Gorton Monastery received an organ from a church in Eccles which will complete the next major part of the building’s restoration.
The Monastery of St Francis and Gorton Trust has now set up the Wadsworth Organ Appeal to raise £100,000 to cover the costs of dismantling, repairing, reconfiguring and rebuilding the Victorian instrument which has nearly 1,000 pipes.
The Trust has for many years been keen to restore an organ after the original one, installed in 1888, was stripped and sold for scrap when the monastery was sold to developers who were planning to convert the Grade II listed building * in luxury apartments.
A quarter of a century ago, the great-great-grandson of author Charles Dickens, Christopher Charles Dickens, a professional organ restorer before his retirement, had fond memories of the Victorian Wadsworth organ in the monastery and wanted him to be replaced.
He became the first patron of the Monastery of St Francis and Gorton Trust, the charity set up 25 years ago by Elaine and Paul Griffiths. Unfortunately, Christopher died before the monastery received significant funding for its restoration. So he never realized his dream of hearing an organ play again in the monastery.
However, in his will he asked for donations to various charities, many of which had been started by Charles Dickens, but at the end of the list was the monastery of St Francis and Gorton Trust.
Fast forward to 2020, and in the midst of lockdown, Elaine Griffiths received a letter from David Emery, the treasurer and organist at Patricroft Methodist Church in Eccles, Salford. The church had closed and the monastery was offered its organ at no cost other than payment for removal and installation in the monastery organ gallery. Remarkably, the organ in Patricroft Church was made by Wadsworth, the same company that made the one in the monastery, it was only a few years older and was similar to the one the building had lost.
PLAY ON: David Emery on the organ
Elaine Griffiths, Managing Director of Gorton Monastery, said: “In recent years the idea of replacing the organ has not been a priority, but when the opportunity presented itself we couldn’t turn it down. It’s a beautiful piece of Victorian heritage and we know it will sound magnificent when performed in all its glory in the Grand Nave. It will be wonderful to host organ recitals and see the brides walk down the aisle to the sound of an organ once again.
“We now need to raise funds so that the monastery can be filled with organ music as the Franciscans had planned. Organs are experiencing a revival and, funds permitting, we can add digital technology to enable remote playing.
“Our volunteer and administrator, Janet Wallwork, told me that Widor’s Toccata was the last piece of music played in the monastery before it closed in 1989. Wouldn’t it be great if, once reinstated, it was also the first piece to be played on our “new” organ.
David said: “When we decided the church should close, we thought it would be wonderful if the organ, which was still working well, could be found a new home, rather than being scrapped.
“We then discovered that the monastery also had a Wadsworth organ from the 1880s, so ours would make a perfect replacement. We made contact, and the rest, as they say, is history, and we are delighted that the organ gets new life and stays in the Manchester area.
The monastery asked Andrew Sixsmith of George Sixsmith and Son, a church organ specialist based in Mossley, to manage the project. Andrew’s father, George, had worked for Wadsworth and Co until Wadsworth closed.
Andrew said: “The Eccles organ is from the same maker, from the same period, and is of a similar size to the Wadsworth organ which was originally installed in the monastery. However, each organ is individual, so Patricroft’s instrument will need to be reconfigured and rebuilt to fit the new space.
“Before being reassembled, all the hundreds of pipes will be carefully cleaned. We will have to make many new parts and mix and match them with the original Wadsworth parts. The organ was carefully transported all the parts, weighing several tons, to the workshop.
It took several days to disassemble and move the organ and it will take several months to install it properly.
Donations to the Wadsworth Organ Appeal can be made through the Just Giving page or through the monastery’s website. www.themonastery.co.uk