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Duror: St Adamnan’s Episcopal Church

Various builders, since c.1700 — organ surveyed August 2022

analysis of data gathered during the August 2022 survey is still in progress—these pages will be updated as new information and conclusions come to light


The small 18th century pipe organ which has made music in St Adamnan’s Episcopal Church, Duror since 1880 has long fascinated organ enthusiasts. It shows signs of having been rebuilt and altered on several occasions but its exact history has not so far been accurately determined, as historical records for the 18th and early 19th century are inevitably scant. Outlined below is some of the evidence which has come to light. 

Inverness Journal advertisement, 7/6/1816
Undertaker[!] required to build an Episcopal Chapel in Fort William.’ The chapel was built in 1817.

Inverness Journal, 26/10/1827
One of two witnesses called to court to testify against a shopkeeper who had interrupted a service ‘in the chapel at Fort William’, by shouting criticism at the preacher, was the chapel precentor. If this had been the Episcopal chapel, ‘precentor’ would have confirmed that there was still no organ by 1827. However, it turns out it was a Church of Scotland chapel of ease (in which no organs were allowed until 1865), so it is not relevant—but is a good story. 

From the next newspaper extract, however, we can be fairly sure that in 1827 Fort William churches were indeed completely organ-free, as it announces what is almost certainly our organ’s arrival in the Rosse Episcopal Chapel, Fort William in July 1832. Thanks to Mr Philip Wright for unearthing this source. 

Inverness Courier, 18/7/1832
This newspaper records that Bishop Low ‘delivered a charge’ (on a Wednesday about a week before the report) in the Rosse Chapel, Fort William, ‘where for the first time divine service was accompanied by the organ, the introduction of which is mainly owing to the exertions of the Rev’d Mr Maclennan’ [Rector/minister 1821–51]. There was a dinner for the clergy in the afternoon. 

Rosse Chapel accounts, c.1878–80
Michael Macdonald, organ builder of Glasgow, mentioned (c.1993) that he had seen the chapel accounts (c.1978), when he was restoring the organ. They indicated that John Wardle (who had not yet established the Aberdeen branch of Wadsworth of Manchester) maintained the ‘Duror’ organ, and was paid directly for his services. In other words the Wadsworth firm was not paid directly. On 30th March 1878 Wardle was recorded as attempting to tune the organ to equal temperament with the help of the organist, Ian Jones. Probably Wardle played a part in moving the organ from the Rosse Chapel, Fort William to Duror in 1880, aided by the Fort William joiner, Donald Campbell. Later sources suggest it was Bryceson, the builder of the new organ at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Fort William, who moved the little organ to Duror. Almost certainly Bryceson subcontracted this work to Wardle. 

Macdonald mentioned that it’s just possible the records might survive in the attic of the Rectory or elsewhere. The current Episcopal rector at St Andrew’s, Fort William – the Rev’d Alex Guinness – subsequently explained that Rosse Chapel records hardly exist and no records exist regarding the removal of the ‘Duror’ organ, further recounting that this was a source of annoyance to an itinerant priest ‘at the time’. It is just possible the clergyman was denied access in Victorian times, and then the records turned up but were lost some time after Macdonald was made aware of them in 1978(?)

The Scottish Guardian, 17/9/1880
There is an article in this issue about the consecration of the next new Episcopal church building in Fort William (St Andrew’s). It includes a description of the new two manual Bryceson organ, which cost £500, and mentions the benefactor, G Baynton Davy (of Spean Lodge, Fort William), who paid for the new building in its entirety. Mr Davy also paid the cost of moving the small organ from the old Rosse Chapel in Fort William to Duror, although that is not mentioned in this article. The article does however mention that the Rector of Duror was present at the service at Fort William. Lord Morton is also reported as having attended. A reception at Mr & Mrs Davy’s house afterwards was also announced. 

The Scottish Guardian, 5/8/1881

verbatimDuror – S. Adamnan’s – A very handsome gift in the shape of a splendid old organ was recently made to this church by that excellent churchman and most generous and large-hearted gentleman, G.B. Davy, Esq., Spean Lodge, Fort William. This instrument is said to be upwards of 150 years old, and has a history of its own. It was originally built in Germany [extremely doubtful!], from which it came to the church in Leith, and after being used there for some time, it was transferred to the church at Arbroath; from whence it came to Dundee. After being used in one of our churches there for some time, it was put up for sale and bought by the then incumbent of Rosse Church, Fort William, where it has been used ever since up to this time, which must be at least forty years. Finding that the action was very much out of order, Mr. Davy sent for an organ builder from London and generously ordered that it should be furnished entirely with new action, including bellows, pedals, key-board, &c, which must have cost him at least £100…….(Correspondent)’

The Scottish Guardian, 25/2/1898
This issue reported that the Rosse Church, Fort William, presented the organ to Duror thoroughly repaired at considerable cost, paid by Mr G W Davy, of Spean Lodge. The organ was built on the continent[!], the pipes are of very beautiful tone and of superior metal, and it is said to have been first erected in Bishop Forbes’ old church at Leith, then taken to Dundee, then from Dundee to Fort William, having been bought for £100. The mention of Forbes is most useful, as it shows that the chapel in Leith was not the official one, but the Unqualified Jacobite one—see below.

The Scottish Standard Bearer, 5/5/1903
If G B Davy actually wrote this article, he was by this time 64 (he died in 1907). The article says again that the organ was made in Germany by Snetzler, landed at Leith, came to Fort William via Aberdeen, and having been played at Dundee, was erected in the West gallery at the Rosse Chapel. Of course it might well have gone via Aberdeen, as the mode of transport would have been boat, and a Dundee-to-Fort-William voyage would have involved a trip through the newly constructed Caledonian Canal. [There is an intention to examine this extract in NLS sometime soon.]

St Andrew’s, Fort William by Edith Macgregor & George K B Henderson, Oban, likely mid-20th century
Rosse Chapel dedicated 1817. Rev’d A Maclellan [sic, probably Maclennan; see 1832 newspaper snippet above] was minister 1821–51. It was he who had the organ erected in the gallery, and it certainly came to Rosse from Aberdeen. Organ still in use at Duror; tradition says it was built by Snetzler in Germany and Handel played it–nothing on it to indicate builder. Organ known to have been in Scotland in the 18th century; gives the story of Dr Samuel Johnson playing an organ at St Paul’s Episcopal Chapel, Aberdeen, and suggests this might have been the same organ [incorrectly—the St Paul’s organ was far bigger, and built by Thomas Hollister]. 

L Rule Wilson, papers on the Duror organ written in 1939 and 1963
Unverified, but anecdotally these are thought to summarise the Scottish Guardian articles above. One Canon Broun also is said to have written a similar paper in 1942. 

The Organ in St Adamnan’s Episcopal Church, Duror by Michael Macdonald, c.1978
two separate publications:

1) Leaflet produced at the time of restoration, 1978. Includes details of work which has all the signs of being  by Bernard ‘Father’ Schmidt, who came to England at the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. After arrival in England he took the name ‘Bernard Smith’. In this leaflet, but not in the following one, it is suggested that the York organ builder John Donaldson, and the London-based John Snetzler, also left their marks. The leaflet also mentions John Wardle’s involvement 1878–80, likewise the role played by the organist at the Rosse Chapel, Ian Jones, and also a joiner at Fort William, Donald Campbell (firm fl. until 1960s). A sample of Smith pipe-markings is reproduced on the back of the leaflet.

2) Unpublished booklet, shortly post-1978. Includes extensive photographs. Pipe markings on Mixture and Fifteenth are those of Smith, and the same as those supplied to Durham Cathedral, and in Castle Tunstall chapel, where the pipe flatting is also similar. The drawstops match those of Smith’s work at Auckland Castle, Co. Durham. 

Signs of a former Swell division, probably of short compass, are clear on the casework, where there are also filled-in drawstop holes. It is suggested that the organ at one time might have had two manuals [although Swell divisions at this period did not always have their own manual]. The Salicional stop is marked ‘Sw Op’ and sits in front of the Mixture, where a reed might have been expected (and might well have existed, as the table top has square holes).

The Scottish Guardian article of 5/8/1881 is quoted in full. The blowing handle was moved from treble to bass end of organ in 1880, in addition to the other work described in the article. 

In later correspondence Macdonald mentions other interesting features such as double slides to make easier the construction of the combination action.  

Pipe Markings, BIOS research papers by David Wickens, two volumes: 1990 and 1994
These contain markings from four organs by Bernard Smith/Schmidt, though not any by Donaldson, as far as can be seen. 

The Enharmonic Chamber Organ by Thomas Parker at St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh by Dominic Gwynn, 1998
This summarises much information about Thomas Parker, for example with whom he trained (Richard Bridge) and mentions a number of organ cases similar to those of the enharmonic organ at St Cecilia’s and the organ at Duror (the two are certainly similar). These include organs at Kew, Falkenham, Liss, Beeleigh, Mertoun and Kelmscott, Western Australia. Gwynn takes the view that the Duror organ (or its case) may be the work of Parker. He also points out a possible connection between Parker and Smith, viz. that Parker was working at Cambridge 1766–67, when Smith was President of Trinity College and Vice-Chancellor of the University. 

Robert Forbes (bishop), from the Dictionary of National Biography, London, 1885–1900
This article, available on Wikipedia, covers the life and work of Bishop Robert Forbes, who was mentioned as minister of a church in Leith in the 1898 article about Duror in the Scottish Guardian summarised above. It is perhaps worth noting that Leith remained separate from Edinburgh until 1920, when it merged, despite a huge majority of its residents against the proposal.

Forbes (1708–75) was born in Rayne, Aberdeenshire, where his father was the school dominieHis further education was at Marischal College, Aberdeen. In 1735 he became minister of an Episcopal congregation in Leith, where he remained most of his life. He remained firmly in the Jacobite (‘Unqualified’ Episcopal) camp all his life, spending two years (1745–46) in prison in Stirling and Edinburgh. In 1762 he was elected Bishop of Ross and Caithness, though he continued to be based at Leith. In 1764 he had a new church built at Leith where he continued to attract a good congregation, which ruffled the feathers of authorities who were doing their best to quell Unqualified congregations. He retreated briefly to London, and conspired with fellow Jacobites in Moffat to seek the return of the Stuart monarchs the same year. Later he declined to be elected Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney. He died in Leith in 1775 and is buried in South Leith churchyard. During his working life he wrote for the Edinburgh Magazine, and compiled journals later edited by James Brown Craven and published in 1886 (reprinted 1923). He also wrote a 10 volume work, The Lyon in Mourning, about the Jacobite campaigns, published by Chambers. [In other words, despite his Jacobite allegiance, he seems to have been unquellable!]

Tales, Traditions and Antiquities of Leith by William Hutchison, 1865
Chapter 13, p.143. ‘There appears to have been a number of chapels in connection with the Episcopal Church, at different times in Leith, although it is very difficult to tell precisely where they were situated.‘ [!]

The earliest, ‘according to Dr Robertson’, was in Chapel Lane, with a plaque dating it to 1590. This one became a dancing school in 1788 and was later demolished [before 1865]. There was another chapel in Quality Street, and a third in Paunch Market or Queen Street, now [1865] the Temperance Hall. These two were almost certainly Unqualified, as Hutchison says ‘they found the times difficult’ even before 1745. In 1744 there were 172 communicants. Bishop Forbes kept a register of these chapels between which he often mentioned when recording baptisms, as ‘my little chapel’ (1762), ‘my Chapel of Ease’ (1765), ‘my private chapel’ (1767), and ‘in my large public chapel’ (1775). 

Hutchison quotes one J Parker Lawson, who apparently wrote a history of the Scottish Episcopal Church since 1688. In the two years after 1745, Forbes’ chapel was closed (officially) and this annoyed English immigrants in Leith, who of course could freely worship in Episcopal traditions south of the Border. So, in April 1749, the English brought in a clergyman from the south, John Paul, and the new chapel called St James’ Chapel was opened in that year. [Complete records of this chapel survive, and there are frequent references to organists and organs. The first organ in St James’ Chapel might have been installed around 1755, and may have been the work of Snetzler—it was removed by Muir Wood of Edinburgh when another new chapel was built in 1805 with a new organ by Muir Wood constructed.] The two congregations, Qualified and Unqualified, united in 1802, leading to the new building of 1805.

The Life and Times of Leith by James Scott Marshall, 1986
This study is mentioned in Jim Inglis’ notes on the Qualified Episcopal chapels of Leith. It is unlikely to reveal much more than the two works cited above, but is nonetheless being sought for closer examination. 

Summary of Episcopal Chapels in Dundee by Alan Buchan, 2022
based on notes by Dr Jim Inglis, who found material in New College Library

There were Episcopalians in Dundee from 1704 at the latest. They were united until 1727, twelve years after the first Jacobite rising. Thereafter they divided into pro-Hanoverian and pro-Jacobite congregations (‘Qualified’ or ‘Unqualified’ as they became known). Sometimes these terms appeared to be synonymous with ‘English Episcopal’ and ‘Scottish Episcopal’, but not always.

In 1727 Dundee’s Qualified (pro-Hanoverian) congregation kept the old chapel in the Seagate, but this appears to have closed in 1745 when the Jacobites appeared to be gaining the upper hand. In 1749 they rented premises at the south end of the city. In 1758 a building was bought on the south-west side of the city and into this building a new or partially new organ by Richard Bridge was installed (records are clear). In 1785 they moved to a new chapel on the High Street, which they called the West Qualified Chapel. The Bridge organ was moved to the new chapel, which closed in 1829. 

Dundee’s Unqualified (pro-Jacobite) congregation had a chapel at Yeoman Shore, but this closed around 1746 when the Jacobites were defeated. After the years of meeting in very small groups in houses, a new chapel was opened in the Seagate in 1763. This may have remained in use until 1829, despite another new Episcopal chapel being opened in Castle Street in 1812, in which James Bruce installed a large new organ. The Castle Street chapel was called St Paul’s.

In 1829 all three(?) congregations united into St Paul’s in Castle Street. In 1855 a larger St Paul’s (now the Cathedral) was built directly behind the existing one, with the main door on Castlehill between the High Street and Seagate. Although the chancels of the two buildings were only yards away from each other, the 1812 Bruce organ was stored elsewhere before being installed in the new building. The congregationalists who took over the old St Paul’s building demanded that the organ be installed on the far side of the chancel of the new building so that they would not hear it during their services! That position was in any case quite normal in Episcopal churches in the northern hemisphere!

Notes on G B Davy, Fort William by Alan Buchan, 2022

George Baynton Davy, the benefactor who paid for the organ to be moved to Duror, was born in Chile in 1838, where his father George Thomas Davy, from Nottinghamshire, worked for Antony Gibb of London. His wife, Martha Jane McKay, was born in Fort William in 1840. They married in Cheltenham in 1871. By 1880 they had settled in Fort William, at which point GBD paid the entire cost of erecting St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Fort William. GBD died on 22nd December 1907 aged 69, after a year of heart disease. His wife, Martha, had died in 1906 aged 66. Davy is described as a ‘gentleman’ in the column for occupation on the death certificate. His father George Thomas Davy was posthumously awarded the same occupation! GBD’s mother’s name was Charlotte Baynton.  

sources compiled by Alan Buchan