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Restored to glory - the church organ built as an official war memorial

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 07, 2013

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As communities across Britain tidy up memorials to those who served in the First World War, residents of one tiny Cornish parish are planning to play theirs.

Almost every town and village in the land erected obelisks, plaques and crosses to those who left their homes between 1914 and 1918 to fight for "king and country".

But the people Warleggan on Bodmin Moor went one better. Not content with a simple granite memorial, they raised funds for a mighty organ to be housed in the parish church of St Bartholomew.

Named the Peace And Victory organ, the instrument was officially declared a war memorial when it was installed in 1920. Next month, the fully restored instrument will be rededicated during a special service and concert.

St Bartholomew's churchwarden Pat Phillipps said that the imposing structure, which dominates one side of the tiny church, had suffered over the years from woodworm infestation and water damage.

"Considering its age, the organ has lasted pretty well," said Mrs Phillipps. "But it has had an accumulation of problems, including the effects of a leaking roof."

One of only a small number of church organ war memorials in the land, the funding for its refurbishment came from a variety of sources. Around half of the £14,000 cost was provided by the War Memorials Trust, while there were also donations from Prince Charles and individual parishioners, as well as the proceeds of numerous local fundraising efforts.

Frances Moreton, director of the War Memorials Trust, said: "The restoration at Warleggan is part of our mission to a create a greater understanding of the condition of war memorials across the UK during the coming centenary years." Built by the Heard family of Truro, the idea to dedicate an organ as a war memorial is believed to have been the brainchild of musician Alfred Tilly shortly after the hostilities ended in November 1918. An organist, mining engineer and lay reader, Mr Tilly was also the brother-in-law of St Bartholomew's rector at the time.

"It has a very nice sound, but is actually quite big for a church of this size," said Mrs Phillipps. "I imagine Alfred Tilly, who was closely involved in its installation, saw the opportunity of having a lovely organ to play. Whatever his motivation, he helped to provide the parish with a fine instrument and an unusual war memorial." Wooden plaques attached to the front of the organ record the names of the 29 men from Warleggan parish who served in the armed forces from 1914-18, along with three – Thomas Chapman, Thomas Knight and Thomas May – who lost their lives in the conflict.

The recent restoration work was carried out by organ specialist David Gridley, from Madron, near Penzance. In a major overhaul, he cleaned every individual part of the instrument, repaired the "speaking" pipes, treated and repainted timber, removed rust, re-covered sound boards with felt and leather, replaced damaged springs and wires and fitted a wind control to the blowerbox.

Ms Moreton said the War Memorials Trust would be keen to identify any other Cornish and Devon memorials in need of repair and would like to hear from anyone with information about neglected sites in their communities.

"To ensure they are protected, we need the help of the public to add information on their local war memorials," she said. "And in doing so we also want to celebrate all of those custodians who are doing a good job."

Warleggan Church is best known for the activities of the Reverend Frederick Densham, an eccentric vicar who so alienated parishioners during the 1950s that he ended up preaching to empty pews for almost 20 years. A Congregation of Ghosts, a film based on the story, was made on location at the church in 2009 and starred Edward Woodward in the role of the rector.

A service of rededication for the organ war memorial will be held at St Bartholomew's at 7pm on Wednesday . It will be led by the Archdeacon of Bodmin and include a recital by Hereford Cathedral organist Peter Dyke.


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