As in an organ from one blast of wind 

To many a row of pipes the soundboard breathes.

— John Milton

The tiny, shining diamond that is Hentland Church has a lovely organ built by Joseph Walker in 1869. It has C19th painted pipes and is surrounded by recently restored Victorian wall-paintings, as pretty a setting as one could imagine. With the small window featuring St. Dubricius and the hedgehog, ancient symbol of Archenfield (Ergyng in Celtic, meaning Land of the Hedgehog) it would be hard to find a more beautiful small country church. The organ was hand-pumped for 150 years, but alas, damp in the walls had affected not only the paintings but also the organ, and both were sadly in need of repair. Sufficient money was raised to allow work to proceed. For the organ, this was organ-builder extraordinaire David Gallichan assisted by his friend, organist and former Director of Music at Plymouth Cathedral, Kevin Holmes.

Having seen the pair in action previously, Church Mouse was very excited to join a good-sized audience on Sat. afternoon, 23rd Sept. to listen to a talk about the restoration of the organ and to demonstrate its newly-recovered voice (and sample a very fine tea with cakes afterwards). David Gallichan showed slides, not just of the amazingly complicated work which went into the restoration of the organ to return it to its 1869 self as far as possible, but also of the most beautiful art work to be found in churches, which we all too often walk past without noticing.

David was warned by other organ-builders not to attempt such a job as it would be an impossible task, but encouraged rather than otherwise by their cautions, he started the work only to be interrupted by Covid which made things difficult in a number of ways. One of these was that, having dismantled the organ, David had to leave the tracker pieces (long pieces of wood which connect the organist’s action in depressing a key to the pallet valve that admits air into the pipes that the key controls) on the floor of the church for a year or more. On returning to continue the job, he discovered that some creature (absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Church Mouse, I hasten to add, or the extended family I am sure) had made its home among the pieces and they all had to be remade by hand. The amount of work undertaken was quite incredible, as there were also pipes missing, parts which fell to pieces after insects had eaten the glue holding them together, other parts held together by string and the instrument had been badly attacked by woodworm. David, with the help of Kevin, replaced pieces of timber, splicing them in, replaced  rusty wires with bronze for longevity, planed the soundboard to within 3 thousandths of an inch to ensure that no air leaked, (the same standard as Thomas Chippdale used for his tables), just to name a few of the complex operations required. As David remarked, one needs to be able to see in 3D.

Church Mouse can safely say that the audience was enthralled, and then delighted by Kevin’s recital at the end, (how does one co-ordinate hand AND feet?) with a guest appearance by David (who can’t read music) in the last piece playing a fine shop-counter type bell, which was highly entertaining! The audience included a gentleman who had pumped the bellows by hand for twenty years when it still operated in its original fashion (it can still be pumped in this way if required!) – and to the complete and utter amazement of HHCT Chairman David Furnival’s wife Sue, Kevin played an C18th piece by her direct ancestor Thomas Gladwin, a composer and organist who was the first organist of Vauxhall Gardens in London.

With the opportunity to ask David and Kevin questions and then tea and cake, there was nothing more for which we could have asked. A heartfelt thank you to all who played a part in the organisation of the afternoon, not forgetting those who provided the tea, and especially to David Gallichan and Kevin Holmes for ensuring the vitality of the organ for generations to come.

Herefordshire Historic Churches Trust