The English organ, the Anglican Church and St. Giles

Whilst the use of pipe organs can be traced back as far as 200BC, the use of organs for the accompaniment of Anglican Church Music is rather more recent. Organs had been present in English cathedrals and collegiate churches but until the second half of the 18th Century there were few in parish churches. The Oxford Movement was possibly the most important factor in the changing of West Gallery Music (consisting of singers and instrumentalists) into the practice of having a robed choir in the chancel, very often with an organ there too. By 1800 it was reckoned that organs could be found 'In around 80% of London churches' and during the next century this spread to most parish churches throughout the country. Organ building became a major 'industry' in England during this period.

Organ builders were among those at the forefront of technology, constantly looking for ways to be better than the competition in their manufacture. Some had their own railway sidings to help with transport.

At the Great Exhibition of 1851, a number of organs by prominent builders of the day was installed to entertain visitors while walking round the exhibition, including the largest organ in the world at the time, with 4474 pipes and 77 stops, built by 'Father' Henry Willis, who was awarded a gold medal for his efforts.

Whilst there is much excellent music for the organ written over hundreds of years, an English church organ is effectively a 'one man band' which has to be used to accompany large and small congregations, choirs singing Anglican chant, service settings and anthems, so playing organ music usually has to come second. Until quite recently there was no real alternative to the pipe organ that could do all these things but played by just one person.

St. Giles followed this pattern of West Gallery music, then a barrel organ, then the real thing.

Organs at St. Giles and Fox's Brewery

The history of the Oak Brewery in Green Street Green is well documented elsewhere and had a considerable impact on the locality, including the start of the massive population increase that took place over the next century or so. Green Street Green was within the Parish of Farnborough until 1937.

The St. Giles building was, of course, never intended to have a pipe organ. Prior to 1842 there was a musicians' gallery at the West end and music was probably provided by a band of singers and one or more instrumentalists.

On January 16th 1842 a barrel organ belonging to Mr. Fox of Fox's Brewery was loaned to the church, 'And will remain in the church only during his pleasure unless any future any future arrangement be made between him and the officers of the Parish.' This was probably John Fox, who had founded the Oak Brewery in 1836 or possibly his son, Thomas Samuel Fox, as both were involved in philanthropic activity. In 1844 the upper musicians' gallery was removed and the barrel organ placed in the lower gallery. There are records of monies being paid to have it moved from the back of the church to the front, and then back again, which implies that either it was not really adequate or took up too much room lack of space has always been an issue, it seems. The siting of the barrel organ in the lower gallery had led to the loss of seating and changes had to be made to seating on the South side of the church to make up for it.

The change to a proper pipe organ happened during the 1880s, which was quite late compared to some parishes in or close to London. Thomas Hamilton Fox, son of Thomas Samuel, was an organist (by 1961 some of his organ music which had been given to the church was still lying around in what was then the organ chamber) and in 1885 he offered to pay for a pipe organ to be installed in St. Giles on condition that the church provided a chamber to house it. Thomas's father died in 1883, leaving the brewery to his sons so when Thomas Hamilton made the offer of a pipe organ one would have thought that he might have been feeling the burden of the massive debt that his father had run up during the re building of the brewery.

Some argument ensued over the addition to the building to house the new organ and a drawing of the proposed structure in the archives has scrawled over it 'This must never be built'. As we have learnt through the years, additions, alterations and restorations to ancient buildings usually open up cans of worms and the chancel itself was found to be in such a bad state that it had to be rebuilt in addition to the work on building the new organ chamber on the north side of the chancel. Doubtless some parishioners at the time wished that the offer of an organ had never been made.

Clive Brearley

to be continued...