The history of organs installed in St Mary’s has been recorded by the Bristol and District Organists Association. The existing instrument dates from the late 19th century and has been modified and updated as recorded below by the BDOA.
THE EARLIEST MENTION of an organ in St Mary's appears to be 1800. As far as we can tell, this was a small instrument situated in a gallery under the tower probably built by a local Bristol builder like Richard Seede and very similar to that in the local Baptist church. It replaced the Church Musicians who had accompanied the worship with a diverse selection of instruments.
Some years later, the church underwent a programme of 'Victorian Reform' where one of the main features was the standardisation of the pews. Hitherto, each family had provided their own enclosures, the average height of which was over five feet! It was at this time that the original instrument was moved from the West gallery to its present position. The limitations of the 1800 organ were recognised and it was replaced by a two manual instrument built by W C Vowles of Bristol in 1870.
In 1901 some repair work was carried out, probably due to a leakage from the organ chamber roof. This fact has only come to light in the 1988 renovations when the Great Soundboard was opened up. A feint pencil message reads:
“THE ADVENT OF ELECTRICITY rendered redundant the skills of the organ blower. Many of these hard-
It was at this time that the instrument was given a major overhaul and also received the addition of pneumatic action. This is where air pressure is used to help to play the pipes from the console and it replaced the time-
In the 1940s some 'patching up' was necessary and minor repairs were made (including replacing the worn portions of the pedal board). However, despite this work, by 1952 a report called the organ "worn" and by 1986 some parts were completely unusable. Between these two dates several schemes were proposed including the complete replacement of the instrument with one from a redundant church. In 1986 the organist, Nigel Davies, undertook a detailed survey of all the possibilities regarding an organ for St Mary's. These included replacement by a new pipe instrument; replacement by a new electronic instrument and the complete restoration of the existing instrument. The PCC were unanimous in their acceptance of the third of these possibilities.
By today's standards there was little remarkable about the 1870 organ, especially when compared with the instruments in nearby Wotton-
The organ was rededicated by the Vicar, the Reverend Canon Michael Vooght, on Easter Day 1988 and a short recital given by Nigel Davies inaugurated a series of Sunday afternoon recitals given by local organists.
The History and specification of this and other local organs is available from the Bristol & District Organists' Association web site: Bristol & District Organists' Association
In 2016 the organ was again renovated -
After 27 years of faithful service the organ was due for a major technical overhaul. While the 1988 rebuild had added colour and tonal flexibility to the organ, it was felt that the instrument had been left short of a proper reed chorus on the Great and was lacking softer flue stops to accompany choral music. With the key-
Please see the separate documents for the 1870, 1988 and 2016 specifications.