Big thank you from

Iron'shod wheels and clink of horses shoes

by The Rambler 28/06/02

AS many readers will know, the famous Wells-Kennedy organ-building enterprise at Gregg Street is on the site of the ancient coach-horse stable of the Wallace Estate.

At one time, the rumble of iron-shod wheels and the clink of horses shoes would have resounded there.

Later, there was a small bakery there, and when the organ builders moved in, relics of the bakehouse and stables for breadcart horses were clearly visible.

When I was given a tour by the proprietor, say a quarter of a century ago, 'Chris' as he was affectionately known to his friends, chuckled as he led me to what was originally a hay loft over the horses stalls.

There he had a treasure house of organ parts ranging from vintage wooden organ pipes to precision-made parts for modern instruments.

I am indebted to a former civil service colleague (I'll call him 'Fred') for the introduction to Mr Christopher Gordon-Wells, principal Director.

I well remember our first encounter, Fred, who is a fine musician and long-serving church organist, 'and more' rang me up one day to invite me to drop in at a Methodist Church near my home where he was 'giving Chris' a hand to repair an organ (now you will see what I meant by the phrase 'and more' used above!).

I was happy to respond, and I duly strolled along to the town centre church. It was open and lit up, but seemingly deserted.

I quietly investigated but there were no signs of life. Then I heard some 'chittering', like bats in the belfry.

The organ was open, lighted and inviting so I quietly slipped into the driving seat, found a pedal and let go! I must have been in 'loud' gear for a mighty roar, which shook the building, sounded, and immediately two startled faces popped up from behind the gallery enclosure - for all the world like a pair of marmosets.

It is likely that I had shifted a bit of stoor (to use an 'Ulsterism') as well as interrupted a tea-break, but with no bell for visitors to ring the organ had been very inviting.

I have now in my hand a learned dissertation on organs compiled (I think) by Fred.

Elusive tonal quality, voicing shops, liturgical requirements, church acoustics, tracker action, re-voicing, consoles, speaking stops, drawstops, slider soundboards, terraced drawstop jambs, brittle tones and, of course, finals, all form part of the nomenclature.

In fact, the dissertation includes a unique history of the evolution of church organ design, extending over many centuries. It would be sacrilegious to attempt to condense it into the space available to me, so I won't try.

The English is impeccable and the facts have been marshalled with the precision of a former compiler of statistics at national level - in brief a masterpiece (but dated).

The quiet urban backwater, where Chris set up shop, is now a busy traffic thoroughfare where road signs, traffic tailbacks, signals and markings, etc, leave no scope for sentimental sight-seeing from a car, but I have been assured that the centuries-old art of organ building and design are still going, with Mr Christopher Gordon-Wells at the drawing board.

Surely his achievements add lustre to the history of Lisburn. I for one salute him and Fred as well, who is still a dedicated church organist decades on.

Ulster Star