Written by Stella Bahin
Thanks to the vision and generosity of earlier benefactors, including one W H Smith, a cathedral-like church stands to this day on Portsmouth’s oldest church site: St Mary, Portsea. It was built as a monumental replacement for the former church that replaced the former church where Charles Dickens, who was born nearby, was baptised. Which in turn replaced a former church.
Evidence points to a church having stood there as far back as over 1,300 years ago. It’s possibly been a sacred and central place for purposeful community gathering even longer. Within the tall-towered building upon that most ancient site today resides an integral, bespoke Walker organ, pictured.
We see only a small portion of the magnificent instrument. Beyond what’s visible, its workings are intricate and extensive. Any necessary maintenance and repair requires great specialism and therefore great, prohibitive cost.
This highly-acclaimed organ – which for the past 125 years has been supporting Portsea’s weddings, baptisms, funerals, congregations, choirs, scholars, and concerts – through time and toil, is failing. The Organ Project has been set up to rescue it, and Portsmouth, from its impending silence.
Last year, having written a poem about Blake and Parry’s ‘Jerusalem’ – incorporating words I’d expressly collected from festival-goers as Blake Fest 2017’s Poet in Residence – I wondered if a short film, including my communally-sourced poem, and the anthem, might help draw attention to the organ’s plight.
By January 2018 – produced by local playwright Roger Goldsmith, filmed and edited by local film maker Chris Jupp – the 4-minute film was complete. With me: former St Mary’s Junior Chorister, Beatrix Crinnion; Director of Music, Brian Moles; and our island’s endangered organ.