Pulling out stops to save Blenheim's historic organ

Witney Gazette: Blenheim Palace’s conservation cleaner, Christina Dittmers, at work on the giant pipe organ Blenheim Palace’s conservation cleaner, Christina Dittmers, at work on the giant pipe organ

AN APPEAL has been launched to save Europe’s largest musical organ in a private house.

The 123-year-old giant has entertained kings, emperors and wounded First World War soldiers at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, but is now due to have a major restoration.

More than £400,000 will be spent on the instrument, which is housed in the palace’s Long Library.

Though it has been regularly maintained over its long life, the organ has fallen victim to wear and tear and needs a comprehensive restoration.

This will include replacing all leatherwork and other worn-out parts, while several stops and pistons which don’t work will be repaired.

Blenheim Palace has launched an appeal to help pay for the restoration with visitors able to sponsor a pipe, ranging from £30 for a small treble pipe to £300 for one of the 32ft-long pipes.

Charles Mould, secretary of the working group which is spearheading the appeal, said: “The Blenheim Willis, which is in almost completely original condition, is increasingly showing signs of wear and it is only a matter of time before it will become unplayable.

“I am therefore passionate that what is considered by many to be Father Willis’ finest organ should be fully restored before this happens.

“In 2010 it was awarded a Grade One certificate by the British Institute of Organ Studies stating that it is an instrument of importance to the national heritage and one deserving careful preservation for the benefit of future generations.”

The organ was built in 1891 by renowned maker ‘Father’ Henry Willis and is acknowledged by many to be his finest creation.

It is the largest organ in a private house in Europe with 2,300 pipes and 52 speaking stops.

Built at a cost of £3,669, the equivalent of £240,000 today, the organ was commissioned by the Eighth Duke of Marlborough, but he died only a year after it was completed.

The inscription above the organ bears the initials of the Duke and his wife and says: “We leave thy voice to speak within these walls in years to come when ours are still.”

In 1896 the organ was used to entertain the Prince of Wales when he visited the palace, which was built in the early 18th century.

Kaiser Wilhelm II listened to a recital of Wagner and Handel performed on the organ when he visited in 1899 and during the First World War it was used to entertain the troops when the Long Library was used as a hospital.

Demonstrations of the organ can be heard every Friday at midday and weekly recitals are given on Sundays at 1.30pm by leading organists from all over Britain.

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