by John Mitchell
by Peter Jebson
The Organ's of St. Cuthberts
The present St. Cuthbert's is the third church to be built on the site. The first building endured for almost 600 years. Throughout that period Lytham remained a tiny hamlet of fishermen and those who were in service at Lytham Hall, home of the Clifton family. The villagers clearly felt that their tiny church on the sand dunes was adequate - they called it 'The Cathedral'.
The second St. Cuthbert's was a replica of the first, but it was replaced after only 60 years of service. By the 1830s the Victorians had discovered the benefits of sea bathing. For the Lancashire mill owners Lytham was the nearest place by the sea, St. Annes and Blackpool were built much later. Hundreds of wealthy visitors flocked to the little hamlet. They built grand weekend houses, later to become their retirement homes. Their presence on sundays overwhelmed the second church, so a new building on a far grander scale was opened in 1834.
We know very little about the first organ for the new building. It was housed in the west gallery, so it can't have been too big or too heavy. This organ was replaced in 1881 when, celebrated organ builder, Peter Conacher installed a new 3 manual instrument in the church. He paid £155 for the old organ and deducted this from the price tag of £625 for the new one.
Conacher was a leading figure amongst a group of organ builders known as 'The Yorkshire School'.
More information about this group can be found in the section about the new church organ. In 1881
the Clifton family had sole use of the Chancel as a private chapel. Here they worshiped in splendid isolation .The church choir was seated on either side of the chancel steps. Conacher therefore built the new organ to the north of the chancel, facing westward into the Nave. The Cliftons would have heard very little of the new instrument, it's unlikely that they would have done anything so plebeian as singing in public anyway!
The Conacher organ was undoubtedly a fine instrument and quite advanced for its day. The pipes were imported from Paris and the specification in 1881 read ..
Open Diapason 8'
Violin Diapason 8'
Stopped Diapason 8'
Harmonic Flute 4'
Contra Gamba 16'
Open Diapason 8'
Rohr Gedact 8'
Voix Celestes 8'
Echo Cornet III
Vox Humana 8'
Flute Closed 8'
Echo Gamba 8'
Flauto Traverso 4'
Flute Octaviante 4'
Double Diapason 16'
Pedal octave coupler.
English organs of the period generally had minimal Pedal departments, but the Pedal Octave Coupler, in this case, was a joke! There were 30 pedals and only 30 pipes in each stop. The coupler would have had no effect in the top octave. It was later discarded.
The new organ survived untouched until 1903 when Henry Ainscough of Preston was contracted to rebuild and maintain it. Mystery surrounds this period in its history. Twenty years is nothing in the life of a pipe organ, so why should anybody rebuild such a young instrument? The answer seems to be that Ainscough moved it. We have a photograph from 1905 which shows the front case of the organ facing south and speaking directly into the Chancel. Shortly after this, the Clifton family pews were removed from the Chancel and replaced by Choir Stalls. Perhaps the organ was moved in anticipation of this change, or maybe the Cliftons fled the Chancel having been subjected to the full power of the organ blasting into such a small space! Whatever the reason, the main result of the move was that, from the Nave, it now sounded remote and feeble.
Unfortunately Ainscough's records before 1923 have been destroyed, so we don't know what other alterations he made to the organ in 1903. He carried out another major rebuild in 1952 and much of the work was clearly aimed at getting a better sound in the Nave by making the organ louder.
The Great Trumpet was removed and replaced by a Twelfth 2 2/3' on the main soundboard. The Trumpet got its own wind chest and was revoiced on higher pressure. This made it too loud to join in the Great chorus, but not strong enough to stand above it as a solo voice. It was also connected to the Choir Organ, where it rejoiced in the name 'Tromba'. Dual identity stops are an unfortunate feature of many British organs, so Ainscough wasn't the only culprit in this practice.
The Swell Cornopean (on low wind pressure) was transposed to become a Double Trumpet 16'.
A high pressure unit was added to the Swell with a Trumpet 8' and Clarion 4'. The new reeds certainly added power, but they were totally out of balance with the Conacher chorus. Finally, some rather suspicious re-naming went on. The Swell Salicional suddenly became 'Echo Gamba', and the Choir Echo Gamba became 'Salicional'. You might be tempted to think that he swapped the pipes around, but you'd be wrong! Conacher put a factory sticker on the bass pipe of each stop, giving the name of the stop and the organ that it was for. Most of them are still there, so who did Ainscough think he was kidding? The Choir organ got a new 'Salicet 4'. Well not really, the Flute Octaviante just got a new name!
The Pedal Organ fared best in this rebuild. The Bourdon was extended to give a genuine 8' Bass Flute, The Open Diapason (of wood) was given a new treble section of metal, a metal Contra Bass rank was added, giving 16' and 8' stops, and a Trombone 16' was added.
By 1980 the organ was again in need of major attention and this time the work was entrusted to Pendlebury of Cleveleys. A new electro-pneumatic action was fitted, the console was modernised and the tonal scheme was updated with particular attention being given to the higher pitched voices. The Great got a new Mixture, The Pedal Contra Bass was extended to 4' and a set of 'mutations' were added. Mutation stops are tone-altering voices, tuned to one of the natural harmonics of the note being struck. The Nazard gives the 2nd harmonic, the Tierce gives the 4th and the Larigot the 5th. When any of these are combined with a 'normal' stop they modify its tone. An Oboe with a Nazard can become a quite convincing Bagpipe!
It is only fair to the Pendlebury company to point out that the Church suffered a financial crisis during the 1980 project and a lot of the work planned could not be completed. This resulted in the organ becoming problematic quite soon and, by 2002, it was really in trouble. As the previous alterations had still not solved the 'Nave problem' we resolved to tackle it in a more drastic way. This would involve moving Great and Swell back to their Conacher locations, shifting the Choir into the Chancel arch and enlarging it to become a 'mini-Great' to support choral singing. The Swell would get side shutters so that it could act as a second manual in the Chancel, the pedal would be enlarged and split into Nave and Chancel divisions. To restore a 3 manual scheme in the Nave, a small, enclosed Solo would provide a home for the 'fancy' stops and stand next to the Swell.
Whilst we were confident that this plan would sort out the sound problems it was a massive investment and we were advised that the old organ had become such a 'mongrel' that it wasn't worth any more major work. After much soul searching we eventually invited Copeman Hart to carry out the plan in digital form. Just how well this has worked must be left to the listener, but it's gratifying to have people tell us how superb our acoustic is and how wonderfully it enhances the organ sound. If only they knew!