For this church:
Through the church’s history there have been several organs at St Mary’s. The siting of the organs at St Mary’s has always been a problem, as can be seen from the numerous positions within the church.
There was an organ in St. Mary’s from as early as the 16th Century. The churchwardens’ records in 1589 note that the organ contained 255 pipes. Deering relates that during the Civil War, which began in 1642:
a certain person, (then still living) when Churchwarden, sold the Organ-pipes, and left the empty case in its place ... at the entrance to the quireThe organs by known builders are:
Organ by Mark Anthony Dallam
A memorandum in the parish register notes:
In 1705 the new organ was erected, at the expense of £212 15s 9d, raised by the generous contributions of the Right Honourable the Earl of Kingston and several others.
This organ was in operation when the Doric west end was built in 1726. At this time the organ was moved forward from the west end, with the gallery, to part way down the nave.
Thomas Swabrick Organ
A new loft/balcony was built at the west end. The existing organ was repaired and extended with the addition of a new choir organ. This organ was sold in 1777 to Uppingham church in Rutland and the casework is still there today.
Snetzler built an organ at the west end in this year. The lion, unicorn and cushion with crown were transferred from the 1705 Dallam organ to the three towers of this organ. By 1827 the organ was on a gallery in the middle of the nave. In the 1839 restorations, pedal pipes were added. In 1846 it was moved to the north transept. It was moved and improved by Lloyd and Dudgeon and re-sited to the north aisle in 1867.
Organ by Bishop & Starr
To install this organ part of the thickness of the north chancel wall had to be reduced (an effect that can still be seen today) and the entrance to the clergy vestry had to be moved several feet to the west. At the suggestion of Canon Morse the latest technology of hydraulic power for blowing the organ was installed. Water pressure was a problem and after much discussion a tank was placed in the tower. The engine and bellows were installed in the clergy vestry. The opening date for the organ was postponed because of lack of water pressure, and facilities for hand blowing installed. A comment in the 1871/2 annual report states that “additional expense of the new organ requiring two men instead of one to blow it”. The organ continued with further modifications until 1915, when it was replaced by a temporary organ by J W Walker & Sons, whilst the better parts from the Bishop and Starr organ were used in the new organ.
Organ by J W Walker & Sons
In 1911 work began on a new chapel by Temple Moore on the side of the south chancel which was also to provide a position for the new organ. This was to include a boiler house beneath. Electricity was installed for lighting, heating and blowing the new organ. It was finally opened 25th May 1916. The heat from the boiler house beneath began to cause defects to the blowing system, so much so that heating to the organ was cut off.
The organ continued to have problems and after several refits failed completely during Easter 1968, to be replaced by a temporary organ by Grant, Degens and Bradbeer.
Temporary Grant, Degens and Bradbeer Organ
This small organ was placed in front of the screen near the south east pillar of the tower. There was the usual discussion as to where a new organ should be located and who should supply it.
The current Marcussen & Søn Organ
The order for the new organ was placed in 1971 with Marcussen & Søn of Denmark, this was the company’s first installation in Britain and would be used as a ‘shop window’. After much deliberation a site above the Lady Chapel entrance was chosen and cantilevered out into the crossing. The organ was finally dedicated on 22nd September 1973. To this present day the organ is still in its original position and continues to give good service.
Specification of the Current Organ
At the entrance to the newel stairs up to the organ, is a framed list of organists, the calligraphy by Katherine Harley. This was presented by the Friends of St Mary’s in February 1999.
Samuel Wise, 1730-1802 published music for the celebrations held for the coronation of George III and for the festivals of Christmas Day, Easter Day and Whit-Sunday.
In the Diary of Abigail Gawthern it is recorded:
Nov 1st 1771 I began music with Mr. Wise, the organist at St Mary’s. Nov 18th 1802 Mr Wise the organist at St Mary’s died; he was appointed to the situation in the year 1756; he was buried in St Mary’s burying ground the 23rd; he was a music master, and taught a great many.
On the 8th June 2000 there was a rededication service at Wilford Hill for the remains of the people exhumed from St Mary’s bottom burial ground on Barker Gate, before the building of the new Ice Arena. One of the rededications was Samuel Wise organist and composer at St Mary’s from 1755 until his death in 1802. At the service parts of Samuel Wise’s Three Great Anthems were sung.
In 1916 The Arthur Page Scholarships were set up, in memory of James Arthur Page organist 1867-1904. The objects were in assisting the supplementary musical education of the choir boys of this church, from income derived from the invested funds. The eligibility was: “Any boy who has for two years been a chorister in this church, and is of good character and behaviour, may receive assistance.”
In 2009 the Director of Music is John Anthony Keys. He has been at St Mary’s since 1984, having been formerly assistant organist of Chester Cathedral and Holy Trinity church Geneva, and Organist Titulaire, Eglise St Jean, Geneva. The organist is Andrew Abbott.
There is now a choral scholarship scheme for people in full time education, which attracts student singers from the Universities. There is also an organ scholarship scheme in partnership with Trent College, Long Eaton which attracts people who want some experience, usually before taking up an organ scholarship at Oxford or Cambridge.
Items from the History of the Choir
In March 1773 two men were sentenced to be hanged at the usual place of execution. The procession moved through the town and up the hill very slowly, occupying nearly an hour and a half in its progress. The singers of St Mary’s church sang penitential psalms the whole of the way.
In the Minute Book of 1884 it states that the old rule that the number of choir men shall not exceed 40 is re-affirmed and must be enforced.
In 1910 the choir vestry was in the north-west corner of the church, behind a wooden partition where some 70 boys and men robed for services, with the cassocks and surplices hung upon the wall. The wooden partition was removed in 1927, the ‘new’ vestry [Chapter House] being used for robing. Their predecessors of fifty years before consisted of half a dozen male and female voices, augmented by the children of the charity school. The present choir vestry at the north-west of the church was by Earnest A Heazell & Son and completed in 1940. It has a cross beam ceiling with three bosses. On the east wall is a wooden plaque inscribed:
This building was provided by a Benefaction of John Alexander Simpson for many years a worshipper at this church and was erected to his memory A.D. 1940.