St Peter’s is most fortunate in being home to an exceptionally fine four-manual organ built by the eminent Victorian craftsman William Hill. The church was consecrated in 1870 and the trustees particularly wanted to have somewhere where the music would play a worthy part in the reverent and devotional worship in the new church. Dr Benjamin Agutter was appointed as the first Organist and Choirmaster. Correspondence shows that Dr. Agutter worked carefully with William Hill and Son on the specification for the organ which was installed in 1870.
Dr. Agutter was still Organist and Choirmaster when the organ was enlarged, again by the William Hill & Son firm, to its present four manual specification in 1903 and an electric blower was installed. A grand West Case was added in 1903 to a design by Arthur Hill.
The organ with its 47 speaking stops provides a wide palette of rich and subtle sounds, and is well-suited to the demands of choral and congregational music, as well as solo recitals. A review of the organ was written in 1970 by William L. Sumner and published in Musical Opinion. Sumner, a great authority on organs contributed over sixty articles to The Organ magazine. His article is reproduced with kind permission below.
The instrument is currently undergoing the next phase of restoration which started in 2014.
2018 - The pipes of the Swell Division are being cleaned and voiced
2017 - Restoration of large wind reservoir
2016 - The pipes of the Choir Division were cleaned and voiced
2015 - The pipes of the Solo Division were cleaned and voiced
2012 - Restoration to all of the manual actions
2009 - A new blower was installed
2003 - After rainwater damage, repairs were made to the wind chests and to the swell and great
2000 - Manual slider machines restored
1994 - The electrification of the pedal action
1972 - The electrification of the manual actions
The instrument is in excellent playing form. The pistons are not in working order, but the pipes are all speaking with one exception (**) and following the work since 2009, the instrument has regained flexibility and scale to its range of colours and gradations of volume.
The tremulants have been out of service since the 1970s - not being a high priority for repair.
A next phase of restoration work is in progress (since 2014). To date the Solo and Choir departments have been cleaned and voiced and the swell pedal for the Choir Clarinet and Vox Humana re-instated.
[Note ** the Great Gamba is not speaking - 12/2018]
Those familiar with the specification of three and four manual Hill organs will recognize that the St Peter’s Streatham organ is a classic of its kind. A large specification which provides a fantastic range: from the soft string sounds of the Swell Salicional and Voix Céleste to the roaring, majestic full Swell with 16’ Double Trumpet, 8’ Cornopean, and 4’ Clarion. She has a pedal stop list that provides ample, but not over-the-top support to the large Great and Swell departments. The Choir and Solo provide a range of alternative colour and descant and fauxbourdon opportunities.
The organ was cleaned after the Second World War - remarkably, despite the church losing its windows and flying bomb damage to the roof, the organ survived unscathed. To access the interior of the organ, the organ tuner/builder must be quite athletic. This has probably helped protect the instrument from untrained curiosity and potential damage. The pipe work is in excellent condition for a 147 year-old.
The arrangement of the departments of the organ give away its development and provide a source of debate as to the original intentions. The Great Organ speaks out over the choir area of the church. The Swell is placed centrally and the pedal pipes encircle the Swell box. The Swell shutters open over the choir area. This means that the largest departments of the organ do not speak directly into the body of the church (westwards) - thus reducing their impact in the nave. However, the choir organ is directly behind the west facing Arthur Hill screen and so can provide a boost for congregational items as well as being used on its own to solo out lines. However, the choir organ acts as a baffle for the Swell and Great. The Solo is placed at the top of the organ chamber and so its sound is relatively unencumbered. The Tuba pipes peak, and speak, over the top of the south case. At some stage, a second shutter was added to the Swell to speak westwards but this has not been connected in living memory.
Deep within the organ in the furthest corner hemmed in by the 32’ Sub Bourdon and the 16’ Trombone is a row of pedal pipes of the organ showing decoration almost certainly displayed on the West Case when the organ was built in 1870 but now sadly hidden away inside. The decoration depicts climbing sun flowers which can also be seen on the outside of the organ case and depicted above the Reredos at the East End of the Church.
Pipes from the Solo department are packed up for restoration, the 2009 blower and the console.
Pedal pipes decorated with Sun Flowers and Tudor Roses
The South Case
The west case by Arthur Hill (1903)