One hundred years ago, on 11 December 1921, the new organ in Wellington College Chapel was formally dedicated, and we take this opportunity to look back at its history.
The Chapel was built in the early 1860s and by 1870 it certainly contained an organ, as one of the entertainments of Speech Day that year was ‘an organ recital in the Chapel.’ The organ can also be seen on the left in this photograph dating from the 1870s.
In the mid-1880s the northern aisle of Chapel was built, to accommodate growing numbers of students, and the organ was moved into the semi-circular apse at the Eastern end of this extension. It remained there for twenty-five years, providing daily music for Chapel services as well as frequent entertainment, particularly at the hands of notable organist and composer Alan Gray, who was Director of Music at Wellington between 1883 and 1893.
By 1910 the organ was no longer in good condition, and an attempt to renovate it that year was unsuccessful. Before money could be raised for a new one, the First World War intervened and for several years the musical accompaniment in Chapel was provided by a harmonium.
After the War, donations were invited for a new organ and an organ-loft in which to house it, since its former location was the chosen site for the new War Memorial. The organ which is now in the Chapel was made and installed by Harrisons of Durham in 1921, at a cost of £5,000, and the picture below appeared in the 1921 Year Book.
Since then, the organ’s impressive sound has delighted generations of Wellingtonians. Many OWs from the 1950s who recently took part in our ‘Decades’ memory project mentioned ‘the tremendous organ that could make the walls shake,’ and the playing of Ronald Timberley and Maurice Allen. Many students have also learned to play on it, some going on to organ scholarships at university. In 2016 the organ was refurbished by its original makers, Harrisons, and it continues to be an integral part of Chapel life.