Find out here about the different organs of St John the Baptist Church and how the church community came together to raise money for the latest instrument. The current Westbourne Church organ was built by Kenneth Tickell in 2001.

The Organs of Westbourne

Organs date back to the 3rd century BC, the first organs being “water organs” (i.e. powered by water in that the air pressure was controlled by hydraulics) with the design attributed to Ctesibius, an engineer who worked in Alexandria.  The first organs appeared in England in the latter half of the 9th century (eg Winchester Cathedral) but these were vast, primitive and raucously noisy machines.  Organs of a more acceptable size and sound appeared in this country from the 12th century and, surprisingly, were finding their way into parish churches as early as the 14th century.  The tiny village of Branscombe in Devon is recorded as having a pipe organ in 1307 and Orpington, Kent, as possessing a pipe organ in 1340.  At Wetheringset (Suffolk) one William Bradway is recorded as having left the sum of £10 to the church for the provision of an organ (fragments of which are around today) “that God's service might be the more solemnly sungen”.

Unfortunately nothing is known of organs at Westbourne (if indeed there were any) before 1819 and even then records relate only to the installation of an organ in that year but tell us nothing more.  Like many other churches which installed barrel organs around that time, it is thought probable that Westbourne installed some sort of organ when the musicians and their Minstrel’s Gallery became redundant during the first half of the 1800’s but exactly what and where is a matter of speculation.

We do, however, know a great deal about the organ which was installed in 1862, much of which became the Great division of the instrument which accompanied services here until its final service of Evensong on Easter Sunday 2001.  This was a one manual instrument made by JW Walker and it was installed at the head of the north aisle (where the altar now stands in the side chapel).  The organ must have been quite a feature of the church in that it possessed 14ft high gilded front pipes, which were re-gilded 3 years later - possibly because they had become tarnished during the removal of the Minstrel’s Gallery, its windows and the false ceiling in 1864.  At that time the organ was also slightly enlarged.

The total cost of the organ in 1862 was £180 guineas.  It measured 14’ high by 8’ 9” wide and 5’11” deep. It was encased in a Venetian Swell, with the aforementioned gilded, speaking (i.e. working) front pipes and a 30-note ‘German pedal board’ with 3 composition pedals. 

Then in 1876, the organ was enlarged to a 2-manual instrument with the addition of a Swell division and couplers to the Great and the Pedal at a cost of £237.17s.0d.  Records show that the Swell was comprised of 6 stops, 5 of them new, with the Keraulophon now “being employed on the Swell” together with the “Stopped Diapason Treble taken from Great organ”. A new stop “Wald Flute Treble was substituted in Great for Stopped Diapason Treble Pipes taken for Swell”.

We know that Alice Anne Marten provided funds not only for the addition of the Swell organ but also for an organ chamber to be built on the outside of the SE corner of the church, into which the re-built organ was housed in 1876 and remained there, with modifications, until its removal. The organ chamber (now the Clergy Vestry) was so well blended with the rest of the building that few people were, or are, aware that this part of the church is only 125 years old. The windows were built into the chamber but then boarded up with thick, tongue and groove oak planks to provide some insulation to the chamber against extremes of the weather.

Fourteen years later, in 1890, WJ Haywood of London carried out further modifications to the organ, adding an 8ft Oboe to the Swell Division and a  16ft Open Wood to the Pedal division and completing the work in time for Christmas that year. Nothing further was done to the organ until 1935 when Hele & Co Ltd of Plymouth overhauled the organ and undertook its tuning and maintenance. At this time the only changes made were to the Flute stops on the Great. They modified the old Walker 4’ flute to become the Chimney Flute 8ft and, at the same time, somewhat confusingly, they added their own Wald Flute 4ft. Electric blowing was installed in 1938, the organ having been pumped manually prior to this by means of a large handle operated by boys from the village who were known as ‘blowers’. Many of them inscribed their names on the inside of the wood panels which encased the organ chamber and a section of this is amongst the display of memorabilia of the old organ. The organ was cleaned again by Hele in 1952 and then, in 1967, it was decided that they should rebuild the instrument, replacing the mechanical action with electro-pneumatic action.

Although much of the original Walker pipework was carefully restored and incorporated, the organ had now become something of a hybrid. The 1876 Swell Harmonic Flute 4’ and Suabe Piccolo 2’ were removed and the Great Mixture III was replaced with a Swell Mixture of unusual double-quint design. The inaugural recital was given by the renowned organist and composer Harold Darke, recordings of which still exist although they are unfortunately of very poor quality.

The console of the Westbourne organ, featured on the National Pipe Organ Registry.

In 1982, Willis swapped over the Great and Swell Fifteenths, revoiced the Keraulophon to make it less reedy and more of a Salicional and turned the whole organ around, fitting a new Swell Box so that the organ spoke out into the Nave, rather than the Chancel.

When the time came to have to say goodbye to this organ in 2001, there was a degree of sadness, despite its imperfections, but it was also a great joy to find that, with the exception of the Pedal Open Wood (which many church members took away as a souvenir or to convert into a window box or pot planter) every other organ part was destined for new homes:

St James, Yarmouth, IoW – Console (keyboards), Trumpet, Oboe, Pedal Bass Flute and Octave Flute

St Mary’s, Carisbrooke, IoW – (Great) Twelfth, Fifteenth; (Swell) Open Diapason, Stopped Diapason, Keraulophon and Gemshorn.

The remainder of the organ was taken to help in the construction of a 3-manual, privately owned instrument in Wadhurst, East Sussex.

The content on this page has been supplied with thanks to Elizabeth Alder.


Gestation of the new Kenneth Tickell Organ

console of the Kenneth Tickell organ at Westbourne churchIt became apparent that the 1967 modifications to the existing organ had done very little to resolve the problem of sound being locked in the organ chamber and the effect of the Hele Mixture, rather than binding the organ tone, seemed to produce a rather piercing sound which was uncomfortable to the average ear, while the tutti (full organ sound) lacked cohesion. Reports were obtained and, in the 1980’s, a number of options were put forward and discussed by the PCC including the possible purchase of an electronic instrument (a topic which was raised again prior to the decision to install the Kenneth Tickell organ). 

The following extract from Willis’ proposal dated 18 June 1982 may be of interest:  “Although you say that the Church is willing to have the Great Organ outside the West Arch of the organ chamber (ie in the south aisle) I feel that to do this would further unbalance matters not only because the Swell would then still be behind the Arch (presumably with the Pedal at the back with its tones mostly coming out of the Chancel) but because the idea of the manual organ tones all coming from the South East corner of the Nave does not appeal (to the Parish) in the present context”.  Clearly opinion can change in 20 years! 

Fundraising was started but plans for a long-term organ solution had to be placed 'on the back burner' on two occasions when emergency repairs to the church were required: the first when fungus necessitated the stripping of the wooden floor from under the pews and its replacement with York stone and the second when a large crack appeared in the main Chancel arch. Willis was consequently engaged only to clean the organ and carry out relatively minor work in an effort to project more sound into the nave.  This work is noted at the foot of the 1967 specification and it was effective. 

The situation could have continued for several more decades of deterioration before the organ wheezed its last but the seeds of change were sown in 1990 when the relatively new PCC Treasurer (Christopher Shaw) obtained approval for separate budget headings, including that for the organ.  Funds for the organ were then set aside each year and, by the turn of the Millennium, had grown to more than £20,000. Once the decision to replace the organ was made with, after some considerable debate, a new pipe organ, John Norman BSc, FIMIT, FISOB was appointed organ advisor, estimates from five builders were obtained and the contract was awarded to Kenneth Tickell & Co of Northampton.

With £20,000 in the bank, the fact that the Kenneth Tickell Organ Fund was ringfenced, plus the will to mark the Millennium in a way that would benefit generations to come and that there had been careful consultation with the congregation at all stages, meant that the efforts of the fund raising team were met with success and within five weeks promises for the majority of the money needed had been obtained. It was a remarkable achievement.

The specification of the new Kenneth Tickell organ at St John the Baptist Church, Westbourne (Tickell website)

> Westbourne organ specification (pdf)


Organ recitals

More about the recitals in the Westbourne series can be found on the concert page.


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