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Thornbury Parish



The History and specification of this and other local organs is available from the Bristol & District Organists' Association web site: Bristol & District Organists' Association

The organ

The history of organs installed in St Mary’s has been recorded by the Bristol and District Organists Association.  The existing instrument dates from the late 19th century and has been modified and updated as recorded below by the BDOA.

THE EARLIEST MENTION of an organ in St Mary's appears to be 1800.  As far as we can tell, this was a small instrument situated in a gallery under the tower probably built by a local Bristol builder like Richard Seede and very similar to that in the local Baptist church.  It replaced the Church Musicians who had accompanied the worship with a diverse selection of instruments. 

Some years later, the church underwent a programme of 'Victorian Reform' where one of the main features was the standardisation of the pews.  Hitherto, each family had provided their own enclosures, the average height of which was over five feet!  It was at this time that the original instrument was moved from the West gallery to its present position.  The limitations of the 1800 organ were recognised and it was replaced by a two manual instrument built by W C Vowles of Bristol in 1870. 

In 1901 some repair work was carried out, probably due to a leakage from the organ chamber roof.  This fact has only come to light in the 1988 renovations when the Great Soundboard was opened up.  A feint pencil message reads: 

“THE ADVENT OF ELECTRICITY rendered redundant the skills of the organ blower.  Many of these hard- working gentlemen have left their marks on the interior woodwork of the instrument and these panels have been preserved”.  Opinions vary about the exact date of the electric blower, but it was probably installed in the late 1920s. 

It was at this time that the instrument was given a major overhaul and also received the addition of pneumatic action.  This is where air pressure is used to help to play the pipes from the console and it replaced the time-honoured system of levers and rods called tracker action.  The new action enabled the super octave and sub octave couples to be added to the scheme. 

In the 1940s some 'patching up' was necessary and minor repairs were made (including replacing the worn portions of the pedal board).  However, despite this work, by 1952 a report called the organ "worn" and by 1986 some parts were completely unusable.  Between these two dates several schemes were proposed including the complete replacement of the instrument with one from a redundant church.  In 1986 the organist, Nigel Davies, undertook a detailed survey of all the possibilities regarding an organ for St Mary's.  These included replacement by a new pipe instrument; replacement by a new electronic instrument and the complete restoration of the existing instrument.  The PCC were unanimous in their acceptance of the third of these possibilities. 

By today's standards there was little remarkable about the 1870 organ, especially when compared with the instruments in nearby Wotton-under-Edge and Dursley.  However, the locally- built Thornbury instrument was capable of some beautiful sounds, particularly from the wooden flute pipe.  The instrument was given an electric action and a new console facing south into the Quire and a trumpet stop was also added at this time.  The final result is a tribute to the builders, Percy Daniel and Company, whose painstaking and diligent craftsmanship from the removal of the first pipe to the replacement of Vowles' original name plate was exemplary. 

The organ was rededicated by the Vicar, the Reverend Canon Michael Vooght, on Easter Day 1988 and a short recital given by Nigel Davies inaugurated a series of Sunday afternoon recitals given by local organists. 

After 27 years of faithful service the organ is due for a major technical overhaul. We have decided to seize the opportunity to undertake significant tonal improvements by adding a number of new stops, some of which will be played from a new third manual. Two thirds of the necessary funds are in place, we are waiting to hear back from applications to cover the remaining third of costs.

Specification of the organ as built in 1870 by W G Vowles

Great, CC-G (56 notes)
Double Diapason 16'
Open Diapason 8'
Clarabella 8'
Gamba 8'
Dulciana 8'
Principal 4'
Suabe Flute 4'
Fifteenth 2'
Trumpet 8'
*Cremona 8'

3 Composition pedals to Great
3 Composition pedals to Swell
'Hitch-down' Swell Pedal

* = extra octave of pipes for use with 'Swell Super Octave
* = 1923 addition
Swell, CC-G (56 notes)
Lieblich Bourdon 16'
Open Diapason 8'
Stopped Diapason 8'
Dulciana 8'
Vox Angelica 8'
Principal 4'
Flageolet 2'
Mixture 3Ranks
Hautboy 8'
Horn 8'

Pedal, CCC-F (30 notes)
Open Diapason 16'
Bourdon 16'
Principal 8'

Couplers etc
Swell to Great
Swell to Pedal
Great to Pedal
Swell Tremulant
Swell Super Octave
*Swell Sub-Octave

Specification of the organ rebuild in 1988 by Percy Daniel and Co. Ltd

Great, CC-G (56 notes)
Double Open Diapason 16'
Open Diapason 8'
Open Flute 8'
Principal 4'
Suabe Flute 4'
Nazard 22/3'
Fifteenth 2'
Recorder 2'
Tierce 13/5'
Fourniture 19-22-26
Trompette 8'
* = extra octave of pipes for use with swell octave

5 pistons to Great
5 pistons to Swell
5 toe pistons to Pedal
5 toe pistons to Swell
4 general pistons

Reversible toe pistons:-
Great to Pedal
Swell, CC-G (56 notes)

*Stopped Diapason 8'
*Dulciana 8'
Vox Angelica 8'
*Principal 4'
*Fifteenth 2'
Larigot 11/3'
*Cymbal 22-26-29
*Cremona 16'
*Cornopean 8'
Hautbois 8'
Trompette (Great)

Two swell pedals:
'nave' and 'chancel'

Two indicato lights
'vestory' and 'west end'

Pedal, CCC-F (30 notes)
Open Wood 16'
Sub Bass 16'
Quint 102/3'
Principal 8'
Bass Flute 8'
Fifteenth 4'
Quartane 19-22
Bombard 16'

Reversable Thumb pistons:-
Swell to Great
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal
Clarinet 8'
Piston setter
General cancel