History of the St John’s Hill Organ and Evolution
William Hill & Son was one of the main organ builders in England during the 19th century. The original organ installation in 1881 by Hill, had a cost estimate of £300. In 1916 Norman & Beard and William Hill & Sons merged because Dr. Arthur George Hill who had no male heirs to sustain his business. The merged company was bought by John Christie in 1923, and remained in the Christie family until the business was wound up in 1998.
Before 1881, a barrel organ was used. This had to be taken outside the church to run through the tunes on the drum until the right one was found and then taken back inside to resume its part in the service. The pipe organ was given to the church in 1881 by Mrs. Joseph Thrupp. It was originally located in the memorial chapel, but was moved to the gallery at the west end of the nave in 1925. Until 1954 the organ was hand pumped, but it was then converted to electricity and moved to its present position in the chancel after reconstruction in 1951 by W.Hill & Son & Norman & Beard
Since 1951, apart from routine annual tuning and the installation of a humidifier a few years ago, no significant work has been carried out on the organ for around 50 years, so understandably upon inspection various components were found to be at the end of their useful life.
Mavis Martin and Micky Clare are the principal organists at St. John’s. Claire Martin-Brown, Mavis’ daughter, provided us some fascinating history: “My Grandmother was approached by the then rector of Merrow as he had heard that mum played the piano and was very accomplished. Until the time they came to St John’s they attended the tabernacle in High Path Road, which is how there’s a Methodist Church on Bushy Hill. The organ was in the gallery where the organ pipes are now situated, and mum played, and her sister Elise operated the bellows. Gerald and Dick were boys in the choir. Dick still helps out in the choir for when a bigger choir is requested. “
To celebrate the refurbishment achievement of our 140 year old William Hill Organ there was an On-line Organ Recital on the evening of the 14th April 2021. The programme included the story of the evolution of this amazing instrument from installation in 1881 to the present day, and eclectic recital of organ music played by Mr. Mark Shepherd MA, FRCO, ARCM – Director of Music at Charterhouse School, and information about the Friends of St. John’s (FoStJ), Merrow.
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