St Albans organists lose fight to save historic church instrument

The pipes of the organ in St Paul's church. Photo: JONATHAN HUMBERT

The pipes of the organ in St Paul's church. Photo: JONATHAN HUMBERT - Credit: Archant

A 100-year-old pipe organ will no longer be played at a St Albans church after campaigners lost the fight to save the instrument from being dismantled.

Organists from across the country protested against a motion to replace a pipe organ at St Paul’s Church on Blandford Road with a smaller electronic replacement, but their arguments failed to convince Judge Roger Kaye QC it should not be removed.

Lead campaigner Jonathan Humbert said: “It is a total travesty, not least because of the slipshod manner the Diocese of St Albans has approached this.

“The wealthy evangelical wing of the Church of England wins yet again, and a beautiful, fully-functioning pipe organ is to be removed on a whim, because it does not fit the current way of worship.”

The organ has been with St Paul’s since 1910, and with a church in Brighton before then. It is a conglomeration of several different organs, yet campaigners claim it is far from unplayable.

“It’s in fine working order, it’s not unreliable. It wants a good tune, but it all works,” Mr Humbert said.

He accused the Diocese of St Albans, which manages the city’s churches, of mishandling the debate over the motion.

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He alleged Judge Kaye, the independent Diocesan chancellor, did not take campaigners’ comments onboard, instead solely relying on the advice of experts, one of whom is neither an organ builder nor a tuner.

“I am surprised at what would appear to be the lack of protocol within the St Albans diocese and the Church of England, and the lack of diligence by its officers.

“I am feeling embarrassed and shamefaced this is happening in the home of the International Organ Festival.

“The organ that has been the soundtrack for hundreds of thousands of lives will be dismantled.”

The Diocese of St Albans disputes Mr Humbert’s claims, saying the Diocese has nothing to do with the decision.

It was approved by the Parochial Church Council (PCC), a committee of Church of England officials and vicars.

According to the Diocese, none of the objectors to the organ’s removal registered as parties to the proceedings, but Judge Kaye took on their comments anyway.

He based his decision on the petition from St Paul’s Church, and letters from the public, in support but mostly in opposition, including from a member of the PCC.

There were also two reports from the Diocesan organ advisor, and a second organ consultant.

The organ advisor’s report said the St Paul’s organ would cost £55,000 to repair, is rarely used, and is a second-rate instrument of little historic, musical or artistic merit having suffered repairs and alterations since installation.

Whereas removing it and installing an electronic organ would cost £17,850, including £4,500 to remove the old one, and £13,350 to buy a new one.

The advisor described the pipe organ as “a shadow of its former self”.

The second consultant, Dr William McVicker, described it as “vin ordinaire”.

According to the Diocese, both his and the consultant’s reports reached the same conclusions, as did the British Institute of Organ Studies.

Judge Kaye said: “While objection is made on musical, historical and cost grounds (among others), I am persuaded on the basis of the two reports above mentioned that the views therein outweigh those of the objectors.”

A number of conditions have been attached to the judgement including that the organ must be replaced in three months, and it must be disposed of in a specific manner to be directed by the Registrar of the Diocese.