Thursday, December 25, 2014

John Squire (1811-1890) — Organ Builder

Builder's Plate, St Peter's, Brampton, Suffolk

One of the interesting aspects of genealogical research is the connection to social history. I've previously written about the Tanton family of St Giles in the Wood, Devon. While recently updating my records on this family, I discovered that I had missed three children of Elizabeth Tanton (1770-1846) and her husband Robert Squire (1768-1846). At first I was sceptical given the ten year gap between the baptism of their fourth child in 1799 and that of their fifth in 1809. What convinced me, however, was three things. First, there is no evidence of any other Robert and Elizabeth Tanton in North Devon. Second, their sixth child, John Squire, had a daughter named Frances Tanton Squire. Finally, in the 1851 Census, John Squire is recorded as visiting his oldest sister Fanny and her family.

What is most interesting about John Squire, however, is that in every census from 1841 to 1881 his occupation is recorded as organ builder. Further research uncovered photographs of one of his organs in St Peter's Church in Brampton, Suffolk.

St Pancras Church, London
John Squire was born in Great Torrington, Devon in 1811. His father was a carpenter. In 1832, John married Mary Ann Slocombe (1808-1879) in the parish of Alphington near Exeter. Five children were baptised at St Sidwell in Exeter. The first reference to John as an organ builder was in the record for his daughter, Frances Tanton Squire's baptism in 1836. In about 1839, John moved with his family to London. While in London, John and Mary Ann had four more children who were all baptised at St Pancras. It is interesting to note their daughter's Elizabeth (1842-1927) and Rosina (1845-1929) were not baptised until 1854.

At the time of the 1841 Census he was living on Seymour Crescent near Euston Square in the parish of St Pancras. He remained in the Euston Square area for at least the next twenty years, but by 1871 was living a mile further east in a terraced house on Pentonville Road.

Organ, St. Peter's Church
Brampton, Suffolk
John Squire was part of what became known as the Golden Age of British organ building. Before the 1830s, none of the organs found in Great Britain could compare with the organs found in churches and cathedrals throughout France and Germany. For example, the music of J.S. Bach, which was becoming very popular, could often not be performed as written. This created a demand for better instruments. In addition, the prosperity and population growth created by the Industrial Revolution, resulted in the building and renovation of many churches, and consequently the demand for new organs.

The leading organ builder of the Victorian era was Henry Willis (1821-1901). Among the organs he built or rebuilt were the instruments at St Paul's Cathedral and the Royal Albert Hall. While John Squire could not compete with Henry Willis, smaller churches were more than willing to commission him. The National Pipe Organ Register has records of 19 instruments built or rebuilt, one of which was the organ at St Peter's in Brampton, Sussex.

Sometime before the death of his wife in 1879, John Squire moved to Wandsworth, Surrey where he remained until his death in 1890.

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