The Organ History

The Organs of Christ Church

Until the year 1873, Christ Church had to be content with a harmonium. Mrs Hancoke, the vicar’s widowed daughter played this and the piano in the numerous Penny Readings and musical evenings in the Assembly Rooms. Brunel White’s tenor voice contributed to these events. He was happy to sing either sentimental or comic songs.

The Journal dated 31st January 1873 reported that over 100 people attended the Annual Supper given by the Archdeacon to the joint choirs of Christ Church and St David’s. The venue was Bridge Street School. The curate of St David’s was quite a musician. He was renowned for his lectures on the history and theory of music, tracing the development from Greeks and Romans. to the present time.

In January ,1873 a new and powerful organ costing nearly £400 was donated to Christ Church by Valentine Davis and Mr Parnell. The order was given to Thompson and Shacail who employed Gray and Davison (London) to construct the instrument. It was a magnificent organ with powerful stops, built of the best metal and encased in handsomely designed stained deal. Videon Harding, organist of St Peter’s was invited to give the first recital on the new organ to a Church filled to capacity with its own parishioners and representatives of all religious bodies in the town. The programme commenced with Haydn’s “The Heavens are telling” and concluded with Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”. Charles Cooke was appointed organist of Christ Church in 1873 and held that post for

26 years. His daughters kept a private school for young ladies in their home opposite Christ Church; a school that was still flourishing in 1907.Mr Webb and Dr. Mcelland succeeded Mr Cooke as organists and possibly there were two others during the interval.

In 1906 a larger organ was required; the ‘pride and joy of 1873’ was now described in a letter by the vicar as: ‘a paltry instrument unworthy of the Church and the congregation’. It was sold for £112 and replaced by a Hunter organ costing £1060. It was a considerable amount of money to find in 1907!

The bank account deposit book that still exists records donations humble and otherwise, such as, Bazaar proceeds £218; a loan of £ 100; and finally a donation of £325 from the Andrew Carnegie Trust. The Revd Walters’ efforts to procure this sum of money from Andrew Carnegie; the world renowned, self-made multi-millionaire and philanthropist – are truly praiseworthy. His letters of appeal in draft, with countless alterations and corrections indicate the tremendous effort he made. To be noted is the normal Sunday evening congregation in 1907 was between 400 and 500 people.

The organ chamber was removed from the original site, where the pulpit now stands, and Hunter and Sons, 87, High Street, Clapham were commissioned to build the new organ. The local press in September 1907, gave glowing descriptions of the fine three- manual instrument with automatic stops and hydraulic power from the town’s water mains.

The church itself had undergone a complete face – lift. The upper walls were painted in warm Sienna; the base in Pompeian red, with an intervening sage green band illuminated by texts from the ‘Te Deum’ painted in gold; vine leaves adorned the windows and stained walnut gas fittings were re-lacquered. All this was for the dedication of the new organ by the Lord Bishop of St David’s on 19th September 1907. Mr Keene, organist of St Saviour’s, Clapham was invited to give an organ recital after the service and on the following evening.

The choir sang: ‘Glory and Honour’ (Mozart) and their performance reflected great credit on their training by Mr West, the newly appointed organist. The names of Edward Colby Evans and John Davies Evans amongst others, appear in accounts of vocal quartettes rendered at this and subsequent organ recitals. A plaque in the chancel commemorates these two choristers who between them were members of the choir for 151 years.

Wlater Baxter Brookes was the organist from 1909 to 1016. Late 1917 marked another step forward in the history of Christ Church organs when the hydraulic motion was replaced by electricity. On 24th January 1918, a grand organ recital was given by Herbert Morris, organist of St david’s cathedral to celebrate this innovation.

Soloists were:

  • Irene Thomas
  • Edmund Thomas
  • Colby Evans

Mr C.W. Wifford was the organist from 1916 to 1954; a lengthy period during which several present members of the church were his pupils and have every reason to be grateful to him for their musical tuition. He was followed by a succession of excellent organists:

  • Wynne Evans    1954 to 1965
  • Michael Davies  1965 to 1968
  • Mrs Goddard      1968 to 1971
  • Keith Davies       1971 to 1973

In 1973 we were most fortunate to acquire the services of Mrs MEM Williams from Llandeilo.

In 1977, the pneumatic action of the present organ was converted to an electric pneumatic action and new keyboards and pedals fitted. The work was carried out by Michael Davies – organist 1965-68), who became senior executive of the Gavenny Organ Company.

The old keys were labelled, varnished, and sold to Church members to help defray the cost of the conversion work of one of the finest organs in the Diocese. On the 3rd October 1907, the vicar wrote to Andrew Carnegie ‘I am truly rejoiced to think that so good an instrument has been provided for this parish, indeed for the town I may say’

More than 70 years later, we endorse this sentiment and remember with gratitude all who worked for the cause and especially Andrew Carnegie, the son of a poor Scottish weaver who emigrated to Pittsburg, USA on the ‘hungry ferries’ without whose ‘generous promise of £325 no organ would have been provided at all’.

Mr Ken Gutteridge followed Mrs Williams from 1993 to 1997.

Mr Alan Greenacre followed Mr Gutteridge from 1997 to 2001.

Mr Greenacre wrote a report about the Organs in Christ  Church for the Chancellor of the Diocese in April 1999 (Appendix 1).

Today’s Dr. Dulais Rhys, is our accomplished organist. He became our organist in 2002 and has been with us since.

Dulais has written a few lines on what it means to him to be our church organist:

“I consider myself most fortunate to be in a position to regularly play the organ at Christ Church – it’s something I enjoy and makes a change from my first instrument, the kazoo. 

As a boy chorister in St Peter’s church choir, my childhood memory of that organ (wonderfully played by the late Gerwyn Thomas, who was also my inspiring music teacher at school) is of a huge music-breathing monster; but when I actually came to play that ‘famous’ organ many decades later, I remember being so disappointed with its size and comparative lack of decibels!

Organ aficionados claim that the ‘Hunter’ organ at Christ Church is a rare ‘Rolls Royce’, of which Wales has only a few. Its place within the history of the church’s organs is too complex and lengthy to detail here … not that I consider myself an expert in the field. In fact, I do not consider myself an ‘organist’ at all!

 I am not your typical ‘church organist’: I did not go to ‘organ college’, I do not live breathe and dream church organs, I do not own an anorak, I do not subscribe to ‘Church Organists Monthly’, I do not belong to an ‘organ club’ … and most importantly, I would never dream of claiming that it’s a machine, not an instrument!

 And please do not refer to me as ‘the Christ Church organist’! Granted I am there most Sundays, and in spite of my ‘fastest & loudest hymns in town’ claim, I’d rather be thought of as part of the ‘Christ Church Organ Team’, which includes Sheila Jones, Mary Evans, William Bott and Paul Watkins. These organists also play a vital role in fulfilling the musical needs of the Christ Church and  Eglwys Grist  congregations, and I am grateful to them all, especially when substituting for me – diolch o galon i chi gyd.

My ‘musical philosophy’ for Christ Church is simple: mix the familiar with the new. Having been brought up within the musical rigidity and repetitiveness of a chapel, there’s nothing worse that the same old music every Sunday. At Christ Church, every now and again, I like to sing the psalm on a ‘new’ chant: after a few verses, everyone’s joining in (‘Thank the Lord we are a musical nation’! said the Rev Eli Jenkins) and add it to the repertoire! A new hymn I tend to teach my little choir first before ‘passing it on’ – thank you, choristers, for giving of your time to practice.

Church organists are a weird lot … but when we argue over ‘instrument’ or ‘machine’, my trump card is always”:

“Which carries on playing in a power cut?”!

Our vicar and organist, Dr Dulais Rhys  sharing some happy times!