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Wirdum: a 'wierdendorpje'

In the east of Groningen, an area already populated in prehistoric times, the landscape is marked by 'wierden', characteristic mounds of earth created between 500 and 1000 BC as protection against flooding. Farms and houses were often built on these mounds along with the village church thereby creating a so-called 'wierdendorpje'.
Wirdum is one such village built on two mounds separated by the Wirdumer Maar. The church is situated on the largest mound (one of the highest in Groningen) and is surrounded by the old village centre.

The Church.

The former Hervormde kerk of Wirdum dates back to the 13th century and represents an early phase of the Roman Gothic style. The flatness of the wall dominates.
In the Middle Ages, there were doors in the long walls of the church; for the men on the north side and on the south side for the women. In the interior, paintings dating from the early 15th century may be seen.
Originally the church had a tower which saddled the roof on the west side. This was demolished in 1878. Against the western wall, remnants of the original tower are still visible. During the restoration of the church from 1959 to 1961 a small wooden spire was placed on the roof. Since the restoration, the blue timbered ceiling is supported by colourful cross beams. The church also features some furniture dating back to the 17th century. In 1981, the church was transferred to the Stichting Oude Groninger Kerken, an institution dedicated the preservation of old churches.

The Organ.

About the builder.

The first van Oecklen who was demonstrably an organ builder was Cornelis Van Oecklen (1762-1837), 'mr orlogiemaker' (Mr. Watchmaker). Later he was referred to as 'clock maker, organ mechanism and piano maker, and shop keeper'. Father Cornelis was active as organ builder in the period from 1821 to 1828.
In 1878 the organ shop continued under the name of Petrus van Oecklen and Sons. In 1918 the family business, which for three generations built organs, ended with the death of Antonius van Oecklen.

Petrus van Oeckelen (1792-1878) can with confidence be called an exceptional figure; he was successful, unafraid of commercial or musical adventure, and of a perseverant nature. He moved to the province of Groningen and managed to win himself a place in the musical life of the city of Groningen.
Both in quantity and quality Van Oeckelen belongs to the greatest organ builders in the 19th century. Although his work, just as that of many of his contemporaries, has often been looked down upon, it is now receiving more appreciation. His instruments have proven their solidity during the last 150 years, and the sound also offers much for the ear to appreciate; in particular the Viola di Gamba, one of the specialties of the house, has been widely praised.

Completion of the organ

Church records preserved from 1879 indicate that the organ was delivered "T Orgel geheel klaar geleverd" (complete and clear) for the price of 1400 guilders by P. Van Oecklen and Sons.
During construction, use was made of van Oecklen materials (wind chests and pipes) dating from around 1845.
New keyboards were built in 1879. The draw knobs were placed in a horizontal row above the music desk. The stop names on porcelain plates (renewed in 1969) were mounted on the stop knobs.
The oak key-frames are inlaid with ivory and ebony and the ivory platings of the naturals on the manual are attached with small wooden nails.
The bellows of the reservoir have a single fold.
The organ is built in five sections with a round central tower with an elevated front piece divided from the narrow side towers by pairs of horizontally divided flats.
The arrangement of the mouths in the compartments is exactly reversed. In the lower compartments the mouths descend in a graceful line as one moves outward. In the upper compartments they exhibit a steeper slope upwards as they move away from the centre tower.
The base of the middle tower is decorated with characteristic scallops. The pipe shades exhibit the usual simple plant forms.
On the upper ones there is woven ivy.
The original shutters were removed during the restoration of 1961.
Of the pipe work, the bass of the Holpijp 8 and the Violoncel 16 D date back to 1879. The remaining pipes largely date back to presumably around 1845 and because of the addition of tuning slots were shifted a semitone and then supplemented.
In the front stand the E-h of the Prestant 8. C-H of the Bourdon are made of oak. The Viola di Gamba 8 is combined with the Bourdon C-H. The Quint 3 is stopped in the bass and uses a flute scale while in the treble a diapason scale is used. The Woudfluit 2 is conical from C-f and open cylindrical starting at fis.
Tuning slots were added to the Violoncel D (c-cis), Prestant 8 (C-h), Viola di Gamba 8 (starting at c), Octaaf 4 (C-cis), and Woudfluit 2 (C-Dis).

Historical Details. 1879, Delivery of the organ.

1961, Ornamentation and shutters are removed from the case in light of the church's restoration.
1962, D. Mulder, restoration, organ case is painted a cream colour, feeder bellows and hand pump are removed, the wind pressure is reduced to 65 mm.
Year unknown, organ case is painted dark green.
1995, The organ builder Van der Putten surveys the instrument to determine what restoration work is necessary to make the organ playable and reliable again.
1999, The actual restoration begins. The wind chests are removed and restored. The keyboards are repaired as is the tracker action. Wind leakages are repaired, the pipes are reinstalled and the major voicing problems are resolved. The wind pressure is 65 mm. The organ is tuned to equal temperament.
2001, Apparently the organ committee from the Stichting Oude Groninger Kerken and the advisor Stef Tuinstra were not satisfied with the sound of the instrument. It appears that Mulder made too many modifications.
After running some tests, the wind pressure is adjusted to 85 mm. Subsequently a new blower is installed. The voicing is redone using as examples van Oecklen organs of the same period in Westeremden and Niekerk.
2002, The organ is revoiced after reestablishing the original wind pressure.

The organ of Wirdum is a typical example of a Dutch village organ, though small, yet beautiful. It can be perfectly used as a practice instrument, on which "smaller organ literature" from e.g. C. PH. E. Bach, Mozart, F.X. Schnizer can be performed with very satisfactory sound results. The reverb is not too long and underlines the intimate atmosphere of a "village organ".

Technical Details.

Divisions: One manual with pull-down pedals.
Disposition: 7 ranks, Violoncel 16, Prestant 8, Bourdon 8, Viola di Gamba 8, Octaaf 4, Quint 3, Woudfluit 2.
Accessory Stops: "Windlosser", "Nihil" (none, knob not in use)
Pitch: a = 440 Hz.
Temperament: Equal.
Manual Compass: C-f'''
Pedal Compass: C-d'
Wind Pressure: 85 mm (3.35 inch)
Keyboard Position: left side of organ

St. Oude Groninger Kerken
St. Groninger Orgelland
Orgelmakerij van der Putten
With thanks to: Annemieke Woldring, Kees Kugel en Winold van der Putten
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