The Abbey Organs
The history of this instrument is a long and fascinating one.
In 1631, Robert Dallam built a new organ for Magdalen College, Oxford, where it was erected in an ‘organ house’ opening on to the south side of the chapel. In 1654 it was moved to Hampton Court Palace, where the poet John Milton is reputed to have played it. The instrument was returned to Magdalen in 1660 and re-erected the following year. The organ was substantially remodelled by Renatus Harris in 1690.
In 1736 the organ was sold to Tewkesbury Abbey and later placed on a special stone screen constructed on the site of the medieval pulpitum. A Swell Organ was added by John Holland in 1796. Major rebuilds followed – by ‘Father’ Willis in 1848 and J.W. Walker in 1948 (when the Echo and Solo departments were added and a detached five-manual console was installed).
In 1997 the Milton Organ was rebuilt and reconstructed by Kenneth Jones and Associates of Bray as a four-manual instrument with 68 speaking stops and 4611 pipes. The lower three keyboards have mechanical action, whilst the Solo and Apse divisions have electro-pneumatic action.
The inaugural recital was given in May 1997 by Nicolas Kynaston, who also acted as organ consultant.
This wonderful Victorian instrument was built by Michel and Thynne for the 1885 Inventions Exhibition. The aim of the builders in this their ‘Model Organ’ was “an attempt to place in the hands of the player a grand and complete organ, reduced to the smallest possible dimensions as regards the number of slides (stops).” It was also exhibited at the Liverpool Exhibition the following year, where W.T. Best declared it to be “the finest organ of its kind that I have ever played upon”.
The Reverend C.W. Grove, a great benefactor to the Abbey, purchased it in 1887 and presented it to the Abbey to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. It was placed in the north transept where it has remained ever since.
When the Milton Organ was rebuilt in 1948, it was planned also to restore and enlarge the Grove organ, making it playable from the Walker five-manual console. This scheme was not carried out, and eventually the organ was restored in 1980-81 by Messrs. Bishop and Son on ‘conservation’ lines, the only modification being the insertion of the five largest pedal pipes acquired from the old organ in Christ Church, Oxford. The re-opening recital was given by Dr Francis Jackson of York Minster.