Tucked away in a corner of St Curig’s, Porthkerry, for the best part of the last 100 years has been a little bit of musical history. And after that century of countless Sung Eucharists, weddings, funerals and christenings, in 2015 it had a much needed repair, restoration and rebuild. After a year of some energetic fund raising activity across the parish and some successful grant applications we were able to find the much needed funds to do the work required. And at the begining of September 2015, the people of Clevedon Organs came along and dismantled it, with all the respect and care of ship rights disassembling an old battle ship who had served with honour.
On this page you will be able to chart their progress and see the transformation of our organ. And read about the unexpected mystery that would be uncovered in the process.
The Organ's Early History:
The organ was commissioned by the people of Rhoose and Porthkerry to be a World War 1 memorial. A way of commemorating the people of Rhoose and Porthkerry who fought and gave their lives in The Great War. It was built by Belfast firm; Evans & Barr. They clearly had some pretty specialist skills; Firstly for managing to build an organ at all in that tiny chamber off the east nave. But they also incorporated into their build a pretty ingenious mechanism, which when selected plays a bass note on the pedals when the organist plays a chord on the keys. The sort of automation you might associate with much later electric organs and quite unusual for the time.
There is a brass plaque attached to the organ casing that lists the names of the fallen, many of whom will be familiar to people living in the village today. Including one who though born locally, actually served with the Australian infantry.
Stage 1; Only once the organ had been taken apart can we see the full extent of the work that is needed. We were already aware that the bellows needed replacing and that the leather seals around the base of the pipes had perished over the years. We were also to discover that many key wooden components had been infested with wood worm and needed to be replaced. Now that the organ is in pieces, the main components are taken away to Clevedon's workshops and the congregation make do with a small electronic keyboard in our worship.
Click on any of these photographs to the right to fully enlarge...
If you are browsing this site using a mobile phone, please click the link below to call our Vicar in Charge; Melanie Prince or dial 01446 719724.
Stage 2: Once disassembled it was clear that many parts, including the sound board had been infested with woodworm. So Clevedon were clearly going to have to repair and replace a lot more than was apparent on initial examination. A lot of timber parts were going to have to be remade by their craftspeople.
Meanwhile, in St Curigs, the congregation had to huddle up in the aisles to make room for the pipes and bits and pieces that had to be stored in the church during the restoration.
Stage 3; The rebuild. On Monday 2nd November 2015 (All Souls Day), the process of rebuilding the organ began. Many of the repaired and restored components were strewn around the church while the organ builders set to work putting the whole thing together. With the exception of the wood that had perished with woodworm, they were painstaking about utilising as much of the original material as possible. To preserve the integrity and provenance of the organ as much as possible. Things like that are not only important from an historical point of view. They also influence the sound the organ produces. Something we were keen to maintain. This did however throw up a most unexpected and delightful discovery.
When cleaning up a fairly integral wooden plank, that sits underneath the soundboard, the people from Clevedon could make out a large semetrical circle right in the middle of it. Not something you would expect to see and it did beg the question; "what on earth is that?". As they cleaned it up, the more obvious it became that what they were looking at was the red, white and blue roundels that denote a British Military vehicle. In this case, specifically; an aeroplane. Evidently when the organ was originally built, the builders recycled timber, most likely from a First World War bi-plane. A rather wonderful thing for them to have done. That this fragment of a machine of war should now form part of an instrument more associated with harmony and joy. And of course, the organ is a war memorial in its own right. It is also a source of irony that if you look up the dictionary definition of a "wing", it describes it as "an organ for flight". But how did that come about? We have been contacted by an expert in these things, whos explanation is below these photographs. This discovery also attracted a lot of media attention including the BBC who published a comprehensive article and a link is also below.
Click on any of the photos to enlarge
Click below to launch the BBC Item about our organ
Dear Reverend Prince
I am writing to you after coming upon the article about the organ at St Curig's by chance on Wales Online and thought I might be able to shed a little light on the mystery.
My great-grandparents, Henry Gethin Lewis and his wife Annie, moved with their growing family to the Old Rectory, Porthkerry between 1901 and 1910. My grandfather, also Henry Gethin Lewis but known as Harry, was their eldest son and was born in 1899 and joined the Royal Flying Corpos in about 1917 or '18 having lied about his age. He was an observer in a two-seater open plane, and was shot down behind the lines in France, becoming a prisoner of war. He flew planes between the wars, and served again in the RAF, but not flying, in the Second World War. His youngest brother, David Curig Lewis who was born while my grandfather was a prisoner, was tragically killed in a flying accident in 1939.
Given the above close association with flying, I think that the likelihood is high that the plane parts found in the organ have a connection with the Lewis family, although my mother does not remember anything specific. In addition, my grandfather played the organ, and played at St Curig's intermitantly (with absences for his time at university and working away) for most of his life. My grandfather and his surviving siblings gave the bells to the church after the Second World War in memory of their parents, and I remember a service in the mid 1970s to do with the bells, when my grandfather played the organ.
Miss Rhiannon Cory
"Our opinion is that, whilst the wood was almost certainly contemporary with the time the organ was built, and with the Royal Flying Corps, it almost certainly did not come from a plane. During the First World War all the aeroplanes were built with wooden frames covered in canvas. The roundels that were painted on them were painted on the canvas. The piece of wood described is far too big to have come from a plane. It is worth note that the roundels were painted on other objects, as well as planes and it is in my opinion more likely that the timber had come from something like an old ammunition crate, or even from a building, maybe a door."
RAF Museum at RAF Cosford in Shropshire
Since the press interest in our organ, we are very greatful to have received correspondence from people with knowldege and expertise on this subject, to help us solve the mystery around how our organ came to be made of bits of military hardware. I have published 3 of them in full below as they offer insight of special interest:
I saw the piece on the BBC News website about your very interesting discovery. I'm an historical aviation enthusiast but I'm afraid I can't cast any light on the origins of that aerolane relic. However, I posted a link to the BBC site on the FlyPast magazine Historic Aviation Forum. There are people (ok, anoraks!) on there who have specialised knowledge of sometimes very obscure aviation subjects.
Unfortunately, nobody could come with anything specific but I shall quote a couple of the comments:
"Such a possible aviation connection may not be so unusual. From the ‘Aviation Memorials in Nottinghamshire’ booklet, the entry for Southwell Minster has the several aviation connections, including:
“In the north choir aisle of Southwell Minster is the beautiful Airmen’s Chapel, which reflects the county’s diverse aviation history.
The chapel altar was built at RAF Norton (Sheffield) in 1919 out of aircraft propellers. The triptych that sits on the altar was inspired by a Dame Edith Sitwell poem, ‘Still falls the rain’, this was installed in 1988. The cast iron altar cross and candlesticks were made from the cylinder block from an aeroplane engine. Please be aware that depending on the church season, some of these artefacts may not always be in position……”
Those two locations would be around 30 miles apart."
"1920 or 21. Plenty of aircraft and parts being sold for whatever could be got for them. The Aircraft Disposal Company was formed in March 1920, and bought the entire national stock of surplus military aircraft for resale. Wiki says they'd sold 2000 airframes by 1925. I don't know how many they bought, but it has to be a lot more than that. Could just be the organ maker using a cheap source of decent timber and so forth, and not being too particular about tidying up signs of former ownership on parts that 'nobody' was going to see. That doesn't mean there isn't a connection. But there doesn't have to be."
So, not very helpful to you, I'm sorry to say. There were only two air-related sites in South Wales during WW1, both in Pembs. One was a seaplane base, the other was a balloon site. I would say that your nearest airfield at that time would have been Filton, Bristol, which assembled and maintained aeroplanes. Of course, the other possibility was a crash in your district but records for 1914-18 are a bit sparse.
By coincidence, an ancestor of mine was an organ builder in Norwich!
Good luck with your enquiries.
Very best wishes