The School Organ
By Alex Bateman
The huge cathedral-like organ that dominated the new school hall from the early 1950's is remembered by all, played up until 1959 by the Music Master George Thorn. It had long been a dream of the school to own such an instrument, and with proposed extensions to the school being built from 1939, the opportunity seemed ideal. However, it was to be a long time before the dream became reality, and there were many ups and downs along the way.
The idea to raise money was first born in the late 1930's, with a suggestion from the Mothers Sewing Party. Around 1936, an 'Organ Fund' was started with contributions coming by donation, 'Gayton Fair', and the erstwhile Sewing Party, which was added to by a small Government investment. Several specialist companies were contacted, the main contenders being Rushworth and Dreaper of London, and J W Walker and Son's, closer to home in Ruislip. Both invited Mr Thorn to try out examples of their work in such places as Wyggeston Boys School, St. Mary's Church, Kenton, and the Leigh-on-Sea Baptist Church. In the end, the Committee decided to award the contract to J W Walker, who had quoted a total price for all parts, and work, as £1,730, and estimated that it would take around a year. Everything was duly signed on September 26th 1939, with an initial £400 handed over to cover the first stage of the job, the supply of some of the parts.
With the war having recently begun, the building work on the new hall, and in turn the organs new home, was halted indefinitely. Walkers found that they would not be insured for war damage should the parts be damaged while in their care, and wrote suggesting the removal to the school (at a cost of eight pounds!). This was agreed, and the contract with Walkers suspended for the duration. However, the next few years saw the pipes and other parts moved from one area to another, from one room to another and so on, every time sustaining some extra form of punishment. By the end of the war, their condition was proving to be very worrying. With no date for the completion of the hall fixed for the foreseeable future, it was decided to sell the parts, to prevent any further decay. Understandably this was a bitter blow to those who had fought to raise money in the first place.
Eventually, in 1950, the workmen returned to the School, and building of the new hall commenced once more. The money that had been collected for the original 'Organ Fund' (less the £400 paid to supply of the original parts) had been held by the Headmaster, and standing at over £1,300 provided a firm base for the reinstating of the fund. George Thorn set about once more the task of raising much needed money, with as much zeal as he had originally done.
Companies were again contacted as before, and possibilities looked into. Walkers, the original contractors, expressed an interest, but reported that the pre-war scheme, would now cost in the region of £4,400. As before, the possibilities of using a second hand instrument were considered, but in the end, the new contract for the School Organ was awarded to Frederick Rothwell and Sons Limited of Bonnersfield Lane Harrow, who estimated the cost of a new instrument at some £4,384.
There remained a great deal of work to be done, not least consultation with the architect and heating engineers as the hall was built. Additionally a separate pipe room was constructed on the side which held 1,200 pipes.
By the Summer term of 1954 the organ was completed. It had cost some £4,560 against the original 1939 estimate of £1,700 for a larger instrument, and taken 18 years to complete. Dr. Simpson noted in 'The Gayton Times' that in the absence of its own chapel for worship and devotion, a School might come close by having a Pipe Organ, to enable the hall to fulfil the same duty.
It was decided to hold an official opening ceremony, and so on July 6th 1954, the Organ was officially opened by Mrs Alice Williams, wife of the former Headmaster Randall Williams. Unlocking the organ, she said, "I have the great privilege of unlocking this organ, on behalf of the old sewing party and of the very many generous subscribers to the organ fund." George Thorn in turn dedicated it to "The glory of God and to the furtherance of the art of noble music in this school." The following concert involved both solo's and accompaniments, and included the Choir and Orchestra. Later that month, at 7:30pm on July 20th, the Inaugural Organ Recital took place, given by Sir William McKie, Organist and Master of Choristers at Westminster Abbey, and Director of Music for the Queen's Coronation the previous year. He played nine pieces in all, two accompanied by the Senior Choir.
Over the next two decades the organ became a central part of many services in the School Hall, in particular Remembrance Day, and School assemblies. However, by 1970, it was much in need of a major overhaul, and after an initial inspection, a sum of £2,080 was given for the necessary work. £580 of that was provided by Harrow Council, the rest met by the School from various funds available.
Within a decade, the organ was being only partially used, usually just in School assemblies played by Mr Kenneth Waller, the Latin and Classics Master, notable also for still wearing a gown. With his retirement in 1983, the organ fell further into disuse, and within a few years needed another overhaul. By this time however, the cost was into several thousands. The decision was taken, considering the lack of use, to dispose of the instrument. By the early 1990's, the organ was no more. The pipe room was extended and is now used as an additional store room, while the curtained wall opposite the console, which proudly displayed the pipes, now houses a mock stained glass window, bearing the logo of Harrow High School, Harrow County's latest incarnation.