St Mary's Church in Portsmouth gets £764,000 from National Lottery for organ restoration project

A project to restore a historic Portsmouth church organ has been given more than £750,000 by the lottery – and it will also see music made based on the Pompey Chimes and sea shanties taught in schools as part of a focus on the city’s history.

Monday, 29th June 2020, 5:33 pm
Updated Tuesday, 30th June 2020, 9:22 am
A music workshop at St Mary's Church in Portsea with children from Newbridge Junior School

The Organ Project, at St Mary’s Church in Fratton Road, has been awarded £764,000 for a three-year project that will see the church’s 1889 organ restored, as well as activities organised that are connected to 130 years of music-making in Portsmouth.

The vicar, Canon Bob White, said: ‘We look forward to sharing one of the treasures in our city with the whole community over the coming three years.

‘At the end of it, we will also be able to hand on to future generations the opportunity for them to explore and enjoy the organ, and the part it plays in our lives as a church and as a community.’

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The St Mary's Church organ Picture: Paul Jacobs (123976-1)

Among the activities are chances for young people to learn about the craft of organ restoration, and the commissioning of sonic ‘Postcards for Portsmouth’ to celebrate heritage and the range of music and art in the city, as well as the Wireless Organ project, which allows the organ to be played remotely through a keyboard, microphone, guitar or computer, inside or outside the church.

There will also be a focus on history, including research into the sinking of HMS Royal George - the crew were largely recruited within Portsea Island, and St Mary’s Church holds a memorial to lost lives;

Sea shanty workshops will be run in Portsmouth schools, and there will be community music composition sessions based on the Pompey Chimes – which is based on the St Mary’s tower clock – which will then be performed by schoolchildren.

There will also be a look back at Victorian times, with research carried out into the lives and memories of those living in Portsea Island, especially in connection with the Boer War, as the oak organ case was given in memory to victims of the Boer War, and a revival of lost traditions such as the Victorian tea dance.

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The parish of St Mary’s, Portsea, extended across most of Portsea Island during Victorian times.

St Mary’s Church has appointed Nicholson & Co to restore the JW Walker and Sons pipe organ. Work is expected to start in November for completion in late 2021.

Matt Dixon, who developed the project from a concept, has been appointed project manager.

Canon Bob White said: ‘We are delighted at Matt’s appointment. He has a long association with the church community, progressing from chorister to organ scholar and now assistant organist. He embodies the desire of all involved in this project – to help local people enjoy and benefit from the heritage of St Mary’s Organ.’

Mr Dixon said: ‘We are excited to have this opportunity to explore, restore and preserve heritage for future generations, and to share an array of inspiring, exciting and engaging activities with people of all ages.’

For information see theorganproject.org