Pipe Organ Builders of Distinction
Wickford, Rhode Island    ¤    Old Narragansett Church
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Old Narragansett Church

A brief soundclip of the organ is currently available on the National Public Radio website
 
(still up as of 4/15/2011)

The Old Narragan­sett Church was built in the year 1707 and is the oldest Anglican church building north of the Potomac. Now owned by the Diocese of Rhode Island, it is administered by a trust which includes representatives of Saint Paul's Church, Wickford, for whom I had built a new organ a few years before.

At the point that I was contacted about providing an organ for the Old Narragansett Church, I had serendipitously heard about the availability of the English chamber organ just the previous week. The organ, then owned by Dr. James Boeringer, was almost exactly contemporary with the building. It didn't take much prompting for me to pay a visit to see just what we might consider. What met my eyes was appalling! Time had certainly taken its toll. At least three major rebuilds had occurred in its lifetime, with additional work besides. Each succeeding effort was substantially poorer than the last. (I'll hasten to add that none of these were of Dr. Boeringer's doing.) Still - something cried out that this was really a project which needed to happen. The trust agreed, purchased the organ and contracted with the Stuart Organ Company to restore it.

The remnants were moved to the Stuart shop. No attempt was made to assemble the organ at first, our thinking being that it would be easier to deduce the evolution of the instrument with the parts being able to be  individually examined. This did, indeed, turn out to be the case. After living with it for a few months we were able to piece together the history as follows:

The surviving material indicated that the most definable state of the organ was its c 1680's rebuild. The decision was taken to restore the instrument to this state. This would involve discarding all later material and replicating pieces no longer extant from the original construction. While in most cases this approach would today be regarded as far too aggressive and intrusive, in the present instance it seemed the only viable way to proceed. Sufficient work survived from the 17th c work to be able to "fill in the gaps" with remarkably little speculation. The same could not be said for the 18th c rebuild, where neither visual nor tonal design could be accurately ascertained. Even the 19th c work yielded little evidence of the organ's tonal state at that time.

Two study trips to England yielded valuable information on details to be replicated. It was found that the organ is almost certainly by the same hand as one owned by the Manders, and the visual design elements are replicas of that instrument.  Many were very helpful in sharing information. Especially helpful in providing assistance were Noel and John Mander, Stephen Bicknell and Barbara Owen.

While somewhat speculative, some twenty-five years of weighing the evidence suggests to me that the organ was almost certainly built for John Playford. If my analysis of the evidence is correct (which I believe it to be) the organ was most likely built by George(?) Dallam early in the Restoration, was damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 (which stopped at Playford's doorstep), then rebuilt by George Dallam c1680-85. The date of rebuilding suggests that this may have been done for Henry Purcell. Playford was Purcell's publisher. This was also about the time late in his life that he would have begun dispersing his assets and about the time Purcell would have acquired his organ, known to have been hired out for the coronation of James II. As yet, I have been unable to track down a promising lead which might corroborate this supposition.

The Organ
Stopt Diapason 8
Principal 4
Mixture II (bass and treble divided c/c#)

Pitch: approximately A 425
Compass: D-d  49 notes,  D# plays C  (originally C-c, C# playing A)
Temperament: Quarter comma meantone, three sharps, two flats
Wind system: Alternating wedge bellows (largely original)
Pipework: Approximately half from the early 17th century, remainder newly
    constructed replicas based on the extant material
Casework: most stiles and rails of the lower case, rear panel complete: c 1660
Rear panel of upper case: c 1680
The remainder of the the casework is replicated from the Mander example
Carving: Dimitrios Klitsas
Ironsmithing: Bruce Walker

Relocated through the Organ Clearing House, Alan Laufman, Director
This is believed to be the oldest organ in use for church services in the United States. 
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