Rastrick fundraisers set £75,000 target to restore bellows and pipes of instrument that once belonged to cinema

A group of fundraisers are planning to strike all the right chords as they set out on the mammoth task of raising thousands of pounds to restore and repair a unique church organ.

By Ian Hirst
Monday, 6th December 2021, 11:17 am
Updated Monday, 6th December 2021, 11:19 am
Fundraisers are planning to raise money to restore the Church Organ at the St John the Divine Church, Rastrick, Brighouse.. The Music Director Pam Dimbleby
Fundraisers are planning to raise money to restore the Church Organ at the St John the Divine Church, Rastrick, Brighouse.. The Music Director Pam Dimbleby

The dedicated group from St John the Divine Church at Rastrick launched the campaign last Sunday, which aims to raise £75,000 to breathe new life into the church organ.

The Conacher organ is believed to be the only one still surviving from the early days of the cinema.

The invention of the motion picture camera in 1890, introduced the “silent era” of the movies and films remained silent until 1927, and during that time were often accompanied by a cinema organ.

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Fundraisers are planning to raise money to restore the Church Organ at the St John the Divine Church, Rastrick, Brighouse.. The Music Director Pam Dimbleby

The organ at St John’s began its days in 1920 when it was installed in the Central Cinema, in Harrogate. Records showed it had been installed for £3,000.But the cinema closed in 1949, and the Conacher was moved to St. John’s.

Julia Tum, who is heading the fund raising campaign, says the organ has remained in constant use since then and that the church has looked after it well, having it serviced regularly and having it repaired when necessary. But, she said it was a fair assumption that most of the leather work needed looking at and three of the single rise bellows had been re- leathered but the remaining two had problems.

“There is a lot of air leaking out of the bellows for the great and choir trumpet so that is unusable. There are a lot of other issues as well including the tonal quality, the great Hohl Flute and some of the pipes. Following extensive advice and inspection it is thought the Conacher should also have full electrification of the action.”

Most new organs are built with electric actions, which sends a low voltage signal to the key and stop mechanisms.

Pam Dimbleby, the Church’s Music Director said: “The action is simply the way in which the message gets sent from the keys to the bellows and pipes. The organ itself (what creates the sound) will not change, but it will be cleaned, mended and refurbished. This includes the many organ pipes.”

As part of the fundraising campaign, open days will be held at the church for residents to come inspect the instrument for themselves.

Ms Tam said: “They will see it now with all its faults and again after refurbishment.

“Many of the local residents will not have seen an organ like this close up and this will be a wonderful opportunity for them.”

The instrument has a fascinating history, and residents believe it the last cinema organ still in regular usage in a church.

Before movies had their own sound, organists were employed to perform soundtracks to silent movies

The Rastrick organ began its days in 1920 when it was installed in the Central Cinema in Harrogate. Records showed it had been installed for £3,000.

But the Central Cinema became Harrogate’s first that was equipped for talking pictures in 1929, meaning the organ garnered less and less usage.

On the closure of the Central Cinema in 1949, it was then moved to St John’s and dedicated in November 1955, by the then Provost of Wakefield, the Very Rev Noel T Hopkins.

For fellow church fundraiser David James, the restoration project is not just about the enjoyment for the current congregation.

He said: “Music is really important to the church and we are creating a legacy for future generations.

“We are custodians of the present – and we’re ensuring its future.”

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