The Abbott & Smith Organ

Renovated by Nicholson & Co. – 2002

Andrew Johnson, Chair of the OLEM Organ Appeal Committee, shares a version of an article by and printed in the programme booklet celebrating the renovation of the organ. (2002). Copies of the booklet are obtainable through the Music Department.

‘The pipe organ us to be held in honour in the Latin Church as the traditional musical instrument, the sound of which has the power not only to add a wonderful splendour to the Church’s ceremonies, but also to lift up men’s minds in a remarkable way to God and things on high.’

Instruction on Music in the Liturgy – Vatican II

‘Music is of the highest importance in the celebration of the divine mysteries, and in the Latin Church among the musical instruments the pipe organ always held a place of honour. Whether as an accompaniment for singing or as a solo instrument, this instrument adds splendour to sacred celebrations, offers praise to God, fosters a sense of prayer in the faithful, and raises their spirits to God.’

Introduction to the Blessing of an Organ – The Book of Blessings, ICEL.


When you walk into OLEM for the first time, you will probably be struck by the building’s height, its stone decoration, the ironwork screens, the hanging rood, the gabled ciborium over the high altar. The last thing you might notice, if you walk up to the sanctuary and turn to the south transept, is one of its major treasures, certainly its largest: the Abbott & Smith organ of 1890. There it has lodged up in the gloom of the organ gallery for over a hundred years, a survivor of two world wars, largely unscathed by fashions in organ ‘improvements’, like some Dreadnought in dry dock.

The newly built, lavishly furnished Church of Our Lady & The English Martyrs was given an organ to match, with its three manuals, pedal organ and 2018 pipes. Abbott & Smith of Leeds were chosen as builders and Charles Villiers Stanford, the then organist of Trinity College drew up its specification and gave its inaugural recital in 1890.

So much, but little more survives of its history on record: gone is any correspondence between the church authorities and the donor, or between either of these and the builders or Stanford; absent is any record in Stanford’s own papers; gone is any information as to how its siting in the south transept was decided; gone, even, is any record of what Stanford actually played on the instrument. Gone, to is documentary evidence of modifications claimed to have been done by, for example, Canon Bonavia-Hunt, an Anglican clergyman with a reputation for tinkering, not always harmlessly, with the organs he was allowed access to. The absence of such material in the care of the church authorities is a keen disappointment; did such material exist before the clear-out of records in Canon Stokes’ time as Rector?

Many of Abbott & Smith’s organ have not escaped radical alteration or replacement, but in 1984, Michael Sayer was able to write: ‘An excellent example survives in the Church of Our Lady & The English Martyrs, Cambridge.’ (New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, ed.Stanley Sadie).

Paul Hale in his consultant’s report on the organ (1999) quotes from a letter from Stanford to the builders (5th March 1890) ‘The organ seems to me a complete success, and is of beautiful balance and quality. The touch is excellent. I congratulate you firmly on the work.’

When the organ was dismantled for renovation in April 2002, torn strips of envelope were found stuck inside the Swell sound box (to assist the airtight movement of the sliders) with a Leeds address and post-marked ‘6th February 1890.’ The presumption is, therefore, that the organ was moved from the Leeds works and assembled in the church during February 1890 for Stanford to try out.

Paul Hale highlights the instruments musical pedigree in his report. Mgr Scott, Rector at the time, wrote to the Northampton Mercury (21st April 1894) praising the virtues of the Schulze organ in Northampton Town Hall which was made for the Great Exhibition, and says how the tone of it resembles that of the organ procured ‘ for our new Church in Cambridge’ in its ‘lighter stops…its magnificent diapasons.’

For the first fifty years of the organ’s life it was spared alteration. An electric blower, installed in the cellar below the south transept, may have replaced Abbott & Smith’s original hand pumps (for the pedals) and blowing engines for the manuals. On Shrove Tuesday 1941, however, it suffered fall-out from an incendiary bomb which went through the roof of the adjacent sacristy. While escaping the fire damage, the organ was showered with shattered glass and debris from the windows and stonework around. The first post-war event to affect the organ, was, of course, the installation of the central heating system, which over the years, has accelerated the splitting of the organ case and sound boxes. More directly the tracker action was replaced by an electro-pneumatic system, which in turn, needed replacing in 2002.

The £115,000 renovation marked a fresh start of life for the instrument in many ways and was carried out by Nicholson & Co, following advice from our consultant Paul Hale of Southwell Minster. Firstly, its financing did not rely on the generosity of a sole donor; the major part of the money came from parishioners themselves through donations, gifts and legacies. Secondly the organ was provided with a new console, incorporating a combination system to make the instrument infinitely more manageable and attractive to play. Thirdly a new unenclosed Tuba was added, filling what many believed to be a gap in Stanford’s specification (there was space left for such a stop and pipework both on the console and in the organ chamber.) A revelation has been the newly restored brightness of the reeds, which, over the years had become dulled and overshadowed in tone. The casework with its trumpeting angels (so easily overlooked) has been cleaned and freshly waxed.

The newly renovated organ was re-opened during the weekend of 5th/6th October 2002 with a recital given by Martin Baker, Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral, and a Mass of Dedication featuring the first performance of ‘The Cambridge Mass’ commissioned for the occasion from Andrew Wright, Master of Music of Brentwood Cathedral. Today the organ fulfils its liturgical role superbly, and is also used regularly for recitals, teaching and recording. Among the international organists who have come to play here over the last few years, are Wayne Marshall, Thomas Trotter, David Sanger, David Titterington, David Briggs, Vincent Warnier, Vincent Dubois, Hans Fagius and Johannus Geffert.

Generations of worshippers in Cambridge have reason to thank the generosity of Yolande Lyne-Stephens (OLEM’s first benefactress) the expertise of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and subsequent musicians, the craftsmanship of Abbott & Smith, and Nicholason & Co, (who continue to maintain the organ) and the care and vision of those responsible for its continued stewardship.


Specification of the Abbott & Smith Organ

Great Organ

Double Diapason  16
Large Open Diapason  16
Small Diapason  16
Doppel Flute  8
Principal  4
Harmonic Flute  4
Fifteenth  2
Mixture  15.19.22
Trumpet 8
Clarion  4
Swell to Great
Choir to Great

Swell to Great

Bourdon  16
Open Diapason  8
Lieblich Gedackt   8
Viola da Gamba  8
Voix Celeste  8
Principal  4
Fifteenth  2
Mixture II  19.22
Double Trumpet  16
Horn  8
Oboe  8
Clarion  4
Super Octave

Choir Organ

Open Diapason  8
Violoncello  8
Clarabella  8
Dulciana  8
Lieblich Flute 4
Piccolo  2
Contra Fagotto (tc)  16
Clarinet  8
*Tuba (2002)  8 (unenclosed)

Pedal Organ

Open Diapason  16
Bourdon  16
Violoncello  8
Trombone  16
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal
Choir to Pedal

8 thumb pistons to Great Organ
8 thumb pistons to Swell Organ
8 thumb pistons to Choir Organ
Reversible thumb pistons to all unison couplers
8 General thumb pistons
96 levels of memory with 16 divisional levels.
Reversable toe pistons
Great to Pedal
Swell to Great
Great & Pedal combinations coupled
General on Swell toe pistons
Setter piston/General Cancel
Tuba blower on/off

Altar Servers (Guild of St Stephen)

To be an altar server, you need to have made your first holy communion and be between 7 and 99 years old! Any boy or girl wishing to become and altar server would be required to serve Mass on a rota basis on Saturday evenings, Sundays and on special occasions during the week.

For further details please speak to any member of the parish clergy or contact Jonathan Wright.