A Note on the Organ

A note on the organ in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula

The history of the organ at the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula was until fairly recently somewhat confused despite the existence of a corpus of documents and materials relating to the original instrument and subsequent restorations. The installation of the new instrument by Fernand Létourneau in 1999 permitted an exhaustive and definitive investigation into the design, construction and history of this rare organ case and a speculative view on the original instrument it once housed.

What is certain is that the present organ case dates from 1699 when it was built under royal warrant by Bernhardt Schmidt (sic) - later more commonly known as ‘Father Smith’ - for the Banqueting House, Whitehall which was at that time serving as a Chapel Royal to the court of William and Mary. Whilst at the Banqueting House, Smith’s organ was relocated several times; during James Wyatt’s refurbishment between 1811 and 1815 the organ was both moved and worked on by the English organ builder, Thomas Elliot and again in 1844 and 1877 by William Hill.

In 1890, the Chapel Royal Commissioners were granted permission to discontinue worship in the Banqueting House and with the consent of Queen Victoria the organ was moved to the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London. Over the following century it was rebuilt and enlarged on several occasions, and by the late 1990s this resulted in an organ some three times larger than that for which the original case had been designed.

All the pipework in the present organ is new; most of the metal pipes are of 70% tin whilst the wooden pipes are made from the finest Canadian timber. The 300 year old case has been meticulously restored to its original dimensions and many decorative details made to replace those long lost (eg. the carved brackets on either side of the case and the reconstruction and completion of the four pedal towers).

The gold leafed prospect pipes are new and constructed to a design and measurement determined by the case and extant prospect pipes of Bernard Smith.

The new organ was built with the aim of leading the traditional Anglican liturgy employed in the chapel and accompanying  the large and varied repertoire sung by the choir in services. It is also extremely versatile as a concert instrument and is used regularly for organ recitals. The voluntaries played by the Assistant Master of Music, Christian Wilson, have become a particular feature of the end of each service and the organ can also be heard on CD in a recording by Colm Carey from 2004 (available through this website).

 

Specification of the Organ built by Orgues Létourneau, 1999

 

Great Organ                            Swell Organ

                     Bourdon 16                             Violin Diapason 8

          Open Diapason 8                     Stopped Diapason 8                

          Chimney Flute 8                      Gambe 8                                 

          Principal 4                               Voix celeste 8                         

          Conical Flute 4                        Principal 4                  

          Nasard 2 2/3                            Open Flute 4                          

          Fifteenth 2                               Recorder 2                             

          Tierce 1 3/5                             Nineteenth 1 1/3

                    Mixture IV  1 1/3                     Mixture IV  2

                    Trumpet 8                                Bassoon 16

                    Tremulant                                Trumpet 8

                                                                     Oboe 8

                                                                     Clarion 4

                                                                     Tremulant

 

              Pedal Organ                             Couplers

                        Open Wood 16                         Swell to Great

                        Subbass 16                               Swell to Pedal

                        Principal 8                                Great to Pedal

                        Bourdon 8                                Gt & Ped Comb

                        Choralbass 4

                        Posaune 16

                        Trumpet 8