The Organ at St George-the-Martyr, Borough – A Brief History
The first reference to an organ at St George’s church is in 1682 and in 1690 a Mr Smith was paid £5 to make two stops. This was Bernard ‘Father’ Smith who had moved to London from Halle around 1667 and enjoyed a very successful career building organs for many cathedrals and churches, such as St Paul’s Cathedral, the case of which still exists and a few stops. Some of the pipework at St George’s, being about 330 years old, is considered to be some of Smith’s earliest work in London and these pipes are of considerable archaeological interest to organbuilders and musicologists.
In 1702 Abraham Jordan senior, a parishioner, was paid £600 for providing a ‘replacement’ organ in the gallery which met the approval of Dr John Blow and Jeremiah Clarke. Originally a distiller, it is at St George’s that his connection with organ building was first made and he set up business building organs in the parish, owning premises and workshops immediately opposite the church and much other property in the adjoining streets. He succeeded ‘beyond expectation’ according to Hawkins and possessing an inventive streak, invented the first ‘swell’, the ability to increase and decrease the volume of pipes by enclosing them in a box installed with a shutter mechanism to control the level of the sound escaping. Although not installed at St George’s, this device was installed close by on the 4 manual organ he built for St Magnus-the-Martyr at the north end of the old London Bridge. He also invented a layout for allowing the player to face the congregation on a demonstration instrument set up in the parish workhouse.
The instrument at St George’s was removed in 1733 and later reinstalled in the new John Price church by Abraham Jordan junior, his son, who was also the parish organist. There were later rebuilds by Fruin in 1807, Kirkland in 1906 and Hill, Norman & Beard in 1939 and 1967. Until 1729, most travellers to London arriving by land from the south and crossing the Thames at London Bridge would have heard the sound of a Jordan organ as they entered the city, either at St George’s, St Saviour’s (Southwark Cathedral) or at St Magnus-the-Martyr.
The present organ consists of 26 keyboard stops distributed over two keyboards and a pedalboard. The cost of intermediate repair is now prohibitive, and being in a very unreliable condition, the organ requires complete restoration. We have the unique opportunity to return the instrument to mechanical action, sympathetically reusing the existing historic pipework, to create a fine and reliable new instrument that speaks as a whole for the next few hundred years.
The church has many historical connections, The Lord Mayor of London welcomed Henry V on the steps of the church after the Battle of Agincourt for his victory pageant in 1415 and it is thought that the Agincourt Carol may have been first sung here. One of our past priests, Peter Carmelianus was a lutenist and the highest paid musician in Henry VIII’s court and went to the ‘Field of the Clothe of Gold’ in 1520. Nahum Tate, the librettist of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and of While Shepherds Watched fame, is buried in the church yard to the north.
A view from the south east gallery showing the spectacular ceiling installed by Basil Champneys in 1897. Click the image for a closer look.
The treble portion of the Great, note the ‘chimneys’ on the chimney flute at the left and right. These pipes are tuned by moving the ‘beards’ either side of the mouth.
The bass portion of the Great, notice the unusual placing of the reeds, the clarinet and trumpet in the middle of the windchest.