St Joseph's church was designed by Tom Wilson of Oakham in 1967, completed to a surprisingly high standard for the time in 1975 and was the first church in Leicester built according to the liturgical principles confirmed by the Second Vatican Council. Tom Wilson found the design of the church difficult because of the limited space available but was inspired in his sleep one night, woke up saying "I've got it!" and went downstairs to put the design on paper.
This circular building seats some 400 people in both the body of the church and a generous gallery at the 'back' of the building over a narthex and baptistry. The high altar has recently been remodelled on an enlarged dais opposite the gallery. This area is carpeted but the rest of the building has a tiled floor and under-floor heating.
In the autumn of 1998, after some ten years of deliberations, the late Monsignor Peter O'Dowd contacted Father Stephen Dye, an accomplished musician and organist, to ask his advice on the purchase of a new pipe organ for St Joseph's, to replace a series of ineffective electronic organs. It seemed that this time, the project was likely to be taken forward to a conclusion. There was no regular organist at the time, and though Fr Stephen was happy to suggest a course of action, he recommended the appointment of David Butterworth as consultant to gain, in addition to his musical vision, expertise in discussing technical and constructional details. After lengthy discussions, we decided that the logical site for a new instrument would be in the gallery, where a mechanical action and free-standing encased instrument would speak freely into the body of the church.
Tonal Design - The aims have been to provide an instrument capable of a full 'plenum', ideally suited to big congregational accompaniment and the organ repertoire alike; to achieve maximum variety of colour, both 'cool' and 'spicy', at medium volume; to achieve a comfortable balance on tonality between the three departments in a scheme in which nearly every stop will blend and be friendly with any other; to provide accompanimental possibilities as well as enabling the legitimate interpretation of a wide spectrum of the Baroque and Classical repertoire; to provide, up to a point reasonable for its size, suitable tonal qualities for very soft playing, and for the performance of some of the Romantic and later repertoire.
GREAT ORGAN - C - a''', 58 notes
Principal 8' of 70% tin, from C to a#' (35 notes) in the case facade. Low C is embossed to my design, and has a soldered tube fixed in its body to take a revolving stem holding the gilded star of the wind-blown Cymbalstern, made 'in house', of seven bells purchased from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London. All the pipe mouths are gilded and the rank is doubled from tenor d#°. The mirror principal facade pipes have the feet soldered at the tip and are winded by feed tubes soldered into the lower pipefeet which plug into a raised toeboard fed by lead conduits from the soundboard. This rank continues inside to the top note with double pipes on the soundboard. The resulting sound is warm and blending.
Chimney Flute 8' of 20% tin. The domed caps are not directly soldered onto the pipe bodies but are bedded with leather in a fixed position. The pipes are tuned using soft lead ears at the mouth. Inverted chimneys are fitted from tenor c°.
Octave 4', Fifteenth 2' and Mixture III-IV of 20% tin all share Great Principal 8' scales as listed in the table above - small differences in their preparation and voicing have resulted in a cohesive and balanced chorus.
Open Flute 4' and Nazard 2 2/3' have been prepared, to offer a flute chorus and increase the variety of solo line possibilities - for future consideration.
Trumpet 8' of 60% tin, with full length resonators constructed in the French style with double blocks in supporting boots. The shallots follow the Schnitger construction style. The resulting sound is colourful as a solo line, but also crowns the Principal chorus.
SWELL ORGAN - C - a''', 58 notes
Stopped Diapason 8' and Nason Flute 4' both of oak with walnut caps; colourful harmonics, but not a forced sound, providing the medium dynamic level,. The 4' Flute has open treble pipes to ensure a clear and carrying sound.
Gamba 8' of 60% tin, sharing a common bass with the Stopped Diapason 8' from C to G#. this has a fullsome sound, more like a small principal, which can be tamed for quieter accompaniments by closing the box.
Principal 2' of 20% tin. This stop follows the scale progression of the Great chorus but is correspondingly two notes larger than its counterpart, voiced to avoid edginess while still retaining a Principal quality, with an eye to blending as part of a 'cornet'. In hindsight, I think the department would have had more 'equality' with the Great if a 4' Principal had been included, but the priorities were placed elsewhere.
Sesquialtera II of 25% tin - this definitely contributes an element of 'spice' at medium dynamic level both as a solo stop and adding richness to a full swell chorus.
Cremona 8' of 60% tin with half-length resonators and French construction providing a colourful solo stop which also blends with the flutes for warmer effects.
PEDAL ORGAN - C - f', 30 notes
Subbass 16' of pine and oak, a generous scale but mildly voiced so as not to overpower the quieter stops while adding substance to full organ.
Octave 8' of 25% tin, in many ways something of a luxury on an organ of this size, but highly useful in giving the pedal substantial independence up to a medium dynamic level. This would be further enhanced by the Octave 4' which is prepared for.
Fagott 16' - full length pine resonators with oak blocks and boots. The rosewood shallots are of generous proportions (revised once the organ was installed).
The Great organ occupies the main case above the console with a suspended traditional action. The oak casework is enlivened with bold cornice and impost mouldings, and with flowing hand-carved pipeshades, complete with stylised lilies (the symbol of St. Joseph), suitably gilded! The Swell organ in a pine box sits above impost level behind the main case and above the Pedal organ. Two sets of wedge bellows are placed on an open framework of oak above the blower box at the back of the gallery. One set of bellows linked to a tremulant feeds the Great and Swell organs on 68mm of wind. The second bellows set at 75mm pressure feeds the Pedal organ. Small concussion bellows are placed in the manual windtrunks, shut off when the tremulant stop is drawn.
We were probably within two to three weeks of delivering the organ in March 2000 when our workshop suffered a severe fire which started in the roofspace above the machine room, cause unidentified. Nothing at ground level was burned, but four fire engines pumping water at the roof over a four-hour period resulted in the ceilings falling in, with accumulated dirt etc, over the Great and Pedal soundboards and cases. An upper case panel even suffered the indignity of a fireman's hatchet!
It is a very depressing prospect having to restore an organ which has already taken a year to build! However, with a faithful workforce, temporary workshop space at the Thomas Chippendale School of Furniture at Gifford (generously offered by owners Anselm and Antonia Fraser a couple of days after the fire), and a very patient Mgr O'Dowd, we set to work on the task. St Joseph's ultimately delayed the installation still further by embarking on the remodelling of the high altar area. The way events unfolded, the delays in fact avoided the new organ being subjected to the stone dirt and dust which filled every corner of the church for two or three months.
Sections of the organ eventually arrived in St Joseph's in the autumn of 2000, the installation proper took place in early 2001 and the opening recital was given by Peter Smedley (Organist and Director of Music at St Barnabas R C Cathedral, Nottingham) on Saturday 19th May 2001. Very sadly, Mgr O'Dowd died before the organ was completed - he enthusiastically assisted in the unloading of components, but unfortunately was never able to hear the instrument that he had taken such pleasure in envisaging for his church.
The workshop in the Old School served us well for over 17 years, but we have now taken the opportunity to construct a purpose-built workshop overlooking the same village of Oldhamstocks. Such luxuries as an assembly room with over 8 metres of headroom, more generous machine and bench rooms offer a more efficient working environment for the next chapter of Lammermuir Pipe Organs.