“Betty” has lived in St John’s, Hyde Park for 149 years. Her name is more recently acquired from our current musical director, Robert Greenhill, who named her after his childhood tortoise!
The first organ in St John’s was built by Henry Bevington in 1845 and was a one-manual organ of 6 stops. It was on this organ that Mendelssohn is believed to have played between its installation in 1845 and his last visit to England in 1847, just prior to his death.
In 1865 Hill & Son built a new organ of 26 stops at a cost of £830 at the West End in a gallery which has since been taken down. In the end it was agreed there would by 31 stops and they paid £830, less £100 for the old organ. In the 1870’s, following the church becoming a parish, change was clearly afoot in the church, a new choir screen being installed in 1874.
Then in 1880 the organ was rebuilt at the East end of the church. Pneumatic action was added to the pedal organ in 1910 in memory of Lucy A. Galloway and in 1925 Rushworth and Dreaper made further alterations, adding octave couplers and re-voicing the reeds. Further repairs and cleaning took place in 1938 and 1978 by Bishop & Son. The organ of 1865 is still substantially present and is an important grade 2* listed instrument. It has 32 stops and 1636 pipes.
When the Save Betty Campaign began in the Summer of 2013 the organ was in a state of advanced disrepair. There were a number of problems ranging from dirt and wear to more significant technical issues. Because the organ was built into the North East corner there was minimal access to many important parts of the organ. For this reason some urgent repairs were impossible to make without taking out the entire organ.
The Save Betty campaign was therefore launched, along with funding from a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, the community is raising money to ensure this work is completed successfully and Betty is still wowing us in another 150 years.
In March 2015 Nicholson Organ Builders took Betty away to their site in Malvern where she has been completely restored. In July 2015 Betty began her return and she was fully functional again by October, ready for a number of events to celebrate her return.
If you’re just interested in finding out more, don’t hesitate to call our office on 020 7262 1732 or email Robert Greenhill on firstname.lastname@example.org
Our current Musical Director and Coordinator of the Save Betty Project is Robert Greenhill (second from left). Our organ consultant is Dr John Rowntree.