Hands off! Fight to stop historic Sunderland church organ being lost to Germany

Susan Mulvaney and Denise Craig are part of the petition campaign to save the organ at Holy Trinity Church.
Susan Mulvaney and Denise Craig are part of the petition campaign to save the organ at Holy Trinity Church.

A Sunderland community is fighting to save an historic church organ which is at risk of being torn out and shipped abroad.

The Churches Conservation Trust (TCCT) wants to take out the instrument from Holy Trinity Church in the East End and has made arrangements with a firm which plans to install it in a church in Germany.

Holy Trinity Church dates back to 1719.

Holy Trinity Church dates back to 1719.

The Save Our Heritage appeal has been launched by members of the ‘Sunderland - East End and Hendon Born and Bred’ Facebook group, who say removing the instrument from the church would be the next stage in turning it into a “glorified community centre.”

Supporters say they want to preserve the heritage of the building, which dates back to 1719 and was Sunderland’s first parish church. It has also been previously used to host its council rooms, its magistrate’s court, its first public library and the base for its fire engine.

They have set up an online petition and taken to the streets of Sunderland to collect names as they fight to keep the organ, which is said to contain parts dating back to 1889.

It follows on from a decision by the trust to sell 53 pews from the church, which are now on sale online via a London firm for £140 a piece.

We know the people of Sunderland are going to come through.

Denise Craig

Among the campaigners is Denise Craig, 61, whose uncle George Antlett, of Nile Street, is among those listed on the church’s First World War memorial.

“How can anyone in the future walk into Holy Trinity and look at all its traditions if it’s gone?” she said.

“How will they get a sense of its beauty if it’s just a glorified community centre?

“It is part of our heritage, not just of the East End, but of Sunderland. There were no housing estates back then, this was the town.

The organ inside Holy Trinity Church in the East End.

The organ inside Holy Trinity Church in the East End.

“When we’ve told people about this their response is ‘wow’, people are so angry with the loss of heritage.

“We know the people of Sunderland are going to come through.”

The trust is working to bring the building back into use as the Canny Space, which won £2.8 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund last year.

It says without its efforts, the building could have been lost entirely.

Holy Trinity has served the city since the 18th century.

Holy Trinity has served the city since the 18th century.

A spokeswoman for the trust, which has said it has consulted on the plans for the building since 2013, said the position of the organ in the church “presents significant challenges to the proposed repairs of the historic fabric of the building” with the work urgent due to damp and water ingress.

It says the cost to take down, store and reinstall the organ and its overhaul would be £312,000.

To take down, store and reinstall would be £97,500. Of that, the cost of taking down the organ and making it good is put at £55,000 - which the project budget has allowed for in order to do vital repair works - but a further £42,500 would need to be raised to store and reinstall it.

TCCT added: “Given the cost constraints of the project, TCCT felt it could not justify the additional expenses associated with storing and reinstalling the organ.

“Furthermore, the area freed up by the removal of the organ could benefit the overall regeneration scheme by enhancing the flexibility and utility of the space within the site.”

It says the final design stages for the repair and conservation of the church will be completed by the end of this year, from there a contractor will be appointed to begin works on site in spring 2019.

The inside of Holy Trinity Church.

The inside of Holy Trinity Church.

The group has set up the Facebook page ‘Save Our Organ’ and will meet this Thursday at 1pm.

Thie issue is also expected to be discussed at Sunderland City Council’s Development Control (South Sunderland) Sub-Committee at 4pm on Monday, December 17, at Sunderland Civic Centre.

The inside of Holy Trinity Church.

The inside of Holy Trinity Church.