William Bayly was born in 1737 into the family of a yeoman farmer in the village of Bishop's Cannings, Wiltshire [see Cook's Log, page 25, vol. 28, no. 4 (2005)]. He found time during his hard early days as a ploughboy to study mathematics, and his talent was spotted by another villager, an exciseman, who gave him tuition. The success of this resulted in William obtaining a job as an assistant at the Royal Observatory under the supervision of the Astronomer Royal, Dr Neville Maskelyne, himself a Wiltshire man.
A few years after sailing as astronomer on Cook's Second and Third Voyages, William was appointed headmaster of the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth, the forerunner of Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, a post he held until 1807 [see Cook's Log, page 1925, vol. 25, no. 1 (2002)]. He retired a wealthy and influential man and purchased the estate of Imber on Salisbury Plain. He still held an affection for his birthplace and sought the approval of the churchwardens of Bishop's Cannings to provide a school in the village. This offer was not well received. The churchwardens, probably farmers, considered that the young people were better employed working in the fields and turned down the offer.
However another idea was put to William, namely providing an organ to replace the original one which was then nearly 200 years old. This he did, and in 1809 he commissioned the work to the celebrated organ builder George Pike England. Sadly he never saw his wish fulfilled, dying in 1810 shortly before the organ was completed.
George Pike England's art and skills had been handed down through several generations of renowned organ builders stretching right back to Elizabethan organ builder Thomas Dallam. Famous names along the line include Renatus Harris and Richard Bridge, whose organs were much admired by George Frederick Handel. George Pike England had a parlour apprentice, Joseph William Walker, who married his daughter and went on to found a famous organ building firm, J W Walker, which is still in existence based at Brandon in Suffolk with a facility in Devizes. The organ at St Mary's is therefore part of an unbroken tradition that has continued for four hundred years.
The instrument was originally built with three manuals but had no pedal board, as these were not generally introduced in small English organs until the middle of the 19th century. The organ was rebuilt as a two manual in 1916 by Hele and Co of Exeter, and a pedal organ was added. Hele and Co, a subsidiary to J W Walker, was very careful to conserve as much as possible of George Pike England's work, which makes the organ unusual in that it retains its classical pre-Victorian sound. Originally sited at the west end of the church it was later moved to its present more central position where it continues to provide its wonderful music, making it a great attraction to many visiting organists.
The organ's 200 years of service was celebrated with a special concert on 3rd July 2010. It came about in rather a curious way. Through his bee-keeping activities, church treasurer William Allen made friends with the local bee inspector, Robert Carpenter Turner who, appropriately, lives at Honeystreet near Pewsey. Robert was visiting the church one day when he spotted the organ and told William of a friend who would love to play it. This was duly arranged and the friend turned out to be Philip Moore, the celebrated composer and former Master of the Music at York Minster. By a strange coincidence, Philip and William's wife Elizabeth were childhood friends having lived near each other in Kent and had not seen each other for over 50 years. Robert is a professional opera singer and the idea of a celebratory concert was quickly born.
As well as his donation of the organ, Bayly gave £600 for its maintenance and for payment of an organist which would have been a very substantial sum in 1809. Today's insured value of the organ is £164,000, which gives an idea of what a wealthy man he must have been, no doubt largely because of his voyages with James Cook. A trust was set up for administering this £600 but that has long since been amalgamated into the parochial church council's funds where it is treated as a 'restricted fund', meaning that it can only be used for the upkeep of the organ. Our present organists waive the fees that are paid in many churches but despite this the organ fund had dwindled to £862 until our celebratory concert raised £1,600.
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