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Conserving Castle Drogo’s Casson organ

Man crouched down with a head torch on his head looking closely at an organ
Dismantling the chapel organ at Castle Drogo | © Helen Yazhekov

After finishing work to make the chapel watertight, redecorating the interior, conserving our stained-glass windows and altar rail, the final piece in the jigsaw is conserving our organ so that it can be played. Over the next months work will be undertaken to conserve Castle Drogo’s Casson organ, filling the Chapel with the sound of music for the first time in 50 years. We will be updating this page as the project progresses.

Conserving Castle Drogo’s Casson organ

December 2022

The project

The organ was installed at Castle Drogo in 1931 and was built by Thomas Casson’s Positive Organ Co. Ltd of North London.  Whilst the tall casework to either end of the organ dates from this time, the part around the keyboard in the central section dates to around 1898.  Casson was respected amongst organ builders and this instrument is credited with helping to fulfil a need in amateur music making in the first half of the 20th century.  Many hundreds of these organs in about 5 models were built, and they were intended primarily for village churches where there was no proper organist - none of these organs have pedal keys, and many have an automatic bass function which sounds a 16ft pitch on the lowest note in a chord, making it sound as though it is played on pedals!  Originally this organ would have been blown by hand but was later fitted with an electric motor to do the job.

Although Castle Drogo’s organ is not unique, it is already quite rare, and will only become rarer with the years.  For most owners there is little incentive to spend the large sums required to restore them as they are prone to damage from damp or dry locations.

The damp in the Chapel in the past has caused a lot of glue joints to fail, and many more are on the verge of failing.  The metal parts are also corroding badly and there is old woodworm damage in the touch boxes.  Much of the leather inside has perished and will need replacing.  The electric motor is also in need of restoration, although we plan to install a new one and preserve the old alongside it.  The whole organ has been dismantled and removed to a conservator’s studio to have the work completed on it before being re-assembled back in the Chapel mid-2023. Where possible the original parts will be conserved, and where necessary replaced.   It has not been in a playable condition for about 50 years, and when the work is complete, we look forward to hearing music in the Chapel once again.  

The work is being undertaken by Goetze and Gwynn Organ Builders and Restores in Worksop.

Casson conservation contributions:
The work has been made possible thanks to a very generous donation by The Lutyens Trust.

Organ with exterior wood work removed leaving keys and pipe work exposed.
Conserving Castle Drogo’s Casson organ | © Helen Yazhekov
Dark room with chapel organ keyboard in the middle
dismantling the chapel organ | © Helen Yazhekov