When I lived in Dorking some 35 years ago my piano tuner was your then organist and when he discovered that I played the organ he asked if I would deputise for him sometimes. This I was pleased to do and later I tried to persuade Dr Chapman to consider a pipe organ, but without success. When Dr Russell was appointed as organist the larger electronic instrument was installed, and about the same time (1961 or 2) Dr Chapman asked me to take over at Coldharbour which was then vacant. I stayed until moving to Caterham in 1964.
I think the morning service at Abinger was at 11.15 in those days - to help out on a few occasions I did a dash from Coldharbour, and also played sometimes at the Hammer for evensong.
Apart from his regrettable view about an organ I much liked Dr Chapman; he once apologised to me as he was intending to repeat in the evening a sermon I had already heard in the morning, but when he came to it he had been kind enough to vary his approach to the subject, which he could only have done for my interest. So you will understand my delight when I heard about the new organ and that Nicholsons were to build it.
I have known their Tonal Director, Dennis Thurlow, since he and his partner Raymond Todd took over this old established firm in the mid-seventies. Long recognised as probably the finest voicer in the country, Mr Thurlow has an impressive record distinguished work both in his earlier career with J W Walker and Sons and at Nicholsons.
The difficulty with a small organ is to combine the variety of tone needed for service accompaniment with a tonal structure which, in following the generally accepted principles of organ design, will enable a reasonable spectrum of the organ repertoire to be played. A quart has to go into a pint pot. I believe Abinger will be an important mark in the continuing development of the English organ. During the last 30 years or so there has been a welcome revival of a more classic style in contrast to the romantic/orchestral colours of the previous half-century. This revival, in trying to foil what was thought to be the continental organ of Bach's time went to extremes and produced some hard and rather nasty sounds which were not really suited to the English church music scene. Reaction inevitably followed; things are moving in a warmer direction, well illustrated in this organ.
Mr Thurlow has given you some beautiful quiet stops, a lovely unforced diapason and chorus work adding to a superb ensemble capped with a very brilliant trumpet. The visible craftsmanship is self-evident - just look at the keyboards and the polished front pipes. The hidden artistry is in the scaling and voicing of the separate stops to make such a lovely and yet exciting organ, and to have done so within a dozen manual stops is a very considerable achievement. You are to be congratulated and to be envied. Do not forget that it will still be there in a hundred years' time.
Published in Abinger and Coldharbour Parish News April 1991: by Norman Taylor