BERWICK can now lay claim to having the finest pipe organ in the north of England following the long-awaited completion of its £170,000 refurbishment.
That is the bold assertion of the Vicar of Berwick, Canon Alan Hughes who, having overseen the project, is delighted to see it finished before his retirement next month.
“I firmly believe we have created the finest pipe organ in the north,” he proudly declared. “It’s a magnificent instrument and thanks to the skills and generosity of Geoffrey Coffin, the principle organ builder, it’s been done at a much lower cost than might have been the case with one of the major organ builders.
“It’s had a complete restoration of its 1,936 pipes, retaining some of its original parts which date back to the 18th century, and adding in some new elements such as the voluntary trumpet section on the top.”
The contractor, Principal Pipe Organs of York, programmed the work for completion in the summer of 2010 but delays mean it has only just been finished.
Canon Hughes said: “We recently estimated that were we to go out to tender now for this standard of refurbishment it would not be far short of £500,000 because although there has been a two- year delay in its completion it was done on a fixed price contract fixed five years ago.”
It is 12 years since the pipe organ was last played, services having been conducted with an electric organ during the intervening period.
Organist John Burton said: “It’s an excellent organ and I’m really pleased to have the chance to play it. The congregation seem to have been impressed by it in recent services.”
The effort to get the organ refurbished started seven years ago when the church received several sizeable donations from local benefactors.
“The first estimate we got for the work was £68,000 so we realised we were half way there and felt we had to give it a go,” recalled Canon Hughes.
“The Parish Church Trust agreed to underwrite the costs with a further £20,000 but we then realised the costs were going to be much more, due to VAT and the discovery of asbestos covering the cast iron central heating system around the back of the organ chamber.
“The congregation was very supportive and started making donations and holding fundraising events and we eventually reached or target. Having said that, there were those who felt we shouldn’t do it and said it was a waste of money. Hopefully, now it’s all in place they will see that it’s been a worthwhile investment not just for the church and the congregation but for the wider community of Berwick.”
Around £150,000 was raised from well-wishers throughout the country with donations from as far afield as Cornwall, London and Norfolk, with the Parish Church Trust providing the balance with funds accrued from legacies and gifts.
The organ was built in 1855 and installed in Berwick Parish Church in 1869, originally as part of the gallery but relocated to its present custom built organ chamber in 1905. Church records show that the appeal to install the church’s first organ in 1773 raised £127 which covered the full cost. The present organ is only the third in almost 240 years.
Wyndham Rogers-Coltman, who has worked tirelessly as chairman of the fundraising appeal, said: “The current rebuild should ensure a long and successful life for the next 50 or so years as a special fund has been set up for the regular maintenance of the organ on an annual basis. Berwick is privileged to possess one of the most up to date organs in the north east where it can compete with any other for tone and song.”
It is hoped the organ can play a full role in the bid to use the building as an enhanced venue for the arts, particularly music, which can be used by local organisations.
“I am greatly encouraged that we’ve managed to finish the project without debt,” said Canon Hughes. “That will enable the church to approach new challenges, such as the restoration of 10 stained glass windows and the protection of all ground floor windows with stainless steel mesh which got underway this week.”
The pipe organ will be dedicated by Canon Hughes at his last service on December 16 at 10am.