The organ in our chapel was made and installed by Walkers in 1842. Over the decades it’s been cleaned and overhauled and modernised, and there has always been an organist here who has cared for it and played it for chapel services.
Its last overhaul was in 2004, and today Bernard Whitmill is back again to clean, mend and recondition it. I spoke to him on the organ gallery surrounded by all his tools and hundreds of dismantled pieces of organ. “Yes, I will be able to find them all again,” he says confidently.
He describes how he is improving the action of all the stops, replacing all the pins and leather washers that make them work smoothly. He is updating all the electrics, but has also had to fix some problems he was not anticipating so the whole job is taking 11 weeks. He tells me about the gold paint on the pipes – a specialist paint created especially for organ pipes and which is really tricky to apply. It’s called Ardenbrite, and was created by a paint company just around the corner from here, but these days you can buy it at B&Q.
I ask Bernard if there are plenty of new up-and-coming organ specialists who will be continuing to keep this specialist industry alive in the UK, and he says sadly not. Walkers and Manders, the big names in organs (both of which Bernard worked for in the past) are still trading, but Bernard wonders how many young specialists are in training today.
I’m sure the Charterhouse organist, Brother Graham Matthews, is missing his regular practice, which we can always hear drifting through our office walls – but the new, super smooth action and sound will be worth it I’m sure.