As part of Saving Betty, the project has worked to help build up the skills necessary to maintain and build pipe organs for generations to come. Alistair Curtis was hired as an apprentice to work with Nicholson, the organ builder, on Betty’s Restoration. He has written the following report of his experience.
Living in the south east, there are not many sizeable organ building firms with which to train as an organ builder, so I was very pleased to be given the opportunity to work for Nicholson’s during the restoration of the organ at St John’s. For the first part of the project, based in the church, I was able to come up to London by train, keeping my tool box close at all times. I met the men from the factory when they arrived at the church, and we unloaded the van, including a very heavy electronic simulation organ to be used temporarily. We were very careful to cover the floor, and put blankets against the walls. Richard, the pipe maker and I set up the scaffold tower at the front of the organ to carefully remove the 1865 painted pipes which are of the Great Open Diapason and Double Diapason. Later in the week we took them outside one at a time, so that they could be cleaned and checked for broken tuning flanges, and bruising. One pipe had been badly damaged in the past, and the back had been cut and bent out, to push the dent out from behind. This had worked to an extent, but rather than re-soldering, tapes had been glued on the back. Richard set about cleaning the joints and soldering them up with his usual magic.