Organs of Howden Minster

Throughout its long history, music has played an important part in the life and worship of Howden Minster.

The records of the Minster regrettably have many gaps, however from a fourteenth century source it is known that in 1393 William, son of Peter de Hoveden was Master of the Scholae Cantuales, the Minster Song school where the choristers of the Minster were educated.

Howden Minster fell victim to the Dissolution of Collegiate Churches and Chantries in 1548. The ancient records of the immediate post-dissolution period refer of the foundation of “a school for singing boys to sing the services day by day after the manner of the choir at York,” referring it must be presumed to the York Minster Choir School. That school, the Schola Cantorum, existed up until 1929, when after the opening of Boothferry Bridge over the River Ouse, the boys were transferred to Goole Grammar School. There was a master employed to teach the boys the traditional Grammar School subjects, and he was also responsible for playing the Minster organ and teaching the choir.

The earliest record that we can trace of an instrument in Howden Minster is of an organ described in the town chronicle of 1639 as being of sweet tone. No record can be traced in the Minster archives of the details of this instrument, although it is thought that it was positioned on the Pulpitum Screen from where it could serve both the Canons Choir and the nave. This organ appears to have survived for four years, until 1643 when it is known the Parliamentarian army used the Minster as an ammunition dump and stable. They did a considerable amount of damage to the interior of the church as they sought to purge it of all forms of decoration and ornament. Included in their iconoclasm was the organ, for in another ancient source it is recorded that they were heard using the pipes as whistles as they marched out of the town on their way to lay siege to Wressle Castle, the local seat of Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland.

In about 1800 Ward of York built an organ in the Minster. The details of this instrument also appear to be lost to us. From un-dated line drawing of the interior of the Minster looking west, there is evidence that it was located at the south west corner of the nave (near to where the doorway to the Grammar School undercroft now is). In 1821, the Chancellor of the Diocese of York granted a faculty to the vicar and churchwardens for the building of a gallery at the West End of the church to accommodate the organ. This was a substantial construction measuring twenty-six feet long by seventeen feet wide, and sloping from thirteen feet six inches at the rear to nine feet nine inches at the front This gallery also contained a number of pews, rights to the exclusive use of which were to be sold by the churchwardens, the proceeds of the sale were to be used to off-set the cost of the Gallery. Any un-sold were to be let, and the income also applied to defray the costs. In “Organa Britannica,” there is a note by J H Sperling. “1821 great organ GG to F,” so from this we can deduce that this instrument was a single manual of short compass with either no pedals or a hitch-down pedal board. The same source also adds that in 1838 Ward provided choir and swell departments There is a note in The Musical Standard no 725 of 1878 that Foster and Andrews of Hull “restored” the organ. However, no reference can be found in the Minster records of a contract being place with Foster and Andrews. An examination of the surviving Foster and Andrews archives held in Hull City Library produced no record of what this work involved, nor did their account books show any reference to an invoice being raised for the work.

This instrument appears to have remained in service in this state until 1909, when Wordsworth of Huddersfield undertook a rebuild The Pedal and Lowest Octave of the Great on the rebuilt organ were on pneumatic action, the rest on an exceedingly heavy tracker action. This instrument was contained within a free-standing case situated at the east end of the north choir aisle, with the console at the west side of the case. It was hand blown, by a large mangle style wheel set at the rear of the case. This instrument was damaged by water beyond repair in the fire that destroyed the choir and sanctuary in 1929. Following the fire Hill quoted for the supply of the following organ which was to be either bought for the sum of £376 or leased at a rental of £25 per annum This was to be hand blown with mechanical action, all contained in a case approximately 6 feet square. There is a piece of Howden Minster folklore that has it that this instrument was ordered, but never arrived. The story goes that it was on a lorry being transported from Hill’s works at Norwich. When it arrived at the point where the Goole to Wakefield railway line crosses the A614 near Rawcliffe, the driver finding the level crossing gates closed to him opted to go under the bridge provided for such an eventuality. Unfortunately, there was in-sufficient clearance and the organ was severely damaged as a consequence, and we have not been able to find any firm evidence whether it was repaired and re-delivered or the project abandoned, neither does history relate the fate of the hapless lorry driver! In 1930, Rushworth and Dreaper of Liverpool built the following instrument to the design of S.W.Pilling Esq. (ex-president of the Incorporated Association of Organists), which forms the core of the present organ. In the estimates for the restoration, there is the sum of £4000.00 provided for a new organ, plus a further fifty for the construction of an enclosure for the blower to be situated in the ruins. Originally, the blowing was by means of an oil engine, with the wind being conveyed to the organ through salt-glazed pots. These of course were water permeable, and stories are told of strange gurgling sounds emanating from the organ due to water entering the trunking. This building can still be seen, complete with electric blower, regulator and bellows. The instrument was equipped with electro pneumatic action throughout. Casework in natural Oak to a design by Brearley and Rutherford, the architects responsible to the repair of the fire damage, and built by Milford of York. The Organ is built into two rather crowded cases in an elevated position over the Choir Stalls. The Great & Choir Organs and Pedal reeds are in the South Side with the Gross Geigen providing the display pipes. The Swell and the balance of the Pedal is in the North case. The organ was completed in time for the re-dedication of the Minster on by the Archbishop of York on Thursday 7th September 1932. Sir Edward Bairstowe gave the inaugural recital the next evening, playing works by Bach, Rheinberger, Vierne, Chas. Wood, Csear Frank. Vaughan Williams and two of his own compositions

In the Minster archives there is a quotation in 1959 from Rushworth and Dreaper for the substitution of the Choir Tromba for a Tuba. This work would have entailed moving the bottom eleven pipes of Pedal Dulciana from their present location alongside of the swell box in the north chamber to a westward facing position immediately behind the display pipes to make room for the new rank. A new wind chest with electro pneumatic action was to be provided with the Tuba voiced on 7 inches of wind presumably provided by the swell reservoir. The resonators would have been harmonic from middle C. The estimated cost for this after an allowance was made for the redundant Tromba pipe work and mechanism was £595.00. In the event this work was not carried out, although the impact that would have been made by this stop would have been awe-inspiring. During the mid-sixties, consideration was given to enlarging the organ to four manuals It was proposed to mount the Solo division on the east wall of the lantern tower in its own casework. However, it was discerned that the PCC of the day had no mind to spend money in this way, and so the project never progressed beyond the daydreams of the Director of Music. Had this work been carried out, the logistics of gaining access to the new chamber would have been mind boggling. Either a long climb up from the floor of the church or climbing down from the ringing chamber above itself being accessed via a spiral staircase built into the wall of the north transept and crossing the transept roof on an exposed walkway would have been involved

In about 1968 the organ was involved in what can only be described as a piece of Howden Minster slap stick. The then verger decided to purge some air out of the central heating system by way of a valve located in the north clerestory gallery, which was directly over the swell organ. Unfortunately for the organ, he forgot that he had opened the valve and left the Minster to go home for his tea, to return the next morning to find the organ running with water. As an aside, a few weeks later, this same unfortunate ignored a jammed air valve on the heating system. During the sermon at the Sunday morning Eucharist preached by the late Denis Lucas one of my fellow Readers, there was what has been described to me as the most monumental explosion. This hurled pieces of cast-iron pipe and York stone flagging into the air from the floor of the south choir aisle immediately behind the pulpit. Mr. Lucas’ reaction to this isn’t recorded, but I have no doubt the hapless verger was left under no illusions as to his views on the matter! Also during 1968, it was decided to upgrade the action to an electromagnetic system. Andrew Leach, the Director of Music at the time invited tenders from Rushworth and Dreaper and also from John Jackson and Son. The contract was awarded to Jacksons, and thus began this company’s association with the Minster Organ.

In 1985, the organ was completely dismantled and overhauled, a Hammond electronic organ located in the south choir aisle being used whilst the work was carried out. At the same time a new swell mixture with the composition: 19:22:26:29 was provided and the swell front from the choir expression box was removed, although the swell engine was left in the chamber, and the pedal mechanism left on the console. (The shutters are stored in the chamber on top of the Choir organ enclosure). Also at this time, a new blowing machine was provided housed in the choir vestry.

By 1995 the action was starting to show signs of its age, and the decision was taken by the Minster Parochial Church Council to once again have the organ dismantled, cleaned and equipped with solid state electronic action. This action would provide 6 pistons each to the manual divisions, duplicated by toe pistons, 6 toe pistons to the Pedal and 8 eight general pistons. The pistons would be fully programmable from the console, and be provided with two separate channels to each piston. Ralph S Franklin, the then Director of Music, proposed at the same time to make some changes to the tonal structure of the organ. This would have entailed removing the Dulcianas 16:8:4 and Viola 8 from the Choir and substituting a Nasard 22/3, Block Flute 2 and Larigot 11/3. The Sub-Octave coupler would be removed A Clarion 4 (12 notes extension to the Trumpet) would be added to the Swell, and the swell Trumpet and the new Clarion be made available on the Pedal, also the Closed Horn 8 would be removed and an Oboe 8 added. A Unison Off device would be added to the Swell. The Great Gross Geigen would be removed and a Bourdon added to the Great, the Pedal Octave 8 would be removed. A Geigen 8 would be added to the pedal organ using pipe work made derived from Great Open Diapason No.2 from where the pedal Geigen 16 is extended. The open Flute 4 would be removed from the great, and used to provide upper work for the pedal. It was thought that the Acoustic Bass 32 was in fact “Quinted” off the Open Bass, and it was proposed to take the Quint rank from the Bourdon, in an attempt to quieten it down, as per the original specification. The original scheme also made provision for a three rank mixture on the Great, although due to lack of space this had to be reduced to two ranks (17:19) The Pedal Bourdon extended rank would then be made available on the Great A “new” console was also to be provided. In effect this wouldn’t have been brand new, but a workshop refurbishment of the console from the old organ in the Great Hall of Leeds University, a contemporary of the Howden Organ. The thinking behind this was the avoidance of the liability to VAT on the most costly part of the work. The proposals also involved tidying up the coupler arrangements. The total estimate for this work was in the region of £27,000. However, when the scheme was put to the Diocesan Organ Advisor, he would not permit most on the work to be done. After some quite heated exchanges between John Jackson of J T Jackson and Son, Ralph Franklin, and the Diocese of York Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches, a working compromise was reached. This involved the addition of the Clarion to the swell, Block Flute, (but not the mutations) to the Choir together with the removal of the Viola. This is now stored in the Old Grammar School, against the day it could be reinstated! The substitution of the Bourdon for the Geigen on the Great was also permitted. The mixture was added to the Great, but not the one that Ralph Franklin wanted. Rather a 12th & 15th was added at the insistence of the advisor. This has proved to be an unfortunate substitution, as it thickens rather than brightens the tone of the Great Diapason Chorus, however the door has now been opened so it may be possible at some future date to brighten it. It was agreed that the swell reeds be made available on the Pedal The work on the action was carried out, but as an economy measure, the existing cable runs were used between the console and the pipe Chambers. The work was carried out during 1995, an upright Piano being used to accompany the Minster services during its course. The use of the old cabling proved to be a false economy, as 12 months after the major work was carried out, the old 1930 cables (Lead and cotton insulated copper conductor buried in the ground without protection), failed due to water finding its way into the cables and rotting the cotton. This caused the cores to crumble, with unexpected and often alarming results! This necessitated rewiring at a further cost of £3,000. The new wiring was inserted into the wind ducting to afford it protection from damp. The rebuilt organ was dedicated by the Rt. Rev Anthony Hunter, Bishop Emeritus of Swaziland and the opening recital given by Ralph Franklin.

During 1996, there was the first recorded visit of a foreign organist to the Minster when Heinrich Hauch the Cantor of Baumschulenweg, Berlin gave a recital.

During 1998, due to a misunderstanding between the Architects, English Heritage, and the Stone Masons, further cleaning of the pipework in the south chamber was necessary, when the roof of the Lady Chapel was removed to give access to the wall plates of the timber roof prior to re-leading. This allowed water and thick dust to enter the organ. The resulting mud took about three weeks to remove

Acknowledgments: Much of the information contained in this work comes from the follow sources

Musical Standard No 725 of 22 June 1878. I am also grateful to the following individuals for their support David Abbot (Director of Music- Howden Minster), for his help and encouragement. Ralph S Franklin Director of Music 1995 to 2000 for his criticisms of the draft manuscript and for correcting the section on the 1995 rebuild. To John Jackson, of John T Jackson & Son for answering my many questions with great patience and good humour. To Malcolm and Margaret Watson, long standing members of the Minster choir for providing much anecdotal information. To the many of my fellow members of the British Institute of Organ Studies who responded to my appeal for help with the Ward Organ of 1800, particularly Mark D Jameson who allowed me access to his considerable archives. To Paul Tindall for researching the work done by Foster and Andrews 1878 in the British Library on my behalf. Also to the staffs of the East Riding of Yorkshire County Archives Office for allowing me access to the Howden Minster files in their safekeeping, and Hull City Library for their assistance in making available the Foster and Andrews Archives.

Tony Parker (Reader).