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Fochabers: Gordon Chapel

Hill & Son, 1874 — organ surveyed June 2023

Technical summary

Casework, design and construction
Of the two significant organs in Fochabers, the Hill organ at the Gordon Chapel is thirty years younger than the Bruce organ in St. Mary’s RC Church.[i] This age difference is reflected in various ways with the influence of the “Hill-Gauntlett Revolution” altering fundamental design concepts.

The polished pitch-pine case here is of the simpler “post and rail” style which dominated British organ building in the late 19th century. The posts and rail here are not without a serrated top and carving, but the Gothic element is now largely absent.

The reservoir here is double rise (like St. Mary’s) but the reservoir feeders are twin, not single wedge. There is a blowing handle on the right hand side of the case at the rear, which might work, were it not for the fact that the electric blower’s box prevents it from being lowered.

The 27 façade pipes, with a high tin content, are thicker than normal and therefore much heavier than usual for tin pipes. They include speaking pipes from the lowest 21 notes of the Open Diapason stop (C to g#). The metal conveyances from the main chest to the façade are conspicuous. One or two of these have been replaced with copex in recent years. All the pipes of the Open Diapason are outside the Swell box, not just the 21 pipes on the façade. The remaining six façade pipes are dummies.   

On this organ there is a flat and straight pedalboard of 20 notes, of which the lowest 13 operate pipes of the Bourdon stop on both the manual and pedalboard, when the stop is drawn. It is worth noting, though, that Bruce was installing similar pulldown pedalboards of one and a half octaves by the mid-1830s, for example at St. Patrick’s, Edinburgh. The pedals of the Gordon Chapel Hill organ also pull down the manual keys without the presence of a coupler. There is no independent action for the Pedal Bourdon; it operates through the manual and the wind is transmitted by conveyances to the Bourdon pipes at each side. 

The manual compass at the Gordon Chapel is C to g”‘ with a pedal compass of C to g – by 1874 the C compass was almost universal. It is interesting to observe that the manual and pedal board are rather out of alignment with each other, creating a slight technical challenge for the player. The key fronts here are flat, coloured black, and without ornamentation. The key jambs are large and are located an inch or two from each end of the keyboard.

The all-mechanical key action is transmitted here to the greater width of the chest both by splaying and by means of a metal roller-board of standard late 19th century design. The organ was overhauled by David Loosley of Stirling in 2011 and moved at this time to its present position from where it had previously stood in front of the south window.

The stop levers, rather unusually, are located above the keyboard. In earlier organs, this usually reflected the fact that a barrel organ mechanism had at one time been in place (e.g. in the Bruce organ at Glasgow University), but in small Hill organs this may have been simply the norm for the convenience of organists. The Hill nameplate is located horizontally under the Dulciana stop knob (“Hill & Son London”).

There is a large (but not deep) Swell box in the organ at the Gordon Chapel, containing the pipes of the Dulciana, Lieblich Gedact and Principal stops. The pipes of the lowest octave of each stop are divided on bass and treble sides of the chest, and above c run chromatically. The horizontal Swell shutters are operated by a lever Swell pedal located above the treble end of the pedalboard.

The wooden pipes of the Lieblich Gedact appear to be narrower in scale here than those of the Bruce organ at St. Mary’s, with longer mahogany pipe caps, more pronounced and wider nicking and stencilled note names. The pipe stoppers here are of a simple cubic style throughout with the cube narrowing only slightly.

It is evident that the metal pipes of the Principal and Dulciana stops have all been fitted with tuning slides in fairly recent times. Needless to say, the Dulciana pipes are narrower in scale, with the lowest octave being grooved into the Lieblich Gedact.