St Margaret’s Church, Upton, Norfolk – the Holdich Organ Restoration Project

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George Maydwell Holdich, the noted Victorian organ builder, created an organ for St Andrew’s Church in Norwich in 1865. This organ was sold for £100 and moved to St Margaret’s Church in Upton in 1904, when St Andrew’s acquired a new more powerful instrument. Up to this time services in St Margaret’s would have been accompanied by a harmonium, and the arrival of the Holdich would have been a major event.

The inaugural concert in 1905 was given by the local school headmaster and it continued to serve the church well, under the command of various different organists. Then, more than 60 years ago, the church organist at the time had a fainting fit. Rather than abandon the service, a young lady in the choir was persuaded to play – and she has been the organist ever since. Jeanette Monument was that young girl and it was she, and her church warden husband Bill, who realised in around 2005 that the organ needed a full restoration to remain playable.

Organ before dismantling

Organ before dismantling

The organ had of course had some work done over the years. A partial restoration in the 1960s and the addition of an electric pump was all done very sympathetically. While it had some more amateurish intervention in the 1970s we were very lucky that this was only superficial, unlike the case of many other organs which suffered badly at this time.

Fund-raising events were organised by the church community but after a tender exercise it was realised that over £50,000 was required to undertake the restoration required, and to put the organ back as closely as possible to its original specification. A project team was put together, permission to do the work was obtained and a Heritage Lottery Application was submitted.

But the application for funds involved much more than just restoring the organ. It included heritage research, a schools and organ scholarship programme, as well as community events and recitals to follow the completion of the works.

We were also very fortunate to be invited to give a presentation to the Holdich Family History Society meeting last year, and very grateful too for the support and contribution to the project funds. The heritage work, along with links to the organ societies and the Holdich family, all enabled us to be successful in being awarded Heritage Lottery funding for the project earlier this year.

Richard Bower, our specialist organ restorer who is an expert in Holdich organs, has now dismantled the organ and parts have been removed to his workshop. Much of the organ is still stored in the church – the sum of the parts being far larger than the whole – and we expect these physical works to be completed in time for Easter 2017.

Richard Bower (on left) in his workshop

Richard Bower (on left) in his workshop

As well as getting great radio and TV coverage for the project launch, we have run a very successful heritage open weekend, and a schools event attended by all the local schools, followed by a community day.

The subject of the schools and community events was the Woofyt organ – or, to give it the full title, the ‘Wooden One Octave Organ for Young Technologists’. This gives the chance to build an organ using a hand pump, vacuum cleaner tubes and simple pipes that work on exactly the same principles as the Holdich organ. Great fun and hugely educational too.

Jeremy Sampson with part of the Woofyt (demonstrating how one of the actual Holdich pipes works!)

Jeremy Sampson with part of the Woofyt (demonstrating how one of the actual Holdich pipes works!)

The only issue we have encountered is that when the organ was dismantled, the base it has stood on for the last 100 years was found to have a couple of defects. We expect we can repair this in time for the organ to be rebuilt next year, within budget.

You can read much more about the project, see progress and event pictures and even watch a video of the Woofyt on our website ‘Hurray for the Holdich’ at www.uptonholdichorgan.org.uk. You can also visit us on Facebook – Upton Holdich Organ Restoration.

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If you can visit us in Upton you will be very welcome.

We expect to have the organ playing again before June next year, and will have an inaugural concert in September 2017. We will be forwarding details of this in due course.

This article was written by Christopher Dady and first appeared in Issue 50 of the HFHS Journal in December 2016

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