Church’s race to avoid a festive Silent Night

Church Organ Tunbridge Wells

A church in Tunbridge Wells has found itself in the same situation that gave rise to one of our nation’s favourite Christmas carols, nearly two centuries ago.

Though possibly apocryphal, the story goes that on Christmas Eve 1818, the organist at St Nicholas’ Church in Salzburg, Austria, sat down to play, only to find that mice had gnawed through the bellows.

With midnight mass moments away, Father Joseph Mohr pulled a piece of paper from his pocket on which he had jotted down some lyrics.

Written for a simple guitar accompaniment, with no need for an organ, the famous Silent Night was heard for the first time. A workman who came to mend the bellows heard the song and it spread across the world.

Though mice have not been implicated this time, damage to the bellows at St Luke’s Church, in St Luke’s Rd, has created a state of panic.

Christopher Harris, one of the church’s organists, said: “The problem is with the bellows, just as it was in that Austrian church where Silent Night was born all those years ago.

“Our bellows have now been patched up so many times with duct tape because the original leather is perishing, and there comes a point where you cannot patch up any more.

“It’s a case of the duct tape itself being duct taped! And it will make the bellows unusable. They’re useable at the moment, but with a mighty rushing wind audible to everybody and anybody.”

Church Organ Tunbridge Wells

Mr Harris, a freelance musician from Crowborough, warned that the bellows, which date back to when the organ was built a century ago, are leaking.

He added: “There will come a point where there will be a blow-out and they won’t be useable at all.”

As a way to start raising the tens of thousands of pounds needed to mend the bellows, the church has invited the Vasari Singers, one of the top amateur choirs in the country, to give a concert on October 3.

Tickets to the event cost £10, and all are welcome, although the situation may not be resolved before
the anniversary of Silent Night’s creation.

And as Mr Harris pointed out: “There’s less than 100 days until Christmas Eve!”

Tickets are available in advance from or Brittens Music, Russell house, Grove Hill Road.

For more information, call 07596 122972.

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