Colchester Town Hall’s majestic Edwardian organ is at the heart of the town’s musical life, featuring in lunchtime recitals, concerts, civic ceremonies and weddings. Details of upcoming public events can be found in the News and Calendar sections of this website. The full organ specification can be found on the Downloads page. To listen to the organ in action, please visit the Recordings page.
The Colchester Moot Hall Organ was built specifically for the Moot Hall by Norman and Beard and was first publicly played when the Town Hall was officially opened on 15th May 1902, by the Earl of Rosebery. For much of the 20th Century the organ played a key role in the civic ceremonies of Mayor Making and the annual Oyster Feast. A full history of the Moot Hall Organ can be found in David Drinkell’s monograph, which is available as a download.
As Mayor of Colchester one hundred years after it was built, Cllr. Nigel Chapman realised that the organ was deteriorating rapidly and vowed to get it working again. Within a couple of years it was so unreliable that it could no longer be used, and prestigious events in the Borough’s civic calendar fell musically silent.
Following a public meeting in November 2008, The Friends of the Moot Hall Organ was formed to continue the work started by Cllr. Chapman. Their objectives are:
• To ensure that the pipe organ in the Moot Hall, Colchester, is properly maintained so that it can be heard and enjoyed by people of all ages
• That relevant outreach work takes place
• That live music is able to be enjoyed in that building by future generations
The Friends of the Moot Hall Organ’s immediate aim was to bring back into use the Edwardian organ in the Moot Hall. Colchester Borough Council agreed in July 2009 to fund the writing of a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) by Dr William McVicker. Following two rounds of applications, in March 2013 the Friends were delighted to hear that they had been successful, with a magnificent sum of £416,000 awarded for the restoration of the organ and related outreach programmes involving local schools, residents and Colchester’s musical community. Harrison & Harrison of Durham was appointed as the organ restoration company. They began work on 14th July 2014, completing the restoration in Spring 2015.
The Friends also undertook their own fundraising scheme with various activities including several organ concerts, a curry supper, and an ‘Adopt a Pipe’ scheme, so that, with generous grants from two local trusts (The Hervey Benham Trust and the Essex Heritage Trust) their fundraising target of £35,000 was achieved.
In May 2020, following advice from Harrison & Harrison and in consultation with Dr William McVicker, the Borough Council agreed to install a modern humidifying unit to support the existing equipment. It is of a type not usually used in organ lofts but has been found to be very satisfactory at, for example, Truro Cathedral. The total cost of just under £5,000 was met by The Friends.
Fundraising continues to support their objectives into the future. In particular, the opportunity exists for supporters to sponsor a Tuesday recital; these, which have an average attendance of 150+, are a key element in the musical life of Colchester and are traditionally free to encourage as wide a range of attendees as possible. There is a retiring collection towards use of the Moot Hall, visiting musicians’ expenses and the printing of the programme and publicity material, but sponsorship is very welcome in helping us offer the most exciting recital series possible – sponsors receive a grateful mention in the recital programmes. Please contact the Friends of the Moot Hall Organ for further details.
RESTORATION AND OUTREACH
The period of restoration was accompanied by a series of exciting outreach and performance activities taking place from Autumn 2014 to Summer 2015, involving local schools, musicians and residents. This programme included Build an Organ and composition workshops with school children; higher education projects; the Pipeworks composition competition (in partnership with Colchester New Music); talks and lectures; and the writing of a new work for the organ, by specially commissioned local composer Julia Usher, to be played at its inauguration ceremony.
Creative workshop activities were led by composer, sound artist and educator Duncan Chapman, who regularly works in the UK with the Philharmonia Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, LSO and the BBC, as well as working internationally and leading creative music-making and composition projects with young people.
Colchester Borough Council was also delighted to collaborate with Firstsite, the Colchester visual arts organisation, to commission regional artist Willow Mitchell, who led a series of Free Family Saturdays at the gallery in November and the Micro Organ-isms: Organs and Oysters exhibition in December 2014, both exploring visual responses to the organ’s restoration.
Activities culminated in celebrations around the reinstatement of the organ at the end of May 2015, followed by a programme of recitals and performances throughout the Summer. The organ is now once more available to be heard and enjoyed by people of all ages and by future generations.
COMMITTEE OF THE FRIENDS OF THE MOOT HALL ORGAN
Cllr Nigel Chapman (chairman), Cllr Mike Hogg, Hon Alderman Sonia Lewis, Roy Teed, Jennifer Perry, Ian Ray (Hon. Borough Organist), Mary Chapman (secretary), Allan Blundell, Derek Lorkin and Dr Michael Vernon.
Treasurer: Alison Smith
•The Mayor of Colchester (Cllr Robert Davidson)
•Sir Bernard Jenkin MP
•Sir Bob Russell, High Steward of Colchester
•Will Quince MP
•Ashley Grote (Master of Music Norwich Cathedral)