Help restore organ music to The Monastery and catch a glimpse of heaven
Subject: Manchester history, Victorian Manchester, Manchester heritage, Manchester music, organ restoration, British history, conservation.
Words | Dr. Caroline Paige Photography | Len Grant
An 8-minute read
There’s nothing as soothing to the soul,
than the tones of an organ of old.
By whispering a prayer with celestial sound,
we catch a glimpse of heaven around.
We’re getting ready to fundraise for the next important chapter in the restoration of our much-loved heritage site.
The Church of St Francis has been lovingly (and painstakingly) restored. It has taken twenty-five years of fundraising and conservation to reinstate the fallen roofs and repair fragile masonry. A feat many thought impossible! The buildings were made watertight. The interiors restored and reorganised to support the needs of a heritage and community venue. The car park and an impressive new wing added. Now the original, decorative paint schemes are preserved. The crucifix saved and returned. And, the 12 larger-than-life statues of Franciscan saints – unique to The Monastery – are back standing gloriously regilded in the Great Nave.
So, what’s left to do?
There’s still an integral part of the site missing. Its 1888 Wadsworth organ.
Music has the power to raise our spirits and can lift our hearts and minds. It’s a source of inspiration and provides a soundtrack to our lives stirring memory and emotion. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to reinstate an 1880s Wadsworth organ and fill the church with the music it was designed for.
Gorton Monastery’s organ was dismantled when the church and friary were sold in 1989. The organ pipes were probably sold for scrap. The organ loft has remained empty. We hoped one day an opportunity would arrive to put this last missing piece of The Monastery back where it belonged.
History of the old Wadsworth organ
In 1888, Father Aiden decided it was time to invest in a new organ more suitable for the size of the building. He began fundraising. That same year, Gorton celebrated the magnificent, new organ with a special service. A distinguished Franciscan organist, Father Augustine d’Hoole, travelled from Glasgow to play the organ. Many at Gorton thought their lay brother, Brother Raphael, was a musical genius at the organ and equally talented to Father Augustine.
‘Fr. Aiden wanted a new organ. There was a three-day bazaar in May 1888 and on 15th July the Solemn Opening of the new Organ took place with a distinguished Franciscan organist, Fr. Augustine d’Hoole, OFM, being brought from the Friary, Glasgow, for the occasion. There were many that thought the laybrother, Bro. Raphael, a genius in the kitchen, and also an inspired genius at the organ and the regular organist for many years, could have easily compared with Fr. Augustine. But there it was.’
Excerpt from Father Justin McLoughlin’s book, Gorton Monastery 1861-1961
Organ music was at the height of fashion. They were not only found in churches and chapels (as we tend to think of pipe organs today). They provided musical soundtracks at theatres and music to sing and dance to many fashionable houses.
The organ was built in 1888 by Wadsworth & Brother, a Manchester firm of organ builders set up by Edward Wadsworth in 1861. Born in Chorlton in 1839, Edward was the son of an estate agent. He trained as an apprentice organ builder and soon decided to set up his own business. A ‘sound’ decision during a period of huge growth for organ manufacturing.
Wadsworth manufactured over 1,000 organs during their 85 years. Most made for the parish churches of North West England. Today, only a small fraction of these organs exist. As church attendance declined in the 20th century and churches closed, many organs were dismantled as sold as scrap. Just as happened here at Gorton Monastery.
A new organ for Gorton
We have fabulous opportunity to return a Wadsworth organ – and its magnificent music – to the Great Nave at the Monastery.
In 2020 during the first Covid lockdown, our CEO, Elaine Griffiths, was contacted by David Emery the organist and treasurer at Patricroft Methodist Church in Eccles, Salford. His church had closed and David was trying to find a new home for their 1884 Wadsworth organ. The organ was originally built for Trinity Church, which stood on the same site. It’s only four years younger than Gorton’s and is almost identical in size and specification.
The organ restoration
The organ was kindly gifted to us, with only a requirement to pay for its removal from Patricroft and its installation in Gorton.
We obtained expert advice, about the practicalities and cost of moving the organ, from George Sixsmith & Son organ works in Mossley, Ashton-under-Lyne. The Patricroft organ was originally installed and maintained by Cyril Wood of Ashton-Under-Lyne. When Cyril died, George Sixsmith (who once worked for Wadsworth) acquired his business and continued to maintain the organ.
Once dismantled, the organ will be restored and repaired. It’s in good working order – Wadsworth organs were built to last! But, we must take the opportunity to make relatively small repairs necessary for an instrument’s ongoing maintenance and to clean and restore it to its full glory.
To fit our organ loft, the organ needs to be rebuilt and reconfigured. This won’t affect the way it sounds – it will just change the way it fits the space. This is no mean feat with over 800 pipes!
Excitingly, this also gives us the opportunity to add modern playing aids – if we can raise enough.
This would allow us to play the organ from the nave and to program it to play music arranged digitally. We’d love to program the organ to play uplifting music at the same time every day for our visitors to enjoy!
We need to raise £100,000 to reinstate the Wadsworth organ and return its rich music to the Monastery.
Its music can be a powerful instrument of mediation and celebration. It can bring joy, soothe our grief, and move us to think differently. Its power – delivered through over 800 hand-rolled pipes – can stir our deepest emotions.
To my eyes and ears the organ will ever be the King of Instruments.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Ways you can help us to bring organ music back to Gorton Monastery.
Please help us to reach our target of £100,000. We’ve already raised £27,000 thanks to some generous donors.
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Thank you for helping to support our appeal. You’re helping to bring the music back to the Monastery.