The Soundboard Column: Thoughts and more by Douglas Bell
TURN into Marygate from Bootham and you'll find St Olave's Church squorzed (Marsden-speak for 'squeezed') between an ancient wall, an entrance to the Museum Gardens and the ruins of St Mary's Abbey. The dedication is to St Olaf, a Norwegian king and not, as I fondly imagined, to a Tudor barmaid. His flag hangs within the partly 16th C building - outside in period style, but inside somewhat 'off centre'. A character change was experienced after much rebuilding in 1721, due to damage in the Civil War. Chancel and N Chapel were later thoughts; the latter with 'mouse' appointments.
The three-manual Walker organ of 1907 is built into a chamber on the N side of the chancel and has tonal egress to the choir and N aisle, where George Pace designed a sombre 'front'. Personal recollections of this instrument started in 1951 and are entwined with memories of Reginald Rose, organist at St Olave's since 1901.
It was to Reggie, as we knew him, that I sought organ practice as a student. Dressed in RAF 'best blue', I met him in church one wintry evening and Reggie gave an immediate, full-length 'x-ray'. In his characteristically bleating tone, the opening gambit was, "Are you an officer?" A/C2 Bell, DV pondered the question of status! Reggie was frequently in the Minster organ loft for Evensong and it was on one such occasion that he told me about the lady (donor, I believe) of St Olave's organ. She had chosen stops for St Olave's after hearing the Walker organ (1903) in the Minster. Certainly, one delightful choice was the Pedal Gamba 16 ft.
In the fifties, the St Olave's organ retained the original pneumatic action with no aids for registration save a few composition pedals for Swell and Great + Pedal. Walker's renowned Wald Flute - a rather solid, unsociable stop - featured on the Great, a beefy department lacking in upperwork. The Swell was cultured and contained a lovely Contra Fagotto 16 ft, one of Reggie's favourites. I wonder if the Vox Humana was a chosen stop from the Minster organ? I remember delightful Choir flutes 8 ft and 4 ft and the brassy trumpet stop, but the Pedal Gamba hardly offered the tones of its Minster relation, leaving the 16 ft line to the usual big and little boomer!
They were days to remember. Practising on a summer afternoon with the sun streaming through the mesh bird door in the Lady Chapel, while outside and so close, were the Abbey ruins and the resting places of William Etty, Matthew Camidge and countless other York souls. Imagination ran riot. Could the former Minster organist hear your Bach and Peeters and were those footsteps his, coming to give you a lesson?!