The Organist

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mark-rawsthorn-2.jpg

Mark Rawsthorn has been the Organist at Ormskirk Parish Church since January 2012, succeeding Michael Kelsall. Prior to this, he had served for 11 years as Organist & Choirmaster at the Priory Church of St Thomas-the-Martyr, UpHolland. Previous appointments include St Agnes, Ullet Road, Liverpool and St Mary’s, Walton-on-the-Hill, Liverpool, both of which were renowned for their superb choral traditions, as well as St John’s, Ainsdale, where he was responsible for the remodelling of the small Willis II organ, and St James’s, West Derby, where he presided over the glorious 1869 Wm. Hill Organ, which remained in almost original condition.

His initial experiences of the organ were gleaned as a member of the choir at All Saints’, Rainford. He decided as a young teenager that he wanted to learn to play the organ. After a year learning the piano, under the then Organist, John Rotherham, GRNCM, he moved on to the organ, aged 14. It was also here that he got his first experiences of organ-building and would still say that he is indebted to both the Organist and the Vicar of Rainford at that time, T Harold Bishop, who allowed him to put small faults right, whilst developing an understanding of how the things worked!

He was later taught by Dr John Kitchen, FRCO (a former pupil of Dame Gilian Weir and Organ Scholar of Clare College, Cambridge) whilst a student at the University of St Andrews and had the luxury of having access to a large Harrison & Harrison in the Town Kirk for practice purposes and also to the then almost new 4-manual mechanical action organ by Gregor Hradetzky in the chapel of St Salvator’s College, where he served on a rota of organists playing for the early-morning services.

After graduating, he returned to the north-west in order to complete a PGCE at S Katharine’s, College, Liverpool, which now forms part of Liverpool Hope University. Here, he sang in the College Choir under Dr Ian Sharp and, once again, was on a rota of organists playing the Henry Willis I organ, as re-visioned by Noel Rawsthorne and former Walker organbuilder, John Corkhill, for the weekday services. On the advice of Noel Rawsthorne, he continued to study for a short time under Dr. John Benson, FRCO, of Wigan, another former Cambridge Organ Scholar.

During this time, he was invited to take on his first Organ incumbency, at St James’s Parish Church, West Derby, which boasted an excellent choir and a beautiful 3-manual organ by William Hill (1869 & 1895), following Kevin Mulcahy who then and for many years, served as Assistant to Peter Miller at St Mary’s, West Derby. Here, he followed in the footsteps of the great George Galloway, who had built the choir before moving on to Wigan Parish Church, and also Noel Rawsthorne, who had filled in as a young man whilst George was away on War Service. His Assistant Organist was (now Dr) Colin Porter, who was additionally Organist of St Anne’s, Stanley. Together, their choirs sang at many services as the ‘Combined Choir’

After marrying for the first time, he moved to Ainsdale, Southport, where he became Organist at St John’s Parish Church, which possessed a small WIllis II organ and a keen and enthusiastic choir, and where the Patron was the Rector of Walton, who subsequently offered him the post at Walton Parish Church, when it became vacant following the departure of former Organist, the late Alan Bickley. Here, the choir was trained to a very high standard, which he maintained, expanding the repertoire. Here, he worked alongside his Assistant Organist, Michael Bennett; again, an organist of no mean ability. He left that church following a major dispute with the clergy; a common story among organists! Such is the Christian spirit prevalent amongst the clergy in the Church of England today!  As an admirer of former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, he would describe himself as something of a heretic!

He then moved to St Agnes, Ullet Road, where he headed up a choir singing a cathedral repertoire, with annual cathedral summer residencies. Again, he maintained the semi-professional standard and expanded the repertoire, helped by Assistant Organist Jonathan Kingston (subsequently Sub-Organist at Bradford Cathedral) and Sub-Organist Dr. John Winstanley (another former organist of St James’s, West Derby). He left this appointment when his first marriage broke down, handing over the reins to another former Ormskirk PC Organist, Richard Bailey.

After a short fallow period, he was approached to take on the appointment at UpHolland, the Priory Church of St Thomas-the-Martyr, which he did at the beginning of 2000. Here, he was back among former friends, as it was at UpHolland Grammar School that he had spent his school days.

Finally, in 2012, he moved to Ormskirk Parish Church, where he remains. He has been married (and divorced) twice, has two daughters, two sons and a step-son, five grandchildren and three dogs, and lives with his youngest child in Ormskirk, where he recently discovered his family had lived from around 1615 until late-Victorian times, at which point his great-great-grandfather had moved to St Helens, the town where he had previously understood them to have originated.