Pipe Organs of Durham and the North East

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St John's College Chapel, Durham

St John's College is one of the smallest colleges in the University, with approximately 300 undergraduate students. Incorporated, an integral part of the college, is Cranmer Hall, a Church of England theological college.

The organ in the Chapel of St Mary the Less was built by Harrison & Harrison in 1963, originally for an earlier chapel (now the College library), but was moved into its present home some years later, when the College acquired St Mary the Less Church. across the road. as its chapel. 

This church formerly contained an Abbott & Smith instrument with seven stops over two manuals and pedals:-

Gt 8,8,8 (or 4)
Sw 8,8,8
Pd 16

The present instrument is sited caseless on the north side of the west end gallery of the Chapel, exposed Great pipework in front of the Swell box.  The Pedal 16'/8' unit runs along the side of the organ returning in front of the west window, in rather unsightly fashion. The console is detached (the organist faces south, with his back to the organ) and the action is electric.

Great   Swell   Pedal  
Stopped Diapason 8' Quintaten 8' Bourdon 16'
Principal 4' Spitz Flute 4' Flute (ext. 16') 8'
Open Flute 2' Nasard 22/3' Great to Pedal  
Mixture III Principal 2' Swell to Pedal  
Swell to Great   Cromorne 8'    
The tone of the organ is typical of the period - extremely lively, almost brutal. It seems when the organ was moved, no adjustment was made to accommodate the change of environment and acoustic. The organ is presently too loud for its setting, if nonetheless a versatile solo instrument. However with few if any soft stops, accompanying services and choirs presents the organ scholars and other organists of the College with quite a challenge!

Plans were put forward a number of years ago for a complete restoration, including extensive revoicing and taming of the pipework, but it seems that these have been deferred. The Chapel has recently undergone extensive refurbishment, with a clearout of furniture and new stone floors (which can only add to the perceived harshness of the organ), and it is hoped that the organ can now be given the attention it deserves.

The console may look rather basic, but does all that's required of it. The stop tabs, by virtue of their small number and close proximity to the keys, allow the player to quickly change registrations whilst still actually playing with both hands (not something you can do at the average stop knob console).

The pipes of the single extended Pedal rank can be seen against the back wall to the right of the console. The lowest sounding pipes are immediately behind the seat, just inches from the player's back, and pedalling provides interesting stereophonic "whole body" experience.


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