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Dundee: St Salvador’s Episcopal Church

Wordsworth & Maskell, 1882 — organ surveyed August 2021

Historical overview

The Church
St Salvador’s Episcopal Church in Dundee is unusual in Scotland in being a rare example of a Tractarian church created specifically for an inner-city area of considerable deprivation; a practice common in London and elsewhere in the 19th century. Its founder was Edinburgh-born Bishop Alexander Forbes (1817-1875), the first Tractarian bishop in the Anglican Communion and a close friend of Edward Pusey under whose Episcopacy he briefly served at St Saviour’s in Leeds prior to returning to Scotland. Dundee was growing thanks to the combined effects of the shipbuilding, whaling and, most especially, jute industries and the overcrowding of its new arrivals and the associated intense squalor rendered “the decencies of human life scarcely possible”.[i] Forbes’ mission to the poor and the absence of adequate schooling led to the construction of the church complex in three distinct stages. Firstly, the school building was completed in 1859, with the congregation housed in the upper room, pending the building of the church itself. Funds eventually allowed the nave to be completed in 1868 and the chancel in 1874. Further fundraising eventually permitted the interior decorative scheme to be realised by F.R. Leach and the extraordinary 40-foot high reredos, by Burlison and Grylls in 1878-9. 

George Frederick Bodley
St Salvador’s is one of only two churches in Scotland designed by the leading Gothic Revival architect George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907). The other, St Bride’s in Glasgow, was a late commission; Bodley was too ill to travel and the church was never finished. St Salvador’s on the other hand is a creation from the height of his career. Michael Hall has suggested that the painted interior was planned by Bodley from the start; it stands in sharp contrast to the decorative austerity of the later Glasgow church.[ii]

Wordsworth and Maskell
The Leeds organ building partnership of Josiah Wordsworth and Samuel Maskell lasted from 1866 until 1888. In an extensive interview with Josiah Wordsworth, published in the Yorkshire Musician magazine of November, 1889, a year after the partnership was dissolved, no mention is made of Samuel Maskell at all, rather suggesting an ignominious parting of the ways. Neither is any mention made of where either builder may have served his apprenticeship. It is difficult to establish, therefore, a line of tradition. Like other builders in the North of England, and Yorkshire especially, the influence of Schulze following the installation in 1862 of the organ at Doncaster Parish Church is surely of some importance, however. In the interview mentioned above, Wordsworth acknowledges this influence while rejecting the pre-industrial methods of working which was surely so important to Schulze’s aesthetic:

“The introduction of Schultze’s [sic] work into England a short time before this, and the impression that was made upon Mr Wordsworth by the grandeur of his diapasons especially, made him feel that the old fashioned English diapasons, though smooth and pleasant, very much lacked vitality and resonance.” “Mr Wordsworth’s admiration of Schultze’s voicing, however, has not led him into the opposite extreme of discarding a good English form of machinery, and adopting Herr Schultze’s almost antideluvian [sic] style, as some over-zealous builders have done”[iii]

It’s tempting to wonder whether this comment, which likely emanated from Wordsworth’s mouth, referred to fellow Schulze-admirers Charles Brindley, or perhaps even T.C. Lewis, both noted among other things, for their extensive, and expensive, on-site finishing. More research around the dissemination of Schulze’s style in the area is surely required. While the energy of Schulze’s choruses is evident in the Dundee organ, and in the excellent Great chorus at Cawthorne (1880), Wordsworth’s sound is less obviously rich in overtones (certainly compared with Lewis, or even with Wordsworth’s York contemporary William Denman). Drawing on Schulze, Wordsworth and Maskell’s organ includes both a Geigen Diapason and a pair of Lieblich Gedacts. Perhaps more significant is the atypical lack of prominence given to chorus reeds in their organs. Like Cawthorne, Dundee has no Great Trumpet and the swell reeds are mild, providing colour but little power. 

That same interview with Wordsworth provides a detailed insight into the environment in which the Dundee organ was built. In 1880, an expanding order book had prompted Wordsworth and Maskell to move into larger, custom-built premises on Portland Street in Leeds. The interview reports that the company employed around 25 hands immediately prior to this move. Compared with their Hull contemporaries Forster and Andrews, for example, this was a relatively modest operation. The Yorkshire Musician describes the premises thus:

“Messrs. Wordsworth’s present premises are fitted with steam power; and consists on ground floor of two offices – general and private, metal pipe making room, fitted with casting bench where sheets are cast from which the pipes are made; and a large set-pan capable of holding about 15 cwt of metal. A door through this communicates with the cutting-out and loading room, where the engine and circular saw are placed. In this room organs can be lowered from the rooms above and placed on lurries [sic] quite under cover and protected from all rain. To the right of this room is the mechanics’ and blacksmith’s shop, and still further the boiler-house. In the former, two mechanics are engaged putting together the many necessary portions of ironwork that are required now in good organs; the slide-lathe and vice-benches are in this room. The first floor is the soundboard and mechanism room, containing a small circular saw and other machinery for the boring and making the many various parts that are needed in an organ. To the right of this is the erecting-room, nearly forty feet high…The top room is used as a pipe-making and bellows room mostly, but soundboards are also made there. At the end of the room, near the staircase, is the voicing room, where Mr Wordsworth, with suitable help, voices all the pipes.”

The organ was opened on St Andrew’s Day, Thursday 30 November, 1882 at the conclusion of a long day of celebratory services to mark the completion of the church. The post-Evensong recital was given by Charles Smith of St John’s Episcopal Church in Forfar who, according to The Courier “brought out its fine qualities to the fullest extent”.[iv] For his part, Smith would comment that “the tone is of an agreeable quality, free from harshness, and the touch is light, and the mechanism silent”.[v] At this stage the organ was without its Great Mixture, reserved for future addition when funds allowed, a practice frequently employed by Wordsworth and Maskell. 

The Case – Evidence of involvement by Frederick Sutton
The organ case is assumed to have been designed by Frederick Heathcote Sutton (1833-1888), the youngest of five children of Sir Richard Sutton, 2nd baronet and Mary Elizabeth Burton. His siblings included Sir John Sutton, likewise a friend of Bodley, an active restorer of Medieval churches (including overseeing the restoration of the chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge by AWN Pugin; here Bodley would later also be involved) and author in 1847 of ‘A Short Account of Organs Built in England from the Reign of King Charles II to the Present Time’. Bodley and the younger Sutton were likely introduced in the early 1860s by the Rev John Gibson, a former fellow of Jesus College and collaborator on the Jesus College restoration, at which time Sutton was serving his first charge at Theddingworth in Leicestershire. Michael Hall suggests that Bodley’s reliance on Sutton regarding organ matters was primarily one of technical expertise, especially following the failure to provide a sufficiently large chamber for Thomas Harrison’s 1867 organ at St Martin’s in Scarborough. [vi]

The organ’s case, with its architectural overlength in the façade, is perhaps the finest of those which emanated from the churches in which Bodley and Sutton worked together. The obvious inspiration provided by Gothic models, and the sheer extent of its decoration, provides the antithesis to the ‘piperack’ so ubiquitous in English organ building of the Oxford Movement era. Sutton’s book, ‘Church Organs, their Position and Construction’, first published fully 10 years prior to the Dundee organ’s construction, argues forcibly for the adoption of late Medieval models from the continent (due to the absence of English models) in order to provide architecturally successful cases: 

 “In the earlier days of the Gothic revival, small Organs were often designed, with scarcely any attempt at a case; the pipes being arranged, so as to form the front of the instrument, as we see in the MSS and stained glass of the Middle Ages. In small Organs, this plan answered very well; but the attempt to carry out this principle in very large Organs, was by no means so successful; and the consequence often was, an instrument which turned out a complete failure from an architectural point of view.”[vii]

Several of Sutton’s specific recommendations for the placement and design of organ cases seem particularly prescient in the context of Dundee:

“It would, thus arranged, generally occupy the centre of the chancel wall, north or south, and might project one to two feet into the chancel, care being taken that the instrument should not in any way obstruct the view of the eastern end of the building; in fact the less the Organ projects from the wall the better”.[viii]

“One of the most important points connected with the construction of Organs, both architecturally and musically, is to get the wind-chest well raised up above the heads of the Choristers. If the height of the Church will admit of it, the feet of the pipes should be at least nine or ten feet from the ground, and if possible, never less than seven feet”.[ix]

Plumtree Church, Nottinghamshire

It is noteworthy that, in his recommendation provided for the builder’s promotional brochure, St Salvador’s first rector, the Rev. James Nicholson, notes the appointment of Wordsworth and Maskell on the recommendation of “the eminent architects of the church Messrs Bodley & Garner London, and the Rev F Sutton.” [x]Previewing the opening services of the chancel and organ, The Courier notes that “the elaborate decoration of the case has been carried out under the personal superintendence of its designer, Mr Bodley. [xi] Robert Pacey, however, ascribes the case to Sutton.[xii] Perhaps most significant in this instance is the case at Plumtree Church in Nottinghamshire, where Wordsworth and Maskell provided an organ for the Bodley-restored church in 1880. The builders’ proposal for the organ survives and notes that the case was to be “of Deal and to the design furnished by the Red F.H. Sutton.”[xiii] The kinship between the case at Plumtree and its larger sibling at Dundee is clear from the adjacent image. In all likelihood, the results in the places where authorship is unclear came from a collaborative process; Sutton designed the case having discussed the organ’s stoplist (and layout?) with the builders, Bodley adapting its appearance to integrate with his broader decorative scheme.

Sutton was an extraordinary draftsman as Josiah Wordsworth is reported as having relayed:

“With his pencil he could draw an elaborate organ case in perspective, showing the various moulds, crockets and other details with wonderful accuracy. Mr Wordsworth…has seen him produce a beautiful design of an organ case in about ten minutes. His pencil seemed absolutely full of life, moving from place to place with most astounding rapidity and rarely passing over one line twice”. [xiv]

Choice of Wordsworth and Maskell
The choice of Wordsworth and Maskell to build their only ecclesiastical organ in Scotland, in the only 19thcentury Bodley church in Scotland, is no coincidence and further strengthens Nicholson’s suggestion of Sutton’s involvement. Sutton’s first encounter with Wordsworth and Maskell occurred in 1872, during the Church Congress held in Leeds. Sutton’s friend, the Rev. F. C. Fitton, who would inherit the temporary organ Wordsworth and Maskell initially built for Sutton’s church at Brant Broughton in Lincolnshire[xv] and who commissioned the 1873 organ at Worting[xvi], reports that the pair visited the company on the recommendation of a Rev George Venables , “now of Yarmouth”. Venables, previously of St Matthew’s in Leicester, was one of the many members of the clergy to provide endorsements for the company[xvii]  and had commissioned a house organ from the firm whilst Rector at Friezland (Greater Manchester).[xviii] Fitton’s description of the encounter is worth reproducing in full, such was its importance to the later relationship between the firm and Sutton:

“You may remember during the year the Church Congress was held in Leeds, two strange Clergymen calling upon you at the recommendation of Rev Geo. Venables, now of Yarmouth. Mr Sutton’s book on Organs was already published; but when he and I went with you to Hunslet to hear the Organ there[xix], entirely constructed by your firm, he had adopted no builder to carry out the many works on which he is consulted upon, as being one of the best informed amateurs on Organs in England. I think I may say that since that time beside employing your firm for his own Organ, he has consistently recommended you far and near; and I believe, none who have been led to give you orders through his recommendation have been disappointed.”[xx]

Later interventions
The organ was overhauled in 1932 by Rothwell’s of London at a period of considerable activity for them on Tayside, including the rebuilding of the organs of both Dundee Cathedral and the High Kirk of St John in Perth. A further overhaul, undertaken by Rushworth and Dreaper, took place in 1974. The organ was fully restored by Harrison and Harrison of Durham with funding from the National Lottery in 1997. At this time the Mixture was inserted on its intended slide and the Swell Keraulophon and Celeste were given their distinctive ‘lugs’ to hold their tuning caps in position.  

With thanks to Max Elliot and Owen Woods for their assistance.

[i] +Edward Luscombe and AC Stuart Donald, ‘All Glorious Within’, p 6

[ii] Michael Hall, ‘George Frederick Bodley and the later Gothic Revival in Britain and America’, Yale University Press, 2014, p 136 

[iii] Organs and Organbuilders no.5 – Messrs Wordsworth & Co, Leeds in The Yorkshire Musician, November 1889, p 47.

[iv] The Courier Friday 1 December, 1882

[v] Wordsworth and Maskell promotional booklet, 1888, p 12

[vi] Michael Hall: ‘Gothic and Renaissance: Organ Cases by Frederick Sutton and G.F. Bodley at Hoar Cross and Temple Newsam’ in JBIOS 20, Positif Press 1996, p 28 

[vii] Frederick Heathcote Sutton, ‘Church Organs their Position and Construction’, Third edition, London 1883, p 2

[viii] Idem p 5 

[ix] Idem p 8

[x] Wordsworth and Maskell promotional booklet, 1888, p 11

[xi] The Courier, Wednesday 29 November, 1882 

[xii] Ed Robert Pacey, ‘Frederick Heathcote Sutton and the Restoration of Brant Broughton Church, Lincolnshire, 1874-76’ Old Chapel Lane Books, 2011, p 76

[xiii] Proposal by Wordsworth and Maskell for the organ at Plumtree Church, Nottinghamshire, 10 September, 1879.

[xiv] Organs and Organbuilders no. 5, p 48

[xv] In Laverstoke church, presumably NPOR D05464. However, the NPOR recording erroneously notes that the organ, although carrying no nameplate  “is obviously by Wordsworth and Maskell” despite Laverstoke church dating only from 1896, following a fire, whilst the Wordsworth and Maskell partnership, as noted, was dissolved in 1888. 

[xvi] II/10, NPOR N11459

[xvii] Wordsworth and Maskell promotional booklet, p 6

[xviii] Organs and Organbuilders no. 5 p 47

[xix] St Peter’s Church, Hunslet Moor, II/25. Completed July 1868 and confirmed by Josiah Wordsworth in his interview to be the first organ completed by the firm. No longer extant. 

[xx] Wordsworth and Maskell promotional booklet, p 10