How Croydon raised £250,000 to restore the minster’s historic organ

By - Thursday 19th October, 2017

Fantastic community fundraising allows vital restoration work to begin

Minster Organ

The historic William Hill organ at Croydon Minster.
Photo author’s own.

Over the past two years, several articles have appeared in the Croydon Citizen, extolling the virtues of Croydon’s heritage church and hidden jewel, Croydon Minster, and in particular the activities that have taken place to raise funds to restore the fine manual William Hill organ. Facebook and Twitter aficionados will now have seen the recent jubilant posts and tweets proclaiming that the financial target of £250,000 has been reached. Work can start in early 2018.

If you have ventured down the hill from North End to find some peace in the minster’s beautiful surroundings, or to attend a lunchtime concert or even a service, you may have heard the organ being played. Most people wonder what the fuss is about as, to the average ear, the organ sounds as majestic and impressive as any instrument in any of our wonderful churches and cathedrals. But this is completely down to the talent of the organists at the minster.

“The organ is in serious trouble”, noted sub-organist Tom Little when interviewed prior to the minster’s fundraising hymnathon last year. “Notes regularly don’t work and stops are falling away week by week.” In fact, it is over forty years since any significant work to the organ was undertaken, and only 60% of it is now functioning adequately.

The demise of this organ is distressing for several reasons. For organ buffs, a William Hill organ is a special thing indeed. Hill & Son built organs of renown throughout the nineteenth century and the minster’s instrument dates from 1869, following rebuilding of the church after the fire of 1867. John Rutter, internationally renowned composer and musician, described the organ as ‘an exceptionally fine instrument’.

Over the last twenty-four months, fundraising has been intense

But more immediately, Croydon Minster provides a musical training in the English choral tradition for our local young people that is only rivalled in our country’s cathedrals. Children from local schools have the opportunity to learn to read music, sing in harmony and learn about a musical heritage which goes back over 500 years. A working organ is integral to maintaining this style of music-making. Many of the minster’s choristers have gone on to study music (of all styles) and often gain choral scholarships at university which can help fund their studies as well as continuing an activity which they have come to value and enjoy.

Damaged organ pipes

Interior of the organ showing worn and damaged pipes.
Photo by Croydon Minster, used with permission.

Fundraising over the past twenty-four months has been intense. Donations from individuals have been encouraged through ‘Adopt A Pipe’ schemes, monthly patrons and online appeals. Activities like last year’s hymnathon, recitals, concerts and marathons have contributed a substantial amount to the total, and grants have been applied for and awarded by a number of foundations and trusts, such as Viridor Credits and the Reginald Arthur Baker Trust.

So what happens now? When the organ appeal was launched, director of music Ronny Krippner displayed one of the many metal organ pipes which have actually bent with weathering and age. This is perhaps the most visible sign of damage, and replacing these will be one of the key parts of the restoration project. But specialist organ builders Harrison and Harrison of Durham will also restore the unreliable solo and choir keyboards which often do not work properly, remove and undertake major repair to the pedal organ chests and undertake re-leathering of the reservoirs, which provide wind to make the organ pipes sound.

When work is complete, we will once again hear the organ at its absolute best

“We are delighted to have reached our fundraising target to allow the work to begin”, commented churchwarden Gail Winter. “However, we must sound a note of caution about rising costs over the total duration of the project. It is possible that there will be a shortfall, and we may have to top up funds towards the end of the restoration, due to inflation.”

In the meantime, we can look forward to when the organ finally returns in late 2018. We should really hear a difference. Wind power to the whole instrument will be more efficient and the pipework to some of the instrument’s loudest and most exciting stops (voices) will have been restored.

So why not conduct your own survey? Pop in before the organ is taken away, then come back to the inauguration of the restored instrument – the first time many of us will have heard the organ at its absolute best.

Pamela Hall

Pamela Hall

Pamela is an actress/singer/vocal coach who has lived in Croydon for 15 years. Now she’s working closer to home, she has been able to enter into local life and wants to explore what Croydon’s cultural scene has to offer. Pamela is a Lay Clerk at Croydon Minster and on its Parish Council. She is committed to raising the profile of this beautiful and historic church as a jewel at the centre of Croydon life.

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