Pipe Organs of Durham and the North East
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St Hild and St Bede College Chapel, Durham

The College of St Hild & St Bede is the largest college of Durham University, and lies away from other colleges, on the north-east side of the City centre. Originally St Hild's and Bede College were separate, womens' and men's Teacher Training Colleges, but were amalgamated within the University some years ago. The Chapel of St.Bede's is a spacious and lofty building, possessing a wonderful acoustic as a result of its plain plastered interior.

The organ has a long and complex history. It was originally built for the old Bede chapel in 1891 by Harrison & Harrison, with the organ divided either side of the east window, but much remained "prepared for". Two stops were added in 1913 by the same firm, and in 1939 the instrument was moved to the new chapel.  New mahogany casework was provided in 1948, designed by Seely and Paget. It was rebuilt by the original builder in 1977, and received an overhaul in 1991, at which time a Swell Flageolet was prepared for through to  the soundboard, and a Pedal Contra Fagotto was prepared for at the console only. In 1998 the Swell Flageolet was realised, and the Mixture was recast, but with its composition unchanged.

Julian Cooper, a former Organ Scholar who moved on in 2000, writes:

The organ is used regularly during undergraduate term-time to accompany a Eucharist service on Sunday morning, and Evensong on Thursday evening. It is also used for concerts and recitals, with weddings in the chapel becoming increasingly popular amongst former students.

The organ is positioned in a gallery at the west end of this spacious building, allowing the pipes to speak freely without the sound becoming lost in a restrictive organ chamber. The key action is tracker, which allows for a good touch, and the electric stop action assists greatly in performance.

The Great consists of a principal chorus to the Fifteenth, which is loud, but the 8' and 4' Diapasons lack clarity. The mutation produces a good solo timbre, a kind of cornet substitute. The 8' and 4' flutes are excellent; they have clarity and a real musical quality which perhaps makes them the nicest stops on the whole organ.

The Pedal division greatly benefits from the extensions, and this means the Great to Pedal coupler does not always have to be used. This is especially useful for music such as Bach where an independent pedal line is desirable.

The relatively small number of stops in the Swell does not prevent it from being an extremely versatile division. The only real criticism lies with the Cornopean 8'.  Whilst pleasantly re-voiced, as the former Oboe rank it does not do justice as the only solo reed stop on the organ.  Nevertheless it does blend well with the rest of the Swell, especially as an accompanimental stop. The Mixture III sparkles sweetly, but at 15.19.22 perhaps it is not really bright enough, notably when coupled through to the Great. The Flageolet is brighter than one might expect, and has proved an extremely useful rank, not least in the performance of early music. The 8' and 4' flutes are more romantically voiced as would be expected, but the chorus blends well.

The console is physically very comfortable, the swell pedal and all the pistons are exactly where they should be. The organ is a good and versatile practice instrument with great potential, although is not quite large enough for the building.

Great   Swell   Pedal  
Open Diapason 8' Lieblich Gedact 8' Bourdon  16' A
Stopped Diapason * 8' Salicional 8' Principal * 8'   B
Principal 4' Gemshorn 4' Flute 8'   A
Flute * 4' Flageolet   + 2' Fifteenth * 4'   B
Twelfth 22/3' Mixture 15.19.22   $ III Twentysecond * 2'   B
Fifteenth 2' Cornopean 8' Contra Fagotto  £ 16'
Swell to Great       Great to Pedal  
        Swell to Pedal  
* = 1979          
+ = added in 1998          
$ = recast in 1998          
£ = prepared for in 1991          

4 thumb pistons to Great and Swell; 4 toe pistons to Swell (duplicates) and Pedal
Reversible thumb pistons to all couplers; reversible toe pistons to Great to Pedal and Swell to Great
Great & Pedal Combinations Coupled


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