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The Site and Area of St. George’s

The site of St George’s Church has a long history going back beyond two millenia.  A paleolithic channel runs nearby and Roman Southwark was a port with channels and ponds. The junction of two Roman roads, Watling Street and Stane Street are thought to be further to the South at the Elephant & Castle. Parts of a Roman animal pen and peripheral roadside buildings, including a snake’s head finger ring, were discovered under the church when the crypt was excavated in 2004-8 by the Museum of London. Two small Romano-Celtic temples from the late 1st or early 2nd century were discovered from a religious complex in Long Lane to the East of the church site. The old Roman road is thought to pass on a North-South axis at the East end of the church and the modern Borough High Street is not directly aligned along the ancient axis. The first church at the site was recorded around 1100 AD and the present Georgian building designed by John Price in built in 1734-6 stands just to the west of the Roman road which headed north into the city of London.

The church has borne witness to many famous visitors, pageants and processions which have passed by its steps.  Henry V, and his victory pageant, was welcomed into the city by the Lord Mayor at the steps of St George’s following his famous victory at the Battle of Agincourt and six years later his funeral procession met at St George’s.  More recently, Queen Victoria’s Jubilee procession passed the church in 1897 and spaces on the church steps were sold to purchase a rectory.  Not only has St George’s witnessed the arrival of many figures from history but would also have seen countless pilgrims leaving London and heading for Canterbury after meeting at the Tabard Inn, later known as the Talbot, which was situated next to the current St George Tavern further up the High Street. The roads around the church and its church yard have been remodelled many times over the course of time.

The first printed bible in English was produced at the old St. Thomas Hospital near the modern Borough railway viaduct in 1537 and remarkable recent artefacts discovered in 2015 at the site of the new Premier Inn on the East side of Borough High street to the North include a Papal bulla seal from Pope Innocent III, the pope who declared Magna Carta annulled, and a Gaulish puzzle.

The less well known Great Fire of Southwark 1676 raged ten years after the Great Fire of London 1666 destroying much of the area north of the mediaeval church.  A fire break was created by blowing up St. Margaret’s Church and surrounding buildings.

The following 19th century engraving by Nathaniel Whittock is taken from a drawing by Antony van den Wyngaerde (ca 1543-50). The original is held at the Bodleian Library and Whittock made many alterations and additions. The mediaeval St. George’s can be seen in the bottom left of the picture and is numbered 71.  The building opposite with the elaborate towers is the Duke of Suffolk’s Palace known as Suffolk Place and was originally built as the Duke’s London residence.  Charles Brandon married Henry VIII’s sister, Mary, in 1514.  It is thought that the palace was demolished around 1557 and architectural terracotta’s, which formed part of the palace’s decoration, were found under the church during the 2004/8 underpinning works.


Nahum Tate 1652-1715, poet laureate and librettist of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and of While Shepherds Watched fame, is buried in the church yard to the north, as is the mathematician, Edward Cocker.


William Hogarth’s ‘Southwark Fair’

The mediaeval church is thought to be shown in the background of Hogarth’s ‘Southwark Fair’ of 1733 with the wooden belfry visible atop the tower. The Fair, also known as ‘Our Lady's Fair’ or as ‘St. Margaret's Fair’, was of considerable antiquity and was made official in 1462 by Edward IV. It took place during two weeks in September, beyond the three days allowed by Royal Charter and was one of the three great fairs of importance described in a Proclamation of Charles I as 'unto which there is extraordinary resort out of all parts of the kingdom' (Wheatley, p.424-25) The mediaeval building described as being ‘ruinous’ was demolished shortly after this painting in 1735 and the Southwark Fair ceased in 1762 due to rioting and licentiousness.

William Hogarth’s ‘Southwark Fair’

Originally called the ‘Humours of the Fair’, Hogarth’s original is an oil painting, which he then made into an engraving. The version below is a painted engraving and the tower and belfry of mediaeval St George’s is thought to be pictured at the rear with the Union Jack.

Charles Dickens

Borough High Street was also famous for its prisons, the Marshalsea and King’s Bench prisons. The Marshalsea was a debtors prison originally situated in Newcomen Street to the north. The recently restored separating wall of its later site forms the northern perimeter of our churchyard.  The Kings Bench prison also occupied two sites, one to the North and, in Dickens’ time, to the south of the church.  As a child, Charles Dickens spent six to eight weeks in lodgings in Lant Street to the south of St George’s while his father lived in the Marshalsea Prison.  He was released upon receipt of a maternal grandmother’s legacy.  In the topographical novel Little Dorrit, which is based on the local area and its characters, Little Dorrit is married to Arthur Clenham at St George’s. She is represented in the left lower portion of the east window and the vestry at St George’s is known to this day as the ‘Little Dorrit Vestry’.


In The Uncommercial Traveller, City of London Churches. Dickens made it his business to visit all the City churches and two amusing anecdotes on the subject of organs are recorded. After taking his place in an unnamed church he records ‘Organ plays. Organ-loft is in a small gallery across the church; gallery congregation, two girls. I wonder within myself what will happen when we are required to sing. There is a pale heap of books in the corner of my pew, and while the organ, which is hoarse and sleepy, plays in such a  fashion that I can hear more of the rusty working of the stops than of any music, I look at the books, which are mostly bound in faded baize and stuff.....

.......I then find, to my astonishment, that I have been, and still am, taking a strong kind of invisible snuff, up my nose, into my eyes, and down my throat. I wink, sneeze, and cough. The clerk sneezes; the clergyman winks; the unseen organist sneezes and coughs (and probably winks); all our little party wink, sneeze and cough. The snuff seems to be made of the decay of matting, wood, cloth, stone, iron, earth, and something else. Is the something else, the decay of dead citizens in the vaults below? As sure as Death it is! Not only in the cold damp February day, do we cough and sneeze dead citizens, all through the service, but dead citizens have got into the very bellows of the organ and half choked the same.’

He later recalls that many of the City Churches had unique smells and odours, remarking that ‘in one church, the exact counterpart of the church in the Rake’s Progress where the hero is being married to the horrible old lady, there was no speciality of atmosphere, until the organ shook a perfume of hides all over us from some adjacent warehouse.

To this day the Dickens Fellowship celebrate their annual service at St. George’s.

Bernard Smith c.1630 – 1708  Brief History

Bernard Smith or ‘Baerent Smit’ was a very successful builder who exploited the opportunities provided in England, and in particular London, after the Great Fire of 1666. He is thought to come from Germany and is first encountered in England at Westminster Abbey in 1667 where he was paid for tuning the organs. He quickly established himself and became the ‘King’s Organ Maker’ in 1681. He made organs at the Sheldonian Theatre and Christchurch Cathedral, Oxford, St Mary the Great in Cambridge, the Kings’ private chapel at Windsor, Durham and Canterbury Cathedrals and in London at the Temple Church, St Margaret’s (where he was organist) and St Paul’s Cathedral. The case of his St Paul’s organ survives, now split either side of the chancel, and several of his stops (ranks of pipes) are in use today.  Several Fr. Smith organs and the pipes from them remain in daily use today.  Our earliest pipes, the Great 4’ Principal and 2’ Fifteenth are confirmed to be identical to those found in the organ of the Grote Kerk in Edam, Netherlands and made by Smith.  He later became known in tribute as ‘Father’ Smith.



Abraham Jordan (Senior) History – Dominic Gwynn

Jordan, Abraham (c.1666–1715/16). English organ builder. His family came from Ratbey in Leicestershire, though Abraham may have been born in London, where he was apprenticed as distiller in 1679, perhaps to his widowed mother. In 1686 he married Ann Greenhill, and in 1689 he married Elizabeth Butler who was the mother of his surviving children. By 1694 they had settled in St George’s, Southwark, leasing dwelling house and out-buildings from St Thomas’s Hospital.

Abraham seems to have been a successful businessman, both as a distiller and investor in property, with an interest in organs which propelled him into organ building. Sir John Hawkins wrote that “Jordan, a distiller … betook himself to the making of organs, and succeeded beyond expectation”, although he “had never been instructed in the business, but had a mechanical turn”. His route into organ building may have started with organ playing, and continued with an interest in the organ at St George’s Southwark, his parish church, very close to his house. On 12 December 1702 ‘Abraham Jordan Distiller’, signed articles of agreement for a new organ there, already ‘erected and Sett up … being in full perfection and approved of by Dr. John Blow and Jeremiah Clerke’ and valued by them at £600. In fact he undertook to make the organ, provide an organist (his son Abraham junior) and keep the organ tuned and mended for £100 and the old organ, and £20 per annum. It was the first ‘annuity organ’, so far as we know.

Although supposed to be a new organ, what survives in the present organ is pipework from Bernard Smith’s workshop, and indeed Jordan took the old organ in part payment (“Mr. Smith” had worked on the organ in 1683 and 1690). It looks as if Jordan learnt his organ building at secondhand from Smith, an impression reinforced by the similarity between Jordan’s and Smith’s surviving work. It also looks as if Jordan may have used some of Smith’s former workmen after he died, such as William Stephens (Smith’s ‘man’ who became a tenant of Jordan’s), Thomas Knight and Thomas Friend. He may also have taken over some work from Smith’s workshop at Bath Abbey in 1708.

In 1705 Jordan made a new organ for St Saviour’s Southwark, subsequently Southwark Cathedral, at the other end of the Borough High Street from St George’s. This organ had three manuals and 26 stops, including a full set of mutations and most unusually a Double Diapason on the Great. In 1712 Jordan advertised in the Spectator his finest achievement, “a very large organ in S Magnus Church at the foot of London Bridge, consisting of four sets of keys, one of which is adapted to the art of emitting sounds by swelling the notes, which never was in any organ before”. A patent was applied for but never granted, which suggests that the authorship was not clear. It may have been a response to a proposal of Renatus Harris for a grand organ in St Paul’s Cathedral, advertised in the same year, but the ‘invention’ of the Swell organ is certainly Jordan’s claim to fame. In 1714 he made an organ for St Benet Fink in the City of London, an organ which was preferred in competition to an organ of Christopher Shrider’s, unfairly in the latter’s view.

Abraham Jordan (Junior) History

Jordan died in 1716, leaving his business to his eldest son, also Abraham (1690–1755/6). Abraham was organist at St George’s, Southwark, and presumably trained in his father’s workshop and in his office. He was also inventive, in 1730 advertising in the London Journal “An organ made by Jordan, being the first of its kind, the contrivance of which is such that the master when he plays sits with his face to the audience, and … is so contrived that the trumpet base, and trumpet treble, the sesquialtera and cornet stops, are put off and on by the feet, singly or altogether, at the master’s discretion, and as quick as thought without taking the hands off the keys”. These claims were challenged by John Harris and John Byfield.

Like his father Jordan seems to have used the latest opportunities for publicity, advertising the latest projects in the newspapers, including organs made on spec, and sometimes opening concerts on organs destined for the provinces or overseas in his workshop in Southwark. When advertising the opening of the new organ at St George Botolph Lane in the City of London in 1723 he was not afraid to tell the world that “The Maker has acquir’d the Character of an ingenious Artist added to that of an honest Man”. In 1728 and 1729 Jordan joined with Christopher Shrider in making organs for Westminster Abbey and St Alban Wood Street in the City of London. In 1733 he was one of the signatories to the Quadripartite Indenture, an agreement for all to share the proceeds from contracts signed by any one of them, with certain specific exceptions. Previous spats with John Harris and John Byfield seem to have been forgotten. Jordan signed most of the contracts, even when Richard Bridge and John Byfield did the work or collected the money. That may be because his capital enabled him to finance projects. We know of a few organ contracts which specified a single payment after completion and assessment by experts. It tended to be the lesser known builders who asked for instalments.

The result is that Abraham Jordan junior seems to have been the most prolific builder in his day. He made four new organs for the City of London, and for the growing suburbs and the increasing number of proprietary chapels. He made organs for the increasingly prosperous regional centres, particularly sea and river ports like Yarmouth, Portsmouth, Southampton and Maidstone. And organs which went further afield, for Wales and Scotland,  for the colonies such as Barbados (at least four) and Boston Massachusetts (for which the assembly instructions survive). Very little survives in a form which we can appreciate now. The closest to Jordan’s intentions would be the 1723 organ for St George Botolph Lane now immaculately restored at St George’s Southall Middlesex. The 1720 organ made for the Duke of Chandos at Cannons near Edgware, Middlesex, was moved to Holy Trinity Gosport in 1747, where the case and much of the pipework survive relatively unaltered, though the overall effect is now Victorian.

In 1731, he married Lucy Goodyard, who brought a considerable dowry. He changed his business address to Budge Row, St John Baptist, City of London at the same time, though the Southwark workshop continued in use. It is surprising that he was one of the signatories to the 1733 Indenture since his business seems to have been the most active, and showed no sign of decline during the next 25 years, one wonders why he was willing to share his success. It may be that the newly married Jordan was aiming at a more genteel lifestyle, living off his property dealings and his inherited wealth, and the profits from his organ building business, though his direction was important enough for a “Paralytick Disorder” to hold up progress on the new organ for the Royal Naval Hospital Greenwich in 1754. By 1745 he resided in Camberwell ‘on the east side of the road a little south from the College at Dulwich’ in a house he had inherited. He died in 1756, his wife in 1764; both were buried at Dulwich.

J. Hawkins A general history of the science and practice of music vol4 pp356-7fn (1776)
Joan Jeffery ‘Abraham Jordan’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn (Jan 2008)
Joan Jeffery ‘Organ builder history from fire insurance policies’ British Institute of Organ Studies Journal vol26 pp76-106 (2002)
Paul Tindall Research Notes BIOSReporter vol33/2 p23-30 (April 2009) newspaper adverts
Paul Tindall Research Notes BIOSReporter vol34/2 p23-4 (April 2010) St Benet Fink
David S. Knight ‘The Early History of the Swell’ The Organ Yearbook vol26 pp127-144 (1996)
Southwark Local Studies Library Surrey, deed 1232 (Abraham Jordan 1702 contract)
Barbara Owen, ‘Colonial organs’ British Institute of Organ Studies Journal vol3 pp92–107 (1979)
Nicholas Plumley ‘The Harris/Byfield connection’ British Institute of Organ Studies Journal vol3 pp108–34(1979)
Nicholas Plumley The Organs of the City of London p52 (Positif Press Oxford 1996)
National Archives PROB11/550 will Abraham Jordan, senior
National Archives PROB 11/820 will Abraham Jordan, junior



The Organs at St. George’s Church

The organ at St. George’s is no longer the work of any one period, it has been added to, reduced, taken down and reinstalled no less than six times.  There is no mention of an organ from before 1682, though we know a gallery existed in 1629.   Unfortunately in 1776 William Rendle records that in 1776 ‘the parish papers and documents were sold, in a lump, at the rate of 1 1/2d the lb., the purchaser to cart them away’. There is a continuous run of Churchwarden’s accounts from 1624 – 1697 and no mention is made of an organ or organ-related activity until 1682.

The first reference to an organ at St. George’s is on 19th April 1682 where the accounts record the payment of £1 - 10 - 0 to ‘the Organist by consent of the Vestry in full (...) Easter Tuesday last in (...)’. Since later payments are for a regular £4-0-0 per quarter this is clearly an opening part payment, confirmed by the indication of the Vestry’s consent.  Further evidence is provided by a payment of one shilling to a porter for fetching the goods belonging to the organist, a payment of nineteen shillings for alterations to the reading desk and clerk’s desk together with a lock for the organ keys, and a payment of £2-0-6 for a curtain in front of the organ. The implications of these payments are that the organ is a recent arrival and stands on the floor at the front of the church.

The organist later named as Mr. Beech who received £4 per quarter of £16 per year.  We do not know if it was new or second hand.

Payments for tuning or maintenance appear only twice, in 1683 and 1695, and on neither occasion is the name of the craftsman mentioned.  However, on 12th September 1690 a payment is made ‘to Mr. Smith organ Maker for 2 stopps £5-0-0’ and this may be the famous Bernard Smith, Organ Maker to the King.  The sum of money – five pounds – suggests that the two stops added were small ones, perhaps upperwork, for which there was already space prepared in the instrument.

No other information concerning the organ of 1682 has come to light. The following reference to the organ blower was found in an accounts book reproduced below:

26th December 1682          The Organ Blower to have 52d a year

                                                The organist 16 £ a y(ear)                        D Beech


The Abraham Jordan 1702 contract by D. Gwynn

Southwark Local Studies Library deed 1232

In 1702 a contract with Abraham Jordan (senior) was signed. The original is kept in the Southwark Local History Library next door to the church and we are very grateful to the Library team for allowing it to be displayed here this evening.

The following article and transcript are reproduced by kind permission of Dominic Gwynn.

The paper on which this is written has at some point became damp, with ink lost and the folds disintegrated, probably quite early in its history, as some of the text has been over-written in a style similar to the original.  This could have been a modern reader, but it looks more like somebody trying to make sense of the text for legal rather than research purposes.  The over-writing shows well under UV light.  It is possible that reading under UV light in a dark room, or using raking light where there has been ink loss would reveal more text, though it has to be said that the document is unlikely to reveal any more evidence, just a complete text.

The document is a bit odd, since it seems to be confirming an existing “request and desire” between Jordan and the church, for a new organ, erected by Jordan in the church, but it actually only allows Jordan to remove the old organ, gives him £100 and £20 a year, and obliges him to provide an organist (his son or a decent deputy), and keep the organ in good repair.  The “desire” obviously did not turn into an agreement, because the current organ seems to contain elements of the old one.

Articles of Agreement Indented had made concluded and fully agreed upon the Twelfth day of December Anno Domini One Thousand Seaven hundred and Two And in the first Yeare of the reigne of our Soveraigne Lady Anne by the Grace of God of England Scotland France and Ireland Queen defender of the faith &c. Between the Rector Churchwardens Vestry other Officials and the parishioners of the Parish of St George the Martyr in Southwarke in the County of Surrey of the one part And Abraham Jordan of the said Parrish and County Division of the other part as followeth (That is to say):

Whereas the Organ now or lately standing and being in the said parish Church of St George hath by reason of its Antiquity fallen into decay and perpetually liable and subject to repaires and thereby being almost useless notwithstanding the great charge and expense the said parish hath of late yeares been put into in amending and repairing the same And whereas the Rector Churchwardens Vestry and other offices and others at the expense of the Parishioners of the said parish have thought itt most for the Advantage of the said parish to have a new Organ  And Whereas the said Abraham Jordan hath theire request and desire erected and sett upp A new Organ in the said Church being in full perfection and approved of by Dr John Blow and Jeremiah Clarke and other approved Masters in Musick and by them valued att Six hundred pounds  And the said parish being desirous to have the said Organ and to make a Satisfaction to the said Abraham Jordan for the same  Itt is concluded and Agreed between the said parties in the manner and form following

Imprimis the said Rector Churchwardens Vestry Officers and other the parrishioners parties to these presents have and by these presents doe as part of the Consideracion give grant and sell unto the said Abraham Jordan his Executors Administrators and Assigns the said Old Organ with free licence to carry away and dispose of the same in such manner and time as to him or them shall seem meet.

And the said Rector Churchwardens Vestry Officers and other the said parrishioners who have hereunto /Sealed & / Subscribed their Names (haveing on the Date of the date hereby paid to the said Abraham Jordan the sum of one hundred pounds of lawfull money of England and the Receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged by the said Abraham Jordan) do severally Covenant to and with the said Abraham Jordan his Executors or Administrators That some or one of them shall and will pay or cause to be paid unto the said Abraham Jordan his Executors or Administrators the Summe of Twenty Pounds of lawfull money of England on or before the Twenty Fourth of March next being the date of these Indentures and to make the said Eighty pounds one hundred pounds as a further part of the said Consideracion and Satisfaction to be made to him the said Abraham Jordan [by the said Twenty Fourth of March?] aforesaid

[from this point the text is illegible at the folds and the occasional patch of ink loss]

 And it is further …  promised and…  the said parties to these presents that for the Full Satisfaction to be made…  the said Abraham Jordan for the said… the said Abraham Jordan


on the particular day…


the said Abraham Jordan his Executors Administrators or Assignes… 

And the said Rector Churchwardens Vestry and other Officers and Parishioners…   thereof They the said parties do Oblige William Bell… Churchwardens and …  they shall and …  annually pay to the said Abraham Jordan his Executors Administrators … the Annual or Yearly Sallary of Twenty Pounds per Annum… son be Organist shall… the said Abraham Jordan his Executors Administrators or Assignes by four quarterly payments att the most usuall Feasts of the year  The first payment to be …  the day of the Birth of Lord…  day thereof… always  If the said yearly Sallary or payment shalbe [Collected] and unpaid by the space of Fourty dayes next ensuing… severall dayes of payment …

… Provided always That if …  the said Abraham Jordan his Executors Administrators and Assigns do neglect or do not provide an Organist that shalbe capable of … or if such parties so to be appointed as aforesaid shall willfully or …  the said performance   That then and in such case for every …   Charge shall be abated …  and…  Notice to the said  the said Abraham Jordan his Executors Administrators or Assignes… his and their usuall place of aboade of suche neglect and the Same be not …  + in Twenty dayes next insuing… then and in such Case the said Rector Churchwardens and Officers may suspend such Organists and to appoint one other able person to play upon the said Organ … Salary as aforesaid to such persons… him in the said office or place until the said the said Abraham Jordan his Executors Administrators or Assignes shall and will finde and provide a good and sufficient Organist to play upon the said Organs as shalbe… and approved of by One Master in Musick/.

And the said Abraham Jordan doth for himself his Executors Administrators or Assignes do Covenant promise and agree to and with the Rector Churchwardens Vestry and other Officers and parishioners or their successor Churchwardens… the said Abraham Jordan his Executors Administrators and Assignes shall and will continue at all times dureing the said Terme well and sufficiently repaire support and … the said Organ with sufficient Reparacions and … necessary and shall … of the said Terme …  and sufficiently repaired supported and maintained to the Rector Churchwardens Vestry and parishioners for the time being (fire or other such … excepted)

And…  said Organ be not presented…  within their Twenty Dayes after … warning given to the said Abraham Jordan his Executors Administrators or Assignes of the lack or want of such repair … (or the Rector Churchwardens Vestry Officers… shall require top imploy Such fitt person to repaire and amend…  also to deduct…  Assignes as shall satisfy and pay the costs and charges of such repair

[lists of signatures below, divided into Rector, Churchwardens, Sidesmen etc.]


Dr. John Blow and Jeremiah Clarke

The ‘new’ organ of 1702 was described as ‘being in full perfection and approved of by Dr John Blow and Jeremiah Clarke and other approved Masters in Musick and by them valued att Six hundred pounds’  These two gentlemen were the leading church musicians of the day.  The English Baroque composer and musician, Dr. John Blow 1649-1708, held many appointments, he was twice organist at Westminster Abbey, choirmaster of St. Pauls, first composer to the Chapel Royal and taught Henry Purcell, William Croft and Jeremiah Clarke.  Jeremiah Clarke was also John Blow’s pupil and was the first organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  He tragically committed suicide in 1707 in a fit of melancholy having fallen in love with a beautiful woman.




The image of Dr. John Blow below is reproduced here by kind permission of the Folger Digital Image Collection.


20th August 1733    Tuesday Parish Meeting in the vestry house the first Public vestry (35 persons) Mr. Jordan the organist to have £50 for taking down warehousing and refixing the organ when the new church is built – churchwardens to remove bells fire engine candle branches and other things & to build or hire a warehouse for the same also made a rate? for this purpose & to pay for Act of Parliament.


The church was in a ‘ruinous’ state and the Vestry minutes eight days later record:

28th August 1733    It is ordered & Agreed that Mr. Jordan the Organist do forthwith take down and remove the Organ now belonging to and in the Parish Church...into his own Warehouse and take care thereof until Such time as the intended New Church of this Parish Shall be built and finishe’d fit to receive the same and that then Mr. Jordan do place and Set up the said Organ in a handsome manner. And for his takeing down, Warehouse Room, & Setting up again of the said Organ....Mr. Jordan shall be paid the Sum of Fifty Pounds..


The church vestry in those days acted as the source of local government, attending to many civic duties (such as the provision of fire engines, sanitation, road mending, health care and financial administration) that are now provided by Local Councils. There is an example of a fire engine at the back of St. Magnus the Martyr Church at the north end of London Bridge if you wish to see one, and also at the Fire Service Museum on Southwark Bridge Road.


In 1735 according to the Survey of London a levy at a rate of 1s in the pound was established to set up the old organ. On 10th October 1735 the Vestry Minutes record the following:

The old wall round the church to be taken down & the engine house & cage to be erected – organ to be set up in the loft Estimate to be made for bell frames & also for new clock or repair the old one

In 1742 the gallery was lowered which must have meant removing and reinstallation of the organ. Abraham Jordan junior died in 1756 of a ‘paralytick disorder’.

22nd January 1756   Mr Jordan organist being dead Mrs Jordan continued salary £20

20th April               Mr Goodwin appointed organist & to allow Mrs Jordan £5 a year for her life


Thomas Fruin 1807-1808

In 1807 the firm of Thomas Fruin of York Row, Lambeth was appointed ‘to repair and improve’ the organ the compass ‘being three notes less in All than common’ and the case ‘very Old Fashioned and heavy’. He set it up in its present plain panelled case.  The only early description of the organ, and specification, is in the notebooks of Henry Leffler, where the instrument is described as ‘re-opened’ in 1808. Leffler give a compass of 55 notes from GG for the Great and Choir Organs and 35 notes from g for the Swell, implying that the top note is d’’’, still ‘three notes less in Alt than common’ at that date, suggesting that Fruin did not increase the compass or that Leffler made his note of the stoplist before the organ came down. We cannot be certain.

1807 Specification

Great                     Choir Organ                Swell Organ

Open Diapason        Stopped Diapason          Open Diapason

Stopped Diapason     Principal                        Stopped Diapason

Principal                   Vox Humana                  Principal

Twelfth                    Fifteenth                       Trumpet

Sesquialtera III                                              Hautboy

Cornet IV




The parish records recalls the appointment.

The proposals received from several workmen were then produced by the Surveyor and the Organists were first read

Mr Maber’s for repairing Organ as in particulars delivered by him   £145  9    0

Mr. Longhursts (with new keys £6.6.0 addl.)                                         £113  17  0

Mr. Fruin’s proposal for ?                                                                  £151  12  0

More for additions proposed                                                              £46    10  0

And gilding ?                                                                         25.0.0




When after much debate and consideration the above persons names were severally put up when there appearing.

For     Mr. Fruin               10

         Mr. Maber             3

         Mr. Longhurst         4

Mr. Lee moved that Mr. Fruin be appointed to perform the necessary repairs to the Organ which being seconded by Mr. Fox was carried unanimously.

It was then moved and Unanimously carried that Mr. Fruin be required to give security that the works mentioned in his particulars shall not exceed the sum therein mentioned and that if any dispute or difference shall arise between him and the Committee respecting the works or any parts of them or their quality or the sums which may be charged the determination thereof shall be left to three persons competent thereto (not Organ Builders) two of them to be chosen by the Committee as proposed by Mr. Fruin and one by himself.

The proposals for plumbing were next considered....


Perhaps ominously, the subject recorded immediately after this meeting in the records was the price of lead and from where it might be sourced.  Lead, along with tin, is one of the commonly used metals used in organ pipe construction! The Hanoverian Coat of Arms pictured at the top of the case in the following Freeman photograph is contemporary with the period during the rebuild of 1806/7. The Arms, restored in 1980, have since been placed above the doors next to the font above the entrance door to the church and require further restoration.  If you look closely at the upper keyboard (known as the swell to British organists) you can see a break at tenor C, the notes below being silent.


A ‘Forster’ Rebuild 1850-70 ?

Mackeson’s A Guide to the Churches of London 1883 states that the organ at St George’s was worked on most recently by Forster in 1869 but Bicknell suggests that it does not appear in the usual lists of instruments by Forster & Andrews of Hull. No account of the organ has yet emerged which clearly describes its state in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Alfred Kirkland 1906

For the time being we can only assume that the instrument remained in all essentials an ‘old’ organ of typical Georgian type right up to the restoration of the church by Basil Champneys in 1894-97.  If it was still an unrebuilt example of eighteenth century work then it was living on borrowed time, and it seems amazing that it might have survived until 1906 before remedial works were carried out. The next recorded rebuild was by the firm of Alfred Kirkland, London. Kirkland had taken over the firm of Booth of Wakefield before establishing a London branch in 1885. His one and only large instrument at Christ’s Hospital, Horsham (1903) was a failure.

1906 Kirkland Specification

Great                                Swell Organ                   Choir Organ

Open Diapason        8         Double Diapason     16     Stopped Diapason Treble 8

Open Diapason        8         Open Diapason        8       Stopped Diapason Bass    8

Stopped Diapason    8         Stopped Diapason    8       Principal                         4

Gamba                    8         Viola di gamba          8       Flute                              4

Principal                  4         Principal                  4       Cremona                        8

Twelfth                   2 2/3   Fifteenth                 2

Fifteenth                 2         Horn                       8       Pedal Organ

Mixture                   III        Oboe                      8       Open Diapason               16

Trumpet                  8                                                Bourdon                         16

Clarion                    4


Couplers: Swell to Great, Choir to Great, Choir to Great suboctave, Swell to Choir, Great to Pedal, Swell to Pedal, Choir to Pedal

The Revd. Andrew Freeman Photograph 1927

The photograph (left) was taken by the Reverend Andrew Freeman in 1927. He was an organ scholar, clergyman, and organist and among many other posts was Priest-Organist at Lambeth Parish Church.  His extensive collection of fine quality photographs forms part of the British Organ Archive housed at the University of Birmingham.



Photograph reproduced by permission of the British Institute of Organ Studies (BIOS) from the British Organ Archive (BOA), housed at the Cadbury Research Library in the University of Birmingham.

Hill, Norman & Beard Rebuild 1939 - Job No.3044

In 1939 the firm of William Hill & Sons and Norman & Beard Ltd., a leading firm of the day carried out the work for £730 which was completed in 1939.  The choir organ and mechanical action were removed, the new two manual electric action console being installed on the north gallery (where some of the pews are missing). The console was moved again in 1958 to its current position in the north east gallery.  The swell shutter mechanism is mechanically linked and all action and stop control is currently electric and/or pneumatic. The appeal leaflet at the time makes it clear that the instrument was considered hopelessly out of date and in need of modernisation. The picture (left) shows the side elevation.


1939 Hill, Norman & Beard Specification

Great                                Swell Organ                   Choir Organ

Open Diapason        8         Double Diapason     16     Stopped Diapason Treble 8

Open Diapason        8         Open Diapason        8       Stopped Diapason Bass    8

Stopped Diapason    8         Stopped Diapason    8       Principal                         4

Gamba                    8         Viola di gamba          8       Flute                              4

Principal                  4         Principal                  4       Cremona                        8

Twelfth                   2 2/3   Fifteenth                 2

Fifteenth                 2         Horn                       8       Pedal Organ

Mixture                   III        Oboe                      8       Open Diapason               16

Trumpet                  8                                                Bourdon                         16

Clarion                    4


Couplers: Swell to Great, Choir to Great, Choir to Great suboctave, Swell to Choir, Great to Pedal, Swell to Pedal, Choir to Pedal

During World War II a V2 rocket fell on the site of the new Crest housing development opposite the west entrance (where Jordan’s early premises were) and several ‘doodlebugs’ and high explosive bombs landed nearby, much property was destroyed. War damage to the church was substantial and the East window was blown out.  The organ had been dismantled and stored but the record does not state who carried out these works. (p6 1947-1982 The Story of Thirty Five Years).  In 1951 post war restoration works were carried out and the choir was affiliated to the Royal School of Church Music.

1967 Hill, Norman & Beard Specification

Great                                Swell Organ                   Pedal Organ

Open Diapason I      8         Double Diapason     16     Open Diapason               16

Open Diapason II     8         Open Diapason        8       Bourdon                         16

Stopped Diapason    8         Stopped Diapason    8       Principal                         8

Principal                  4         Gamba                    8       Bass Flute                       8

Flute                       4         Principal                  4       Fifteenth                        4

Fifteenth                 2         Lieblich Flute           4       Octave Flute                   4

Larigot                    1 1/3   Piccolo                    2      

Mixture                   III        Rauschquint             II

Trumpet                  8         Horn                       8      

Clarinet                   8         Oboe                      8


Couplers: Swell to Great, Choir to Great, Choir to Great suboctave, Swell to Choir, Great to Pedal, Swell to Pedal, Choir to Pedal, Tremulant on Swell (not working)



B.C. Shepherd & Sons - 2010

The organ was wrapped in plastic during the underpinning and creation of the new crypt completed in 2008.  When the organ emerged for use it was unplayable and full of dirt from the building works, which was itself deposited upon dirt that had lain there since 1967, and remains in the instrument to this day. The mechanism that controls the supply of air to the pipes is very sensitive to dust and small particles and many notes did not work and the cloth covered electrical wires were potentially hazardous from a safety point of view.

B. C. Shepherd & Sons renewed the electrical system in 2010 and provided new key and pedal contacts, the pedalboard was overhauled and refaced, new stop-key units and new toe pistons fitted, 4 general toe pistons were added to the left of the Swell pedal; solid state switching and 8 channel piston capture system provided; setter and general cancel pistons installed.  The cancel bars on each department were removed because the new stop key units are of different dimensions and new slider solenoids were fitted to the Swell.  The chest magnets are now approximately 70 years old and the Great slider motors remain pneumatic. There is a new oak back panel for the console, the original was mislaid during building alterations but has now been recovered.  This expert work has greatly increased the electrical reliability of the organ and means we have a working instrument that is usable for services.  Funds were not available at the time to allow more work.


The blower failed shortly after the re-opening of the church and was replaced, however due to continuing and substantial air leakage from many areas inside the organ, it is not powerful enough to let the organist use the organ’s full resources for any period of time.  Our organ uses wind under pressure for two things, firstly to pass through the pipes to make sound and secondly to operate the pneumatic mechanism that lets the air into the pipes.  When the pressure drops, as it does, notes that the organist plays fail to operate, and this is undesirable and unmusical.  The ‘whooshing’ sound that you hear when the organ finishes playing is the sound of the reservoir refilling with pressurised air.

Overheating and Catastrophic Failure at Easter 2017

At Easter 2017 the church was overheated to the point where you would sweat upon entering the building. This sudden and unnecessary increase in temperature caused the soundboards upon which the pipes sit to warp. The air that was supposed to go the pipes escaped before it could reach them, meaning that there was no sound upon pressing the keys. The consequent drop in overall pressure meant that the pneumatic portion of the action could not operate as designed. The organ was therefore completely unusable for the First Mass of Easter and for several weeks thereafter.



The Jordans – our parishioners

Abraham Jordan’s workshops which were situated immediately opposite the church, as was his house, on the west side of Borough High Street and were being insured from 1706 or earlier.  Five of Abraham Jordan’s children were baptised at St. George’s from 1694 onwards, though several died in infancy.  He added other properties to his portfolio nearby and had premises at Mint Street to the East.  For the most comprehensive view of the Jordan’s Borough business activities we recommend reading Joan Jeffery’s article ‘Organ-Builder History from Fire Insurance Policies’ in the BIOS Journal 26 in full which offers a fascinating insight into his operation and quoted here. Abraham junior’s last work was at the Royal Naval Chapel at Greenwich and was ‘esteemed one of the best in England’ according to the Universal Magazine in 1751. He was the most prolific organ builder of his day building organs at St. Saviour’s (Southwark Cathedral), St. Magnus the Martyr and Bath Abbey to name but a few.


Notice the writing at the bottom of the business card:

‘Abraham Jordan Organ Maker in the Burrough near S George’s Church Southwark’

Photograph reproduced by kind permission of Dominic Gwynn.

The Only Surviving Jordan Organ

There are no complete surviving Abraham Jordan organs other than the one to be found at St. George’s Southall (left) recently restored by Mander Organs. Notice that the Abraham Jordan organ shown does not have a pedalboard (an oversize keyboard played by the feet).  This was common practice in England at the time, on the continent organs had had independent pedals for some time and the first fully independent pedal organ in England was installed at our near neighbour, St. James’ Bermondsey in 1825 by the firm of J.C. Bishop and restored by Goetze & Gwynn in 2002.  Also note the short compass swell, to the casual observer it appears that there are some notes missing on the upper keyboard, but again this was normal for organs of the time, the Swell (upper)

keyboard on our organ pictured in 1927 is similar – where all the keys are there but silent below tenor C.  The Southall organ was originally built in 1723 for the now demolished church of St. George, Botolph Lane in the City of London, pictured right and was built by Abraham Jordan junior.  Jordan organs were considered to be the finest by George Frederic Handel.




Photographs reproduced by kind permission

of John Mander



Left: Three pipes of the Open Diapason toppling (upper centre left of picture).  It is thought that this stop was installed in an unknown 1850-70’s rebuild.


Below: One of the Great Trumpet 8’ feet collapsing. There are others in the same condition which are difficult to photograph and best left alone.


Below: The blower.  This is an electric motor connected to a fan (in the green circular case) which is contained in a wooden box to reduce the sound of the fan.  The wind for the organ is sourced from outside the main body of the church in the NW lobby, an area which is poorly heated in the winter.  This causes tuning problems and damage to the wooden fabric of the instrument.  When the heating is on, the organ is fed with air of a different temperature and humidity than that which surrounds it, the consequences being that sliders stick and stops fail, and a call is made to the organ-builder to have them loosened during winter.  This causes more air loss.   The internal downpipe from the gutter can be seen behind the blower. When rainfall is severe, water travels down the outside of the downpipe and splashes onto the top of the blower case.  Contact between water and electricity is clearly undesirable.  In the restored organ the wind supply will be in the main church allowing a music teaching room to be built above the NW lobby and stairs.

Left: The Great is a split Great, with the slider connectors running under the tuning passage (the wooden plank front right). From left to right the stops are the Flute 4’, Mixture III, spare, Clarinet 8’, Trumpet 8’, Open Diapason II 8’, Fifteenth 2’, Larigot 1 1/3’, Principal 4’, Stopped Diapason 8’, Open Diapason I 8’.


Right: The right hand half of the Great, notice the full length ‘bassoon’ resonators for the clarinet to the right. The Fr. Smith Principal 4’ pipes can be seen 3rd from left in front of the wooden Stopped Diapason. Several pipes in many stops can be seen leaning at other than vertical angles. The placing of the reeds in the middle of the chest is unusual and makes them difficult to access for tuning.








Left: The current ‘swell’ organ. This is an enclosed box of pipes, played by the second (upper) keyboard on the console. This is the device that Abraham Jordan senior invented, the shutters in front of the pipes can be opened and closed by a foot pedal providing control over the volume of sound that escapes. The pipes of the Swell Oboe 8’ and Trumpet 8’ can be seen behind the shutters.


Organ & Music Related Extracts from

‘1947 - 1982 The Story of Thirty Five Years’

These excerpts offer a fascinating insight into the life and musical activity of the church, an interesting social commentary and are reproduced verbatim. There is more to add but time presses....

1948     The Rector started the choir again. It began with six boys.

1954     279 different hymns were used during the year.

1956     Mr. Morris continued with his work with the choir (pointing out that he had the complication of girls in his organisation).

1956     The Organ panels were dedicated in memory of Miss Jeffries.

1956     Someone sent a hundredweight of sweets from the USA to the choir...

1956     Choir went to Switzerland

1957     The organ from St. Michaels went to St. Barnabas, Eltham

1957     The choir now received certificates to mark their progress.

1959     In this year Peter Morris Wrote “Some of our organ has two rows of pipes by the famous Adam Smith. In the parish records of 1735 it says, “Mr. Jordan the organist, to have £50 for taking down, warehousing and refixing the organ when the new church is built.”

              It was reconstructed in 1939 and converted into a two manual with modern action. The console is connected with the organ by a cable containing 597 wires. There are 1,300 pipes, from the smallest, the size of a cigarette, to the largest 16 feet long. In our variable climate it is easily put out of tune, and needs tuning four times a year. Each time it takes two men all day.”

1960     The men had new choir robes

1960     the choir planned to take two orphan boys to camp.

1962     The choir sang in Southwark Cathedral

1962     Then there was Choir Camp at Brean. CAMP 1962 –see book.

1962     The leak in the music room.

1962     Rose made choir robes

1962     Mr. Morris resigned as organist; Nobby Clark moved and Ted Tenwick became the skipper.

1963     We had a report on the organ (most of it from the building before the present one). I quote Hill, Norman & Beard.

              “mostly eighteenth century pipework, of unsurpassed voicing, and quite irreplaceable. It needs cleaning every decade.”(Organs are very sensitive to London dirt).

1963     Alan Jackson became organist and Choirmaster.

1964     And John Spinks ran a musical evening at the Rectory

1965     And the choir? Revolution! Young girls were admitted! Alan Jackson was an inspiring choir master.

1967     This was the year of the organ – finally repaired and cleaned at the cost of £1,835. They found woodworm in the back panel.

1967     Mrs. Strange was making choir robes – almost a perpetual occupation.

1967     The bookcase for hymn and prayer books was given in memory of Ellen Braybrooke and Daisy Courtney.

1968     The choir performed The Crucifixion on Palm Sunday

1970     The choir was invited to sing in Southwark Cathedral. This year Alan Jackson left us to go to South Africa and Ralph Elston was appointed Choir Master and Organist.

1972     There was a riot in the Youth Club one open night, so it was closed for a month. The choir complained bitterly that some youth deliberately sang a different tune from theirs, and this was distracting.

1973     Caroline Hames became Head Chorister

1974     The Lady Chapel Fire

1975     Of the Pageant ‘Saint and Sinners’ ...”Thank you for that music. It was so lovely, and I had never expected to hear the Te Deum again and Latin church music. What  a choir you’ve got.”

1976     Rain came in the music room yet again.

1977     There was a music recital in aid of the grand piano.

Choir Camp

“On Sunday we were to perform the anthem “O taste and see”, in Brean Parish Church. Even with a lot of squeezing the choir pews would not have held more than 20 and as there were 31 of us, Penney decided to seat us in the pews at the back of the organ. Most of the sopranos still had to spread into the main body of the church. Due to the acoustics we had to sing a lot louder to produce the volume to which we are accustomed.

Penny stood in the nave and conducted us. The basses and tenors were so carried away, that they were one swaying smile from end to end. The doxology began beautifully by Jenny singing the first lines solo.

1978     A beautiful booklet of carols was produced

1978     Archaeologists discover the exact course of the Roman road and confirm that St. George’s stands on the exact site of the Roman crossroads.

1979     Second Lady Chapel fire.

1980     We had successes at the Royal School of Church Music.  The very fine Hanoverian Coat of Arms was restored and placed over the west door.

1980     Renie organised a sponsored organ recital, and raised £400 towards the Bechstein grand.


Organists of St George’s

1682                Mr Beech

1702                Abraham Jordan (Junior)

1756                Mr Goodwin

1948                Tom Chester, M.A., Organist

                       Peter Tucker, T.D., M.A., M.B., B.Ch., Assistant Organist

                       A.R.Coles, Assistant Organist

1950-1956        Dennis Coleman, A.L.C.M., Organist

                       Kenneth Mackintosh, A.R.C.O., Assistant Organist

                       Robert Farris

1953 - 1955      Peter Morris, Assistant Organist

1955 - 1962      Peter Morris, Organist

1958                Brian Bailey, M.A. (Oxon), Assistant Organist

1964                Alan Jackson, B.Ed. Organist and Choirmaster

                       Harry Coles, Assistant Organist and Choirmaster

1966                Anthony Booker, Assistant Choirmaster

1970                Ralph EIston, Organist and Choirmaster

1975                Renie Baker, Assistant Organist

198? – 1992      Harry Bachelor

1993 - 2003      Eric Osborne, Organist and Choirmaster

2003 - 2008      David Adkins, Director of Music

2004 - 2008      Church Closed due to Underpinning Works

2009 - 2014      Hilary Davan Wetton, Director of Music

2014                Jonathan Pix, Director of Music

                       Matthew Berry, William Carslake, Tom Lidbetter, Jonathan Pix and Judith Rust have assisted from 2008.

Head Choristers

John Wright         Doreen Prowse

Charles Copsey    GilIian Jenkins

John Pinder          Caroline Hames

Brian Bareham      Penney Hames

Cohn Clarkson     Jenny Haythorpe

John Jesshop         Gillian Baker



It is astonishing to think that the oldest pipes in our organ exist at all given that they have survived 4 building restorations, 6 organ removals/reinstallations and restorations, 2 fires in the building, one V2 rocket, two high explosive bombs, worm and beetles!


Bibliography and Contributors


Tony Lucas, “Between Prison and Palace” Carmelyon 2004 & 2009

William Rendle, “Old Southwark and Its People”

Stephen Bicknell “St. George the Martyr, Southwark – The Organ” 2003

Dominic Gwynn “Abraham Jordan History’ and ‘1702 Contract Transcript’

John Mander – photographs of St. George, Botolph Lane and St. George’s Southall

Joan Jeffery, ‘Organ-Builder History from Fire Insurance Policies’ BIOS Journal Vol. 26, Positif Press 2002

Oxford Music Online

Parish Account Books

Vestry Minute Books

Tony Lucas, “Poets, Parsons & Prisoners”

S.W. Harvey ‘Organ Notes’

John Mander Photographs

British Institute of Organ Studies

Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham

An Archaeological Post-Excavation Assessment and Updated Project Design, Museum of London Archaeology Service, January 2007

The National Pipe Organ Register NPOR