John Speller's Web Pages St. Mary Magdalene, Taunton

John Speller's Web Pages

St. Mary Magdalene, Taunton UK Organs Horizontal Menu Untitled Untitled
In the year 1708 St. Mary’s Church in Taunton signed a contract with Bernard Smith of London – the celebrated “Father” Smith – for a small three-manual organ. Not long after the work began, however, in February 1708 [Old Style], Father Smith, the master organ maker, died. He was buried at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, of which he had for many years been organist, on February 20, 1708 [March 7, 1709, New Style]. The instrument was completed by Father Smith's son-in-law, Christopher Schrider and was dedicated on January 3, 1709 [January 15, 1710 New Style].

As far as can be established, the original stop list was as follows:

Great Organ GG (short octaves) to d3, 52 notes

Open Diapason
Stopt Diapason
Principal
Twelfth
Fifteenth
Sesquialtra (bass) 3 ranks
Cornet (treble) 3 ranks
Trumpet

Echo Organ c1 to d3, 27 notes

Open Diapason
Stopt Diapason
Trumpet

Choir Organ GG (short octaves) to d3, 52 notes

Stopt Diapason
Principal
Flute
Fifteenth


The instrument was rebuilt numerous times. In 1782, Paul Micheau of Exeter rebuilt it, and at this time the Echo Organ was converted to a Nag’s Head Swell, containing several new stops – a Principal, Cornet (3 ranks), Hautboy and Clarion – as well as the Open and Stopt Diapasons and Trumpet from the old Echo division. For some curious reason a solo five-rank Mounted Cornet was also provided on the Great in addition to the original divided Sesquialtra/Cornet stop provided by Smith and Shrider. At this time also the organ was given a new and ornate carved mahogany case, based on the one that the architect Strahan had provided for St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, half a century before, and relocated from the rood screen to the west gallery. A further rebuild was carried out by John Smith of 1828, and a most unfortunate one by Edward Ling of Taunton in 1844, after which organ expert John Hanson Sperling commented that it had been “grievously hacked about.” Another rebuild was carried out by H. P. Dicker of Exeter in 1862, at which time the organ was moved first to a gallery over the south gallery while the west tower was rebuilt, and then to the chancel. By this time the organ was a mere shadow of its once magnificent state and in 1882 St. Mary's cut their losses and bought a new Willis organ.

The old Smith and Shrider organ was sold to Taunton School for £150 and erected at first in the School Hall. In 1907 it was moved to the new Chapel and rebuilt by Geo. Osmond & Co., who rebuilt it again along somewhat orchestral lines in 1933, at which time it was considered one of the best instruments of its kind in the West of England. Although somewhat limited in scope, it certainly made a grand sound. It was at this point that I had lessons on it while a student at Taunton School in the 1960s. Another unfortunate rebuild was carried out by Percy Daniel of Clevedon in 1975, which attempted to make the instrument more baroque. Sadly the vererable organ didn't quite make it to its 300th. birthday and was scrapped and replaced by an electronic substitute early in 2007. I remember it fondly.

In the second half of the eighteenth century the organist, Thomas Orpin (1722-1798), was quite well known as a composer, and one of his concertos for the harpsichord survives in manuscript in the Music Faculty Library in Cambridge. His brother Edward was the model for Gainsborough’s famous painting “The Parish Clerk.” In the early nineteenth century the organist was Joseph Turle, and he was the innkeeper of the Dove Inn public house as well as the organist of St. Mary’s. His son, James Turle was organist of Westminster Abbey for sixty years.
The organ case at Chippenham Parish Church. The case of Paul Micheau's 1782 rebuild at St. Mary's is said to have been similar
Edward Orpin (d. 1781) Parish Clerk of Bradford-on-Avon and brother of Thomas Orpin, Organist of St. Mary's, Taunton. Print after Gainsborough's "The Parish Clerk"
"Marlen Tower" -- The Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Taunton, Somerset
The organ as rebuilt by Edward Ling in two cases 25 ft. apart at the base of the tower in 1844. Illustration from James Cottle, Some Account of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Taunton (1845)
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