Withington history
St. Chad's Church organ
St Chad's Church

St Chad’s Church, Ladybarn, was opened and consecrated in October 1907. It is a brick-built structure, without a tower, and was designed by local architect, Cecil Hardisty.

The Harrison pipe organ

The pipe organ The present organ has a remarkable history and is a particularly fine instrument. It is one of the jewels of the area, and of considerable historical importance.

This account is an extract from "A legacy of love: The story of the Harrison organ at St. Chad's Church, Ladybarn" by Robert Nicholls, published by Withington Civic Society.

The church’s original organ was a two manual Hill instrument, located on the right hand (southern) side of the Chancel. This organ was totally destroyed by a fire in October 1952, which started in the organ itself. Superficial damage from this fire can still be seen in woodwork of the adjoining choir stalls, and in the brickwork staining above the existing front decorative pipework.

In October 1953, the current organ was installed by Charles Smethurst & Co of Manchester at a cost of £3,130. The plate above the uppermost manual states ‘Rebuilt by Charles. A. Smethurst, Manchester 9’. There is no visible indication of its original builders. However this is known to be Harrison & Harrison of Durham.

The organ is a three manual instrument, comprising (in ascending order) Great, Swell and Solo departments, respectively, plus pedals. Locally, it is sometimes known by organists as the ‘upside down organ’ in view of the disposition of the keyboards, which is believed to be relatively uncommon.

Brackenburgh Tower

The St Chad’s instrument was originally built in 1906 by Harrison and Harrison for Joseph Harris, a landowner and colliery owner, of Brackenburgh Tower, Calthwaite, Penrith, now in Cumbria.

Brackenburgh Tower had its origins in a fortified house built in either late 14th Century or the early 15th Century. Following alterations and additions undertaken by William Atkinson in 1852, it was acquired by Joseph Harris in 1874, who then set about utilising the proceeds of his coal mining interests to expand the Brackenburgh Estate. In 1902-3, he employed the renowned Scottish architect, Robert Lorimer, to substantially rebuild the mansion into the building it largely remains today.

The organ was a present from Joseph Harris to his wife, who was the 'musician' in the household. The organ was, and is (still), provided with a charge-pneumatic action system, excepting the pedal to manual couplers, which are mechanical. It cost £929, plus £137 for the blower equipment.

Certain stops, including those on the Solo organ appear to be imitative of orchestral sounds and may reflect, to a degree, the ‘house organ’ purpose of its acquisition when accompaniment and support to visiting amateur orchestras and other smaller ensembles would have been anticipated.

The organ was placed at the south-western end of the (still existing) Great Hall (also called the Drawing Room) of Brackenburgh Tower, with a detached console, effectively facing the ‘audience’, and positioned at an angle. The position of the console ‘well’ can still be seen. Great, Solo and Pedal pipework was located within an alcove close to the console, whilst the Swell organ and bellows were located in an attic roofspace. This meant that the height of the Swell box had to be truncated, itself limiting the length of some of the bass reed pipework, which had to be mitred as a result.

At Brackenburgh Tower, as well as being a solo instrument, the organ was used on occasions to accompany local amateur orchestras and brass bands from the family-owned collieries. Sir Henry Wood is known to have been a guest on one such occasion.

The organ seems to have remained in use until some time during the 1930s. By 1946, possibly due to the advancing age of the owners (Mrs Harris died in 1946 and her husband the following year), the organ was 'out of use' and had suffered some deterioration. Harrison & Harrison were instructed to find a buyer for it, but were unsuccessful. The building was then let to a private school, who were subsequently approached with a view to assuming responsibility for the organ, but declined. Harrisons then offered to buy the instrument 'as material', but this proposal was not accepted.

The organ in St. Chad's Church

The organ was finally removed from Brackenburgh by Smethursts in 1953 in connection with its installation in St Chad's. The building was subsequently remodelled and reduced in size by the owners, and is now known as 'Brackenburgh', being again the family home of the Harris family. The former Great, Solo and Pedal organ chamber is now a bathroom.

At St Chad’s, the installation of the organ was 'resourcefully and economically addressed’ by Smethursts. It almost totally fills the chamber designed for its smaller predecessor, which makes access for maintenance and tuning difficult. The specification is exactly the same as when the instrument was located at Brackenburgh Towers, although the casework and front decorative pipework by Smethursts are not original in order the fit in with the existing church materials and layout.

In 1964, an inspection of the organ was carried out by Cuthbert Harrison. In 1975, a modest overhaul was undertaken by Daly & Pickering of Stockport at a cost of around £1,000. Smethursts had been due to carry out the work, but had gone into voluntary liquidation after compulsory acquisition of their premises by the local authority.

From then until the early 1990s, maintenance was undertaken by Daly and Pickering, but they were dismissed by St Chad's following dissatisfaction with their work, which had led to ever larger parts of the organ being taken out of use.  Subsequent to this, until spring 2007, tuning and maintenance was carried out by a local individual, who managed to bring back into use the majority of the instrument.

Since the 1960s, however, the instrument has been gradually deteriorating. In February 2008, following recent deterioration, a number of works were undertaken by Robert Edwards & Co of Chester, who carried out some re-leathering work, repaired several broken mitred reed pipes from the (still original) Swell box, tuned the instrument and undertook other minor repairs. One effect of these works was to restore a run of important tenor notes on the Swell manual, enabling that organ to be regularly used again in church services. However, the Great 4ft Principal stop remains ‘out of action’ (having failed in the last 12 months) and the Swell Octave coupler has not worked at all for a number of years. Many other keys fail to work, or work only intermittently. The Great 15th stop and the Solo to Great coupler also only work intermittently.

The St Chad's Harrison & Harrison organ is a fine instrument of considerable historical importance. It represents an early yet mature work of one of the nation's foremost organ builders and is an interesting example of the firm's work at that period.

Although clearly not now in its original location or casework, the organ with its slightly unusual specification, remains exactly as it was provided to its purchasers in 1906. It has transferred well to a church location, and is excellently suited to the task of contributing to the worship at St Chad's and its use in the wider community.

Recent history

St. Chad's Church has recently (2019) been awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to restore the organ. This restoration is now completed and the organ has been refurbished and its future as a musical instrument assured.