Whitgift Centre getting some new tunes from an old organ

Croydon has a working pipe organ providing music in a shopping centre, as our organs in shopping centre correspondent, DAVID MORGAN, reports

Pipe dream: your eyes are not deceiving you, it really is a functioning organ

The promo video produced by the London Mozart Players ahead of last weekend’s Mozart at the Minster concert (more than 400 people attended, since you asked, a magnificent Requiem performance, all proceeds to charity Lives Not Knives, a slice of real community culture in Croydon) had people searching the interweb for indications that what they were seeing was some kind of spoof, put together for a charity telethon or such like.

Because there, amid all the empty shops of the Whitgift Centre, was a fully functioning pipe organ, issuing the kind of echoing chamber music that you might usually expect only to encounter in a large church. But what’s good enough for London Bridge Station, it seems, is definitely good enough for Croydon’s biggest shopping mall.

Back in July 2022, in a blaze of publicity, a pipe organ was installed on the concourse of London Bridge Station. High-profile musicians and celebrities rocked up to be filmed and photographed playing the instrument. It was an instant success.

They’ve even given the London Bridge instrument a name: Henry.

It was installed by a charity, Pipe up for Pipe Organs, whose aim is to preserve otherwise redundant pipe organs and give people who otherwise wouldn’t get an opportunity the chance to play one.

Henry had been rescued from a United Reform Church in Whetstone, north London. The charity then had another organ to find a home for, and they looked at placing it at East Croydon Station. Music-loving commuters would have loved the opportunity to play a few chords in Croydon, travel up to town and then tinkle another tune at London Bridge before striding off to the office.

But East Croydon’s concourse doesn’t offer the kind of space really needed for such a scheme. So the London Mozart Players stepped in with another idea, and a corner of the Whitgift Centre was found.

This second salvaged organ is called James, and it has been given a home in Trinity Court near the Wellesley Road entrance.

It seems very likely that it makes Croydon’s Whitgift Centre the only shopping mall in Britain, possibly western Europe, with its very own working pipe organ. Shoppers visiting the Whitgift Centre no longer arrive just with a few scrawled notes on a scrap of paper, but come along with their own Chopin Liszt…

James had been from a redundant church in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, earlier this year. It was built by James Trustam in about 1880. It has just one manual, or keyboard, with four stops to change the sound and a half-sized pedalboard to be played with your feet.

And passing Croydon locals have indeed been taking to playing James, giving the organ a new lease of life, and the Whitgift Centre a liveliness that it has sometimes lacked.

The success of the project has been pleasing. Cameras directed at the organs show how many people have stopped to look at them, play them or listen to folk who have stopped to have a go. Whether they are proficient players or the curious just trying to make a sound, the charity is thrilled that members of the public can see and hear pipe organs in action.

The charity is on the lookout for other organs being removed from churches and following the success of the first two placements, they are also seeking other suitable locations to rehouse them.

In recent years, many organs have just ended up in skips, unused and unwanted. The charity is determined to redress that.

George Inscoe, the organist from Croydon Minster who played James in the LMP video, said that the instrument played well. It certainly blended with the voices and the instruments.

If the Whitgift Centre is doomed to redevelopment, it would be ironic if the organ was still in place and being used at the end. Perhaps the last tune might be Nearer my God to Thee.

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2 Responses to Whitgift Centre getting some new tunes from an old organ

  1. Chris Flynn says:

    Nice to hear some modern cuts in the promo clip too!

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    There are so many who have hit the keys and the pedals not always in the right order, but even so it is fun to listen and watch. There are the ones that are beginning, those who can play piano and suddenly realise this is very very different, but they are not deterred and those that are pretty good. Sadly I have not heard a true organist play it yet but I sit sometimes there in hope. It is a marvelous instrument and a big thank you to the Charity for providing it.

    Its a little bright spark and gives some hope for a good future for the town centre. I do wish those in the subway close by were treated better though.

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