THE MAIN ORGAN
Records of organs in St Leonard’s Church go back before 1480. The present instrument was built in 1936 by the firm of Harrison and Harrison (Durham and London) but used some pipes from the church’s previous two organs - a few from the work of Mr England of 1812 and far more from the organ by J W Walker & Sons of 1878. The England organ had stood on a gallery in much the same position as the present one, backing onto the church tower. The singers of the choir (and other instrumentalists) were also placed there. The Walker organ had been in the chancel south aisle, approximately where the large marble panel depicting Christ’s removal from the cross is now positioned. Though of good quality, to the congregation in the nave the organ sounded rather distant. Originally hand pumped, from the 1920s wind was supplied by an electric blower; this is still in use!
The 1936 organ was the last instrument voiced by Arthur Harrison, the organ-builder with the greatest reputation at the time in terms of the quality of workmanship, richness of sound and hence cost of his contracts. Harrison, who had recently rebuilt the organ of Kings College Cambridge, died before the next instrument he was working on (Westminster Abbey) was finished. The Hythe organ was a gift to St Leonard’s Church (it cost £3000) by two local businessmen - Mr G L Mackeson (proprietor of the town’s brewery that produced the milk stout drink carrying his name) and Mr E Osbourne (of the Hythe Cabinet & Joinery Work Ltd,). The latter company, which constructed the organ casework, had been set up by Osbourne after the First World War as a philanthropic gesture to provide employment for local men when jobs were scarce. He had made his fortune as a shipping merchant in China and, on returning to the UK, settled in Hythe with his three daughters in a series of large houses in North Road that he had built then sold (all the daughters sang in the St Leonard's church choir as 'extras', plugging gaps left by men on military service, one continuing to do so until the early 1980s).
The advisors were eminent - Sir Walter Alcock (organ) and Sir Charles Nicholson (casework).
Most of the pipes are contained in the imposing main case at the west end of the nave. This is made of oak, reputedly from old sailing ships (the wood certainly came from Portsmouth), with carvings by Mr Dennis Hooker that took some 600 hours to complete. Here are the pipes of three manual keyboard divisions, two contained in large boxes with venetian shutters to vary the volume and tone, and the largest pedal pipes. The impact of the pipes on listeners is direct and immediate from this position. This part of the organ can be very loud!
In the chancel, high up in the triforium on the north side, are more pipes. In effect, these form a separate organ (originally of one manual and pedals) that is used for accompanying singers in the choir-stalls (the congregation would not hear them if the nave’s west organ were to be used for this purpose). Both the west end and chancel sections are played from the single three-manual mobile console, and the two can be used together. In total there are 59 stops and 2,464 pipes (1,722 in the main case, 742 in the chancel triforium).
The 1936 siting of the console, in the chancel behind the south choir-stalls, was never ideal, with the player unable to hear clearly the main west-end organ because of the intrusion of a large pillar belonging to the chancel arch. At the opening recital the visiting organist (Dr George Thalben-Ball) was reported to have abandoned some of his intended programme because of the difficulty of hearing. This remained a problem until 1991, when the console was relocated.
Apart from a cleaning in the 1950s, little was done to the organ in its first fifty years. In the 1970s Kenneth James (London representative of Harrison & Harrison) experimented with altering the specification of the five-stop chancel organ by substituting upper-work for some of the 8’ and 4’ pipes, changer that were later made permanent. A Mixture stop was added to the west-end organ Great department (surely something that would have been included originally had funds allowed), and the family of the previous organist (Fred Skinner), who had been in post for 27 years up to 1972, paid for the creation of a Quint on the pedal section by ‘borrowing’ from existing pipework.
Damage to the roof in the Great Storm of 1987 allowed damp to penetrate the cables connecting the console to the pipes; insulation had been by natural rubber, which had deteriorated, wound with cotton, and the resulting low-voltage short-circuits caused notes to sound at random. Though things improved as the cables dried out, this was a signal that more work was needed. In 1991 the organ was conserved in a rebuild by the Kent firm F H Browne & Sons using funds provided in a bequest from Mrs Arnold Hollinghurst (Mr and Mrs Hollinghurst had been long-term supporters of the church and its music). This restoration involved replacing much of the electric action connecting the keyboards to the pipes; the new technology enabled this to be achieved using a single small cable insulated by modern materials. Care was taken to preserve the unique sound of the pipes as near as feasible with the intentions of Arthur Harrison. Five new stops were added (in a swell-box) to the chancel section to improve its ability to accompany singers, and the pedal stops there were extended. Also, the console from which the organ is played was made mobile. Normally it is sited in the north transept but can be moved to the centre of the church or further down the nave for concerts. When needed, a television link enables the organist to see the altar and singers in the chancel.
Since the rebuild of 1991 the continued good condition of the organ has been assured by a programme of maintenance and repairs. A bequest from the late Commander Charles Beckwith, an enthusiast for this instrument over very many years, enabled some of the original leather parts of the organ's mechanism, dating from 1936 and which had become cracked and leaky, to be replaced during 2005-6. Revisions were also made to the console and a 4’ flute added to the west Great section, filling a significant gap in the specification. In 2015 a lightning strike on the church's west tower destroyed some ++ of the electrical workings of the organ, necessitating a complete replacement of the mechanism with the latest digital transmission system, funded largely by the insurers. In early 2018 further work re-leathering the main wind reservoirs and pipes in the case front was undertaken, unreliable parts of the chancel mechanism were replaced, new electrical engines operating the three swell boxes were fitted, and a thorough cleaning of the chancel organ and exposed parts of the main organ took place. An additional octave of pipes were added to the chancel Swell Mixture to make it more effective. Paul Hale (of Southwell Minster) was the specialist consultant on this project, which was undertaken by F H Browne and Sons and funded from within the local and church community, including a contribution from the Friends of St Leonard’s Church. It is hoped that the organ will continue to be reliable for many further decades before major work is required.
1 Open Wood 16 (Walker 1878 transposed with Harrison bottom pipe)
2 Sub-bass 16 (1878 Walker revoiced)
3 Geigen 16 (from Great)
4 Quint 102/3 (from No 2) (Harrison/James 1987)
5 Octave Wood 8 (from No 1)
6 Flute 8 (from No 2)
7 Ophicleide 16 (from Choir Tuba)
8 Great to Pedal
9 Swell to Pedal
10 Choir to Pedal
11 Double Geigen 16 (Harrison 1936)
12 Large Open Diapason 8 (Harrison 1936)
13 Small Open Diapason 8 (part Walker 1878 and revoiced, 19 new bases)
14 Hohl Flute 8 (wood) (Harrison 1936)
15 Octave 4 (part Walker 1878, rescaled, 4 new basses)
16 Open Flute 4 (Browne, 2006)
17 Octave Quint (22/3) (Walker 1878)
18 Superoctave 2 (Walker 1878)
19 Mixture (22.26.29) (Harrison/James 1982)
20 Swell to Great
21 Choir to Great
22 Violin Diapason 8 (Harrison 1936)
23 Lieblich Gedackt 8 (Walker 1878 Stopped Diapson revoiced)
24 Echo Gamba 8 (Harrison 1936)
25 Voice Celeste 8 (tenor C) (Walker Echo Gamba revoiced)
26 Principal 4 (England 1812(?) Rescaled and revoiced)
27 Mixture (15.19.22) (Walker 1878 rescaled/revoiced)
28 Oboe 8 (Harrison 1936)
29 Double Trumpet 16 (bass Harrison 1936; trebles Walker 1893(?) Horn)
30 Trumpet 8 (Harrison 1936)
West Choir (all Harrison 1936)
33 Viol d’Orchestre 8
34 Harmonic Flute 8 (metal)
35 Salicionel 8
36 Concert Flute 4 (metal)
37 Clarinet 8
38 Tuba 8 (enclosed, with extra top octave)
41 Swell to Choir
East Organ (in triforium)
42 Bourdon 16 (Harrison 1936)
43 Bass Flute 8 (from No 42 with 12 pipes Browne 1991)
44 Contra Fagotto 16 (from No 54)
45 Claribel Flute 8 (Harrison 1936)
46 Gemshorn 4 (Harrison 1936)
47 Twelth 22/3 (old pipes, Browne 1991)
48 Fifteenth 2 (formerly Dulciana, Walker 1878, transposed/revoiced Browne 1991)
49 Tierce 13/5 (old pipes, Browne 1991)
50 Stopped Diapason 8 (additional old pipes (Hill?) revoiced Browne 1991)
51 Salicional 8 (additional old pipes (Hill?) revoiced Browne 1991)
52 Harmonic Flue 4 (Harrison 1936 with extra octave of pipes Harrison 1975)
53 Mixture 12.15 (Harrison/James 1979 revoiced Browne 1991 and 2018)
54 Contra Fagotto 16 (Gray and Davidson (?) 1930s revoiced Browne 1991)
55 Octave coupler (all have an extra octave of pipes)
56 Unison off
57 Chancel on Choir keys
58 Pedal to Swell pistons
59 Great and Pedal combinations coupled
Two swell pedals (1 West Swell; 2 West Choir and East Swell switchable)
Five thumb pistons to each west division
Three thumb pistons to each chancel division
Seven thumb pistons to Generals
General pistons settable with 99 channels
General cancel / Stepper advance and back through Generals
Reversibles Great/Pedal and Swell/Pedal
Five toe pistons to Pedal
Two toe pistons for Swell 4 and 5
Toe piston Great/Pedal (reversible) and Stepper advance
Pressures: West Great 3.5”; West Swell 4.5”; West Choir 4”; Chancel 3”; Action and Tuba 9”
THE CHAMBER ORGAN
In 2019 St Leonard's Church acquired, thanks to the generosity of four donors, a three-stop continuo organ, made by F H Browne and Sons in 2017. There are flutes at 8' and 4' pitches, plus a Principal at 2', all divided at middle C with separate stop knobs for treble and bass. The organ is fully cased but has opening doors that allow a display of the polished Principal pipes to be seen, and the sound to emerge clearly. An electric blower is contained within the case. The organ is on castors which allow it to be moved anywhere at Nave floor level to where it is to be used. There is a canvas cover to keep it clean and protect against damage.
This small organ has proved to be very effective in accompanying the choir when singing in the South transept, and has been used for small-scale services in the North transept chapel.
The Parish of St Leonard, Hythe