Old Independent Church Haverhill, Suffolk, UK

The organ of the Old Independent Church was built in 1901 by James Jepson Binns, a prolific organ builder based in Leeds in the north of England. Both organ and church were financed for the Suffolk town of Haverhill by the Gurteen family, who were wealthy clothing manufacturers based in the town. Although manufacturing has now ceased, the company is still trading and is run by the sixth and seventh generation of the same family.

Binns had a reputation for solid workmanship, earning him the nickname “Battleship Binns”. His work was influenced by the German school and especially by Edmund Schulze upon whom he modeled his diapason choruses. Although his smaller instruments tended to be a little on the dull side (as was the vogue in the late 19th century), his larger instruments had developed principal choruses, a good range of flutes and strings and a variety of chorus and solo reeds. Binns was also noted for his patent mechanical piston setter mechanism, which is featured on the Haverhill organ.

Not many of his larger instruments survive unaltered – best known must be the Albert Hall in Nottingham and the Schulze organ at Armley has recently been returned to its 1905 post-Binns rebuild state by Harrison and Harrison of Durham.

The organ at Haverhill has survived with relatively few changes and, as such, is an important and interesting example of Binns’ work. The organ was sympathetically rebuilt in 1992 by Hill, Norman and Beard with the essential essence and character of the instrument remain intact. At some point, prior to the rebuild the Great Harmonic Flute 4‘ was transposed to become a Nazard 2 2/3‘.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the 1992 rebuild from a purist’s point of view was the addition of the Trumpet en Chamade, available on both the Great and Choir. Of course, the stop does not have to be drawn, although it seems that no visiting organist has been able to resist the temptation! The other addition was a Choir 2 rank mixture, pitched sensibly at 12th and 15th in the treble to blend nicely with the existing flue work. The opportunity was also taken to alter the swell mixture constitution, adding a Gross Tierce rank (3 1/5) from middle C and the Great Posaune was slightly altered to give a more trumpet-like sound.

The result is an instrument that is tonally very flexible. The clear and bright diapason chorus is most effective for Bach preludes and fugues and the reeds pack sufficient punch for the performance of the French romantic repertoire. The organ is most at home though in the English romantic repertoire, where the quieter registers come into their own.

This organ has been beautifully sampled by David Butcher of Lavender Audio.