Strangely, Sir George Gilbert Scott did not make allowance for an organ in his original plans. However, it was eventually decided to place the organ in the north transept. Originally the choir stalls were intended to be situated in the chancel to the east of the central tower but fortunately Mr. Henry Willis, the organ builder, suggested that they be moved to their present position under the central tower thereby bringing the choir closer to the organ. This change allowed the high altar to be moved away from the east wall to give a passageway behind – the present-day clergy vestry.
The organ console was originally situated within the organ case yet, as you could imagine, this arrangement had several disadvantages the main one being that the organist did not have a clear view of either the altar or the choir. Power for the organ was provided by a coal fired gas-engine which by 1896 was no longer fit for purpose which resulted in the organ being handicapped by an insufficient supply of wind. Fortunately, that year the Precentor, Rev. Alfred Griffiths, offered to present the Cathedral with an electric console for the organ. This was funded by a legacy he had received some time in the past. The cost of the new console was estimated to be about £800 and would be provided by Mr. Robert Hope-Jones of the Electric Organ Company, Birkenhead. This was first mentioned in the August 1896 Monthly Paper.
“The console itself is an instrument resembling a large harmonium, and will have in it four manuals to control the four parts of the organ, viz., the choir, the great, the swell, and the solo, and also a pedal board to control the pedal organ. This console will be movable, and consequently can be placed at any spot selected by the organist for the better hearing of the choir or organ.
To connect this console with the various parts of the organ a single flexible cable, an inch and a fourth in diameter, will be employed, and will be carried underground to the inside organ case. Notwithstanding the great size of the organ, a very small current of electricity will be employed: a few dry cells only will be necessary. The console will be mounted on castors and enclosed in a handsome walnut case to correspond with the beautiful choir stalls of the Cathedral.”
The new console, with the inscription under the stop-keys “To the glory of God, and in memory of G. M. S. a lover of Church Music”, was installed next to the choir stalls thereby affording the organist a much improved view of the high altar and the choir master. It had been hoped that it would first be used for the Harvest Festival service on 17th October 1897 but was actually first used at Evensong on Saturday 6th November 1897 at the start of that year’s Cathedral Dedication Festival.
That year’s December magazine includes an article written by Mr Collinson, the Organist and Choir Master, which explains in detail how the new console had resulted in a great improvement in the playing of the organ. As well as the new console, a new gas engine, described in February 1899 as a “Bunsen burner,” had been installed which quadrupled the supply of wind to the organ, thereby ensuring that the organ was no longer underpowered.
Just over a year after his first article, Mr. Collinson writes further about the Cathedral organ. This is a long article which gives a full description of the organ stops and its internal workings, mentioning amongst other matters the 500 magnets and 1,000 miniature pneumatic bellows. The new console included extra electrical contacts which would allow for additional organs to be installed and placed over the west inner porch and in the sanctuary. Mr. Collinson proposed that the time had now arrived to do just that with the addition of a separate console in the side-chapel (now the Lady Chapel) which would be connected to the sanctuary organ. He envisaged that as well as these additional organs being able to be played independently, they could all be under the control of the main organ console. The estimated cost of these improvements was given as £1,840. He hoped that they would be in place for the 25th anniversary of the consecration of the Cathedral in 1904, but unsurprisingly they were never implemented!
The Hope-Jones console was replaced when the organ was rebuilt by Harrison & Harrison in 1931.
This picture of an organ console was displayed alongside the article in the August 1896 Monthly Paper.
The figure mentioned above of £800 and £1,840 are equivalent to £74,300 and £167,000 today. Robert Hope-Jones led a very interesting and colourful life both in the UK and the USA and if you wish to learn more I suggest you look him up on Wikipedia. – you will not be disappointed!
Next: The Congregation