The organ at St Giles’ is historically important, built by J.C. Bishop & Sons in 1844 and designed by S. S. Wesley.
Samuel Sebastian Wesley was born in 1810. He was the grandson of Charles Wesley, the famous hymn writer and co-founder of the Methodist Church. Samuel himself is considered one of the most important church musicians of the 19th Century. It is said that his fingers and feet moved so swiftly as he played the organ that people would crowd round him just to watch.
Before Wesley embarked on his career as a cathedral organist and composer, he was appointed organist of St Giles’ on the 8th of January, 1829. He stayed at Camberwell for nearly four years and by all accounts he was very happy here. When the old medieval church of St Giles’ was destroyed by fire, he returned to design the organ in the new church which was completed in 1844.
Throughout his life, Samuel wrote 39 anthems and introits, 12 service settings, 182 hymn tunes and more than 75 solo, choral and instruments works. His hymn tunes include those written for ‘God is love let heaven adore him’, ‘O thou who camest from above’ and ‘The Church’s one foundation’.
The organ Wesley designed has three manuals (keyboards) and pedals and has forty-two speaking stops. Many of the stops Wesley included are duplicated to achieve different tonal combinations. These additions don’t necessarily make the organ louder but when used with understanding, the organ can produce amazingly rich and warm sonorities. Built before the Great Exhibition of 1851, the organ is perhaps the sole survivor of a long tradition of English organ building – its lineage can be traced back hundreds of years.
The organ was partially restored in 1961. But years of pollution and water damage means that a major restoration is needed to ensure the organ is able to be enjoyed for many years to come.