, “when collective opinion has banished the Mixture, the really artistic organ will arrive”. Take that!

Other notions are seeping into my “noddle” concerning Mixtures. From The Organist and Choirmaster, which had been under the editorship of Dr E. J. Hopkins, Dr. Charles W. Pearce, and Dr Charles Vincent —which went like a bomb both sides of the Atlantic —from May 15th 1893 to April 15th 1896 I have details of a Robert HopeJones’ instrument specifying Mixtures! Maybe it was that he was agin them later. It was in his East- and Westend sections for St. Alban’s, Holborn, that his specification, on his tenstop Great, specified a Tibia Harmonica (III ranks), and on the ninestop Swell, a Mixture (III ranks). The contract actually went to Father Willis — whose organ was another sad blitz casualty — but the church itself, as rebuilt, is one of the glories of London, with its Hans Feibusch great East mural, and above its Westend gallery, its fine Compton. Nearly hidden, St. Alban’s is just down the side of “the Pru.” in High Holborn, WC1.

But we’re indebted to the brothers Robert and Frank HopeJones for something daily! Frank helped Robert with his organ building, being a brilliant electrical horologist (his Synchronome Co., Clerkenwell, EC1), and between them they invented what they called the extended sixth. Later on it was adopted by the BBC whose advent was in 1922. It’s the “pips” at 6.00 a.m., Radio 4! And London’s very first electric public clock? It’s in the roadway outside Victoria Station; Little Ben, by the Bros. HopeJones! They went on to electrify many a clock in a church tower!

However, the very ethos of HopeJones would have been anathema to all that Thomas Christopher Lewis and his firm (T. C. Lewis & Co. of Ferndale Road, Brixton, SW2) stood for! He, starting up circa 1860, would use but the finest grained and well season timber, with windchests in mahogany, and all metal pipes, if possible, to be in spotted metal (which, in Victorian times, would have been an alloy of 35%65% tin, and the rest lead). He engaged superlative craftsmen as, to him, only the best would do! In 1897 he completed perhaps his finest, the organ for St. Saviour’s Collegiate Church, Southwark, which contained some sixty stops.

Hope-Jones had prevailed at Worcester Cathedral and Precentor and Sacrist, the late Colin Beswick, wrote of the fearsome tonalities which assailed them there daily. Their HopeJones’ instrument had a brick swell box, and HopeJones planned to have another Tuba on 100 inches over the Canons’ stalls, which fortunately never came to fruition. The Precentor pointed out that this 1896 instrument, by 1921, had completely broken down!

Its wiring had become defective, and HopeJones had also used rubbercloth as a substitute for leather in the motors which had subsequently perished, and the magnets had become charged with residue magnetism. Its six stop Solo, by the way, had only one flute stop — a 4ft Rohr flute — and that all was voiced on 20 inch wind! Harrison’s came to the rescue and, by 1925, had rebuilt it taking the opportunity of getting rid of some of its worst excesses.

Southwark’s Lewis, on the other hand, where every metal pipe is in spotted metal (to include its dummies in its South transept’s Blomfield case), and that their magnum opus, had its first rebuild in 1950, by Willis III, and the least said about that the better! Harrison again came to the rescue (19861991), rebuilding and returning Southwark’s organ, as far as humanly possible, to its 1897 Lewis pristine state. This was superlatively achieved.

The curious thing which now obtains, though, is that the very things about it so condemned in 1897 are the very things now acclaimed! But, then, there has been the impact of the magnificent Harrison of 1954 at the Royal Festival Hall, and organ building cannot remain static — or else!

Harry Coles,
Loughton, Essex.


Sir, — I am seeking information about an organ builder called “Goldfinch”, who was active around Canterbury and Thanet in the late 18th and early 19th century.

I know that he was involved at St. Alphege, Canterbury and St. Peter-in-Thanet (where I am organist), but otherwise have been singularly unlucky in turning anything up.

Any information readers can offer will be most welcome. Tel: 01304 367988.

Desmond Harvey,
Walmer, Kent.

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