The Armley Schulze
Hauptwerk v4 Virtual Organ

© Lavender Audio 2008 - 2017

 

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The gothic splendour of St Bartholomew, Armley, captured one afternoon in September

THE CHURCH OF ST BARTHOLOMEW, ARMLEY, LEEDS

Today, Armley is a modest suburb of the Yorkshire city of Leeds. Although there was evidence of a settlement here recorded in the Domesday Book of the 11th century, it was the period of the industrial revolution in the late 18th century which saw the rise of Armley as an area of real importance in the textile industry. The woollen mills at Armley were expanded over time and became the largest in the world by 1788, with no fewer than five large waterwheels powering the machinery. Such industry brought employment and prosperity and in 1804 the mills were purchased by Benjamin Gott, a man whose family were to have a huge influence over the building of ecclesiastical buildings in and around the immediate area. Initially, this involved the expansion of an old, relatively small chapel in Armley; however, after Benjamin’s death the Gott family provided the money for Christ Church, a magnificent new place of worship in the breakaway parish of Upper Armley. By comparison, the Armley Chapel looked distinctly ordinary, so a collection of other wealthy businessmen set about a solution which resulted in the perpendicular gothic church of St Bartholomew we see today. Occupying a footprint of 57 by 18 metres and with a spire as tall as the building is long, the church is three times the size of the chapel it replaced and significantly larger than the neighbouring Christ Church.

Over the years, as manufacturing processes change, Armley’s fortunes have suffered somewhat as the mills have closed, removing important sources of wealth for the area. Armley Mills itself closed as a commercial business in 1969 and is now an industrial heritage museum. The condition of the church deteriorated too and by the beginning of the 21st century vandalism, decay and decades of exposure to air pollution meant that restoration work was urgently required. Fortunately, the UK Heritage Lottery Fund was able to step in to make a grant of more than one million pounds which led initially to the renovation of the exterior and interior of the church, culminating finally in the restoration by Harrison and Harrison of Durham of the building’s crowning glory - the Armley Schulze.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Recording the Armley Schulze and preparing these recordings for Hauptwerk has been a fascinating and highly educational experiance and my sincere thanks goes to the organist at Armley, Professor Graham Barber for readily embracing the project with such enthusiasm. I am also very grateful to assistant organists Chris Newton and Thelma Collins for their great hospitality and assistance during the recording sessions. Thelma’s willingness to descend into the basement of the building in order to disable the church’s efficient but horribly noisy heating system was especially appreciated! Finally, I thank the vicar and PCC of St Bartholomew’s for their agreement to this sampling project.

A view from the west end of the church looking east, with the organ just visible on the north side