History of the Organs in St James' Church

Original organ (few details survive)

It was small, because the original chapel was small, and was on the south side of the communion table. It may date from any time after 1818, when the original chapel was completed, but it is doubtful whether an organ was installed and used immediately. The gallery was added to the chapel in 1847, and at that time the organ was moved there.

Second Organ

In 1868, about a year after the church had been extended, a rebuilt organ replaced the first. It came from London, and cost £145. It had seven stops, two octaves of German pedals, and was a typical two-manual parish church organ of the mid-nineteenth century. The German pedal board was a novelty in England at that time. It was a low price, even by the standards of those days. This organ remained in use until the next one was installed in 1890.

Third Organ

In 1890 a new organ was installed, again from England, and from which the two sets of pipes at the front of the church remain. There was no longer an organ in the gallery. Perhaps it was thought better to have the sound coming from the front of the church, and easier for the organist to follow the services. This was quite a large pipe organ, requiring more space. It cost £550 and was used for the first time on Christmas Day 1890. It was first powered by water from a well and tank at the back of the church. In 1910 a petrol-driven motor replaced the cumbersome water-powered system, however young men are recorded as being available to blow the bellows. Finally, in 1932, power was supplied by electricity for the first time.

Due to the terrible humidity that Porto suffers the organ had to be constantly repaired – first in 1893, then again in 1897, and again in 1921. Once more in 1936 the organ needed a complete overhaul and was practically rebuilt. The organ renovation was completed in 1937 at a cost of £1,000 and first played on 10th October 1937. To commemorate this, a ‘cello and organ recital was given, with the famous Portuguese cellist GUILHERMINA SUGGIA, after whom the main auditorium in Casa da Música is named. There was another major repair in 1957. Finally, in 1974 it was decided to replace this organ, as repair work was too frequently necessary and had become too costly. The church had almost decided to replace it on several occasions, and it had lasted almost 100 years.

Fourth Organ

The current organ is an electronic instrument, the total cost being the equivalent of perhaps £10,000 today (£5,000 in 1974), and it is still in use. It was overhauled in 2018, but there are already indications of aging and instability. For this reason the church community are resolved to raise funds for a new digital organ, one which benefits from modern technology both in sound quality and in flexibility of usage.