Noel Percy Mander (19122005), by unknown photographer, c.1969
Mander, Noel Percy (19122005), organ builder and restorer, was born on 19 May 1912 at The Laurels, Crouch, near Wrotham, Kent, the son of Percy Mander, who worked in publishing, and his wife, Constance Emmie (Emily), née Pike. With the onset of the First World War the family moved to Brockley, south London, where Mander was introduced to the stimulus of music (he sang in the local choir at St Peter's, Brockley) and to organ-playing, his mother receiving lessons from Frederick Bridge, organist at Westminster Abbey. In 1925 the family moved to East Sheen and Mander attended Haberdashers' Aske's School, Hatcham, but found the classroom constricting and left as soon as he could.
Mander's first employment was with the publishers A and C Black, where he delighted in the books; but office life was not to his taste and he quickly looked elsewhere, to find his life's devotion: organs, especially organs in Anglican churches. After a period working with a self-employed organ restorer (Ivor R. Davies), Mander set up his own business, N. P. Mander Ltd, in 1936 by renting a nave at Christ Church, Jamaica Street, Stepney, from where he carried out repair work, notably at St Peter's, Bethnal Green, and, because of closure or upgrading, also oversaw the relocation of several organs for use elsewhere. But the first bombing raid of the Second World War on London destroyed the church and his workshop, and in October 1940 he joined the Royal Artillery, serving in north Africa (where he repaired an organ in Algiers) and southern Italy. An injury and some later illness took him out of active service, but during recuperation at Naples he wrote to every clergyman in the London diocese to solicit work on his return to England. It was an initiative that in both employment opportunities and professional standing was to be richly rewarded.
Indeed, when Mander returned to London (having been regularly consulted throughout his absence by officials of the diocese about the worth of organs in many war-damaged churches) he assisted the London Re-organisation Committee by identifying organs at churches across the diocese that merited storing, ready for later repair and reconditioning, and, it was hoped, later use in fresh venues. This commitment provided Mander with an unrivalled knowledge of needs and opportunities, and from a works that he established in 1946 in the former St Peter's School at Bethnal Green he was soon ruffling feathers at several firms of standing. In part this can be attributed to his establishing new methods of working for his staffby, for instance, providing tuners with vans which enabled them to move from job to job much more easily and efficiently than if restricted to public transport. There was also a certain resentment that Mander was unwilling to adhere to the rules of the trade; although invited, he refused to join the Federation of Master Organbuilders. A good example of his stance arose in connection with a historic seventeenth-century organ at Adlington Hall in Cheshire. Defunct for a century and more, it had been inspected and judged as beyond repair, but for Mander, influenced in part by knowing that a maternal ancestor, George Pyke England (1765?1815), was an organ builder, the task was a challenge not to be ducked. Although many of the pipes were crushed and soundboards split Mander was able to restore them, in 19589, and an instrument, for its size, rated as one of the earliest unaltered organs in Britain and one on which Handel played, was rescued for later generations. Meanwhile, on 2 June 1948, at St Peter's, Bethnal Green, he married Enid Watson (b. 1921), daughter of James Watson, education officer; they had three sons and two daughters.
Mander restored many other historic instruments, including those at St Mary's, Rotherhithe; St John's, Upper Norwood; St Mary's, Finedon; and St Philip's, Salford, and undertook major reconstructions, as well as the creation of entirely new instruments. Especially notable was the work done at St Pancras, Euston Road; St Michael's, Croydon; St Lawrence Jewry; St Vedast, Foster Lane; Peterhouse, Cambridge; the Livery Hall of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors; St Giles, Cripplegate; Corpus Christi, Cambridge; Sheffield Cathedral; St Paul's School; Canterbury Cathedral; and the Ulster Hall, Belfast. He also restored an instrument from the bombed Wren church, St Mary Aldermanbury, which was transported stone by stone from London to Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, to form part of a memorial (dedicated in 1969) to Winston Churchill, his iron curtain speech having been delivered there in 1946.
If a single instrument had to be chosen to demonstrate the pinnacle of Mander's career, it was that at St Paul's Cathedral. He was approached in 1970 to rebuild (and provide a new case for) an 1881 organ known as the Willis-on-wheels, and his success ensured he was a natural candidate to modernize Henry Willis's 1872 chancel organ. The instrument, originally of fifty-two stops, had grown over the years to a ninety-sixer, and owing to somewhat piecemeal repairs and additions had lost its musical integrity. Much debate ensued, but Mander was able to begin work in 1972. The task was immensely complicated and the finished instrument sported 107 stops, grouped in a chancel section (great, north choir, pedal, swell, south choir, and solo organs), a dome section (fifth manual, and a pedal organ), and, on Mander's initiative, an entirely new west section incorporating a diapason chorus (to lead congregational singing) and three reed trumpets for ceremonial use. Work was completed in time for the queen's jubilee service of thanksgiving on 7 June 1977, Mander himself being recognized by his being made an MBE in 1979.
Within a few years of this triumph Mander judged his professional contribution was complete, and in 1983 he passed the firm to his eldest son, John Pike Mander, and promptly retired to Hawthorns, The Street, Earl Soham, Woodbridge, Suffolk, a house purchased in the early 1960s. There, as well as maintaining friendships at Westminster College, Fulton, from whom he received an honorary doctorate in 1984, and pursuing much neglected reading (except about organs), he became sensitive to the needs of the rural community. He relished the opportunity to help elderly villagers with the mundane tasks of life, such as carrying coal buckets, or helping with shopping, much in the spirit of his wife who, as well as being the resident nurse at the family business, had extended her firm gaiety and compassion to children in Bethnal Green by taking them on educational trips across the city.
In a volume of essays published to mark his achievements, Fanfare for an Organ-builder (1996), Mander's principal contributions were described as his initiative in saving and restoring many historic British organs, his insistence on high-quality materials and workmanship, and his promotion (where possible) of tracker action (that is, a mechanical, rather than electronic or pneumatic, linkage between organ key and organ pipe). But his interests were wider than that summary suggests: he was active in the Council of Christians and Jews (in several churches he worked happily alongside the muralist Hans Feibusch); was master of the Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks (1970); a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (1974); and a loyal supporter of many causes in the East End of London. He remained active into his nineties, and died on 18 September 2005 at his home in Earl Soham, of heart disease. He was survived by his wife, Enid, and their five children. He was accorded a full set of obituary notices in the national press, as well as a fulsome notice in the New York Times, which was the first to be published.
Fanfare for an organ-builder: essays presented to Noel Mander to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of his commencement in business as an organ-builder (1996) · New York Times (24 Sept 2005) · Daily Telegraph (27 Sept 2005) · The Guardian (29 Sept 2005); (1 Oct 2005) · The Times (3 Oct 2005); (2 Dec 2005) · The Independent (10 Oct 2005) · archives, Manders Organs, St Peter's Square, London · WW (2005) · private information (2012) [Polly Mander, daughter; John Pike Mander, son] · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert.
photograph, c.1969, priv. coll. [see illus.] · obituary photographs