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The church that banked positively on Casson

Top right: The Casson positive in St. Aidan's, Gillamoor. Picture: D.V. Bell.

Soundboard: thoughts and more by Douglas Bell...

The church that positively banked on Casson

Thou who hast given me eyes to see
And love this sight so fair,
Give me a heart to find out Thee,
And read Thee everywhere.

SO runs John Keble's verse on the stone in the churchyard wall. Close by - a seat, and beyond, a vista of Farndale and the moors. Here, a summer evening falls in depths of colour; all wrapped in the silence of nature. Man is alone with the mysteries.

Leave Kirkbymoorside at the top of the main street and, within three miles, you'll come to Gillamoor, a windswept, upland, farming community on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors.

The little church of St Aidan was rebuilt by one man nearly 200 years ago. Under a single roof and with no windows to the North and East, its spirelet is just seen above the trees from the road over Blakey Rigg. Once inside, the light blue screen between nave and altar adds a cheerful note, but the one-manual organ is hardly visible from the church door. Placed in the sanctuary on the south side, it is free standing and has a tiny ivory plate above the keyboard, naming the maker: (Casson's Patent) Positive Organ Co Ltd, London. Opus 144. Of honest, forthright tone, this instrument, with divided stops and originally foot pumped, is one of many to be found throughout the country.

Note the electric blower and cushion on the left of the organ, and more particularly the sloping seat. I think the titulaire cannot be a pork pie vulture, but is, maybe, a dear old soul with a woolly hat!

Thomas Casson (1842 - 1910) was the father of Sir Lewis Casson, the actor. A 'big' bank manager (Denbigh) aged 33, he retired at 50, but had founded the Positive Organ Co five years earlier. Casson published works on organ building and was a remarkable thinker and advocate for his time (the Hope Jones era).

His comment on the replacement of sound mechanical action in small instruments by tubular or electro-pneumatic action was "nothing but downright wicked waste." An advanced scheme with very complete chorus was drawn up for Downside Abbey. It was never fulfilled. A short while ago, I was at the seat by the churchyard wall and I'm certain he was there. Casson, I mean. It's that sort of place.