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The Lewis Firm


Peter Clark

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Has anybody had dealings with the Lewis company? The firm does ot seem to have a website though a quick google reveals that a number of good intruments are around. St John's in Norwood is one I remember playing many years ago, and I think that Harry Bramma was a cinsultant on its rebuild (incidentally he taught me for a while at Southwark).

 

So what is the news with Lewis these days?

 

Thanks

 

 

Peter

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Has anybody had dealings with the Lewis company? The firm does ot seem to have a website though a quick google reveals that a number of good intruments are around. St John's in Norwood is one I remember playing many years ago, and I think that Harry Bramma was a cinsultant on its rebuild (incidentally he taught me for a while at Southwark).

 

So what is the news with Lewis these days?

 

Thanks

Peter

 

:huh::);)

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Guest Barry Williams
Has anybody had dealings with the Lewis company? The firm does ot seem to have a website though a quick google reveals that a number of good intruments are around. St John's in Norwood is one I remember playing many years ago, and I think that Harry Bramma was a cinsultant on its rebuild (incidentally he taught me for a while at Southwark).

 

So what is the news with Lewis these days?

 

Thanks

Peter

 

The Lewis firm (which was different to T C Lewis) joined with Henry Willis in an unusual interesting way, many because of the then company law. Bruce Buchanan knows the full story which has not, as far as I am aware, been fully written up.

 

'Lewis & Co' organs are often very pleasing, having a warmth sometimes lacking in early (i.e. T C ) Lewis work. There is a fine Lewis & Co in St Thomas' Church Streatham:

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=E00181 (One of the flutes on the Great is, I think, a Principal.)

 

There were two large Lewis & Co organs in Croydon, at St Saviour's and St Matthew's. Alas both are now gone, though one of them, I think St Saviour's, is in store and occasionally is offered for sale. albeit slightly incomplete.

 

Harrisons rebuilt St John's Upper Norwood. I think that they put the nags head Swell Pedal back and then re-converted it to a balanced pedal, after a year or two. Someone may know the detail.

 

Southwark Cathedral was not a typical Lewis of the time, mainly because of the wishes of the donor. Again, it is worthy of a detailed write-up. And then there is the story of the Courage Lewis organ and St George's rc cathedral, Southwark - another story worth writing up!

 

Barry Williams

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There is a Lewis & Co organ at St. Luke's Kingston, which I believe is about to be restored (conservatively I hope). It is unusual in having the Solo as the third manual, and having a Carillon stop, which I think are actually tubular bells (not quite sure). I played it last year, and NPOR states that it was originally by C H Walker in c.1860, rebuilt by T. C. Lewis in 1905 and again by Lewis & Co in 1919 (14 years later!). There was subsequent work by E. J. Johnson, but this appears to have just been cleaning. I have a booklet somewhere, I will dig it out.

 

Jonathan

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Has anybody had dealings with the Lewis company? The firm does ot seem to have a website though a quick google reveals that a number of good intruments are around. St John's in Norwood is one I remember playing many years ago, and I think that Harry Bramma was a cinsultant on its rebuild (incidentally he taught me for a while at Southwark).

 

So what is the news with Lewis these days?

 

Thanks

Peter

 

Hi

 

Take a look at the Dictionary of British organ Builders (DBOB) - available on line on the NPOR web site. Put "Lewis" in the search box - there will be basic info on the verious Lewis' and sources of the info. But please note, at present, DBOB stops at 1950.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Hi

 

Take a look at the Dictionary of British organ Builders (DBOB) - available on line on the NPOR web site. Put "Lewis" in the search box - there will be basic info on the verious Lewis' and sources of the info. But please note, at present, DBOB stops at 1950.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

Two Lewis that I have had recent experiences of and heartily recommend:

 

Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow. Currently, the museuem has a free entry fee and a free recital every day at 1 pm (3pm Sundays): a beautiful space with an equally beautiful building. The organ speaks into an enormous atrium which houses the cafe and some exhibits on the lower gallery. The idea of these recitals is that people drop in and drop out from the exhibitions in the other wings or sit and have lunch whilst listening: either way it is an utterly wonderful scheme and I gather is funded entirely by Glasgow based "big businessmen" who are proud of the city's civic organ and want to everyone to have the opportunity to hear it played for free and as often as possible!

 

Out on the North Tyneside coast, 15 mins East of Newcastle near Whitley Bay is the Lewis inb St Goerges Cullercoats which is a beauty and well worth a detour off the A1. It's in excellent condition too having been restored by Harrisons in the 1990s. A good friend of mine os organist there so PM me if you are passing and want to be put in touch!

 

Has anyone every succeeded in playing/hearing the pther Tyneside Lewis at St Hilda's in South Shields. I have been in touch with the church to see if I can have a play several times but the church diary is always busy when I ask to go.

 

Charles

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The Lewis firm (which was different to T C Lewis) joined with Henry Willis in an unusual interesting way, many because of the then company law. Bruce Buchanan knows the full story which has not, as far as I am aware, been fully written up.

 

Barry Williams

 

As most will already know, HW&S still holds the 1901 registration number (70718) which was originally the Lewis & Co. number:

This has actually been written about several times and in several places over the past ten years - anything that Bruce "knows" is only known from the same records material still available to anyone, at the Works. I placed the Lewis records with BIOS some years ago, on indefinate loan, but we now have a full copy for use on microfilm.

 

 

Pierre is also correct in that we still have all of the Lewis metalshop stuff - the Lewis casting bench is now in our current metalshop in the Liverpool factory. We also have all of the scale templates for reeds and flues - whether we would ever want to use them again is another matter of course! :)

 

DW

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Guest Barry Williams

Thank you for this.

 

How good it is that you have made the Lewis records available - in contrast to another company that reputedly destroyed not merely its own records but those of the company it took over, thus denying all future access.

 

Barry Williams

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Two Lewis that I have had recent experiences of and heartily recommend:

 

Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow. Currently, the museuem has a free entry fee and a free recital every day at 1 pm (3pm Sundays): a beautiful space with an equally beautiful building. The organ speaks into an enormous atrium which houses the cafe and some exhibits on the lower gallery. The idea of these recitals is that people drop in and drop out from the exhibitions in the other wings or sit and have lunch whilst listening: either way it is an utterly wonderful scheme and I gather is funded entirely by Glasgow based "big businessmen" who are proud of the city's civic organ and want to everyone to have the opportunity to hear it played for free and as often as possible!

 

As one of the regulars on the recital list, I can heartily endorse this series. You can't get away with very much quiet music, though the flutes are so good, even they cut through the noise of the coffee shop. First timers at organ recitals there are always very pleasant when they come up and chat afterwards, asking lots of questions etc, its quite a privilege to play. The real fun hoever, is when the place is shut during practice the night before!!

 

The thumb pistons are of the awkward lozenge variety, and they aren't settable, deliberaely being left on Lewis' settings, and attempts to add generals/any sort of player friendly aids were fiecly resisted in the last refurb.

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How good it is that you have made the Lewis records available - in contrast to another company that reputedly destroyed not merely its own records but those of the company it took over, thus denying all future access.

 

Barry Williams

 

Indeed - records that already by then actually belonged to me under the terms of the agreement entered into with their Liquidators: we purchased the building, contents AND all of the paper records, supposedly.

 

He also made off with the Clock from the tower!

 

Unfortunately, as Barry will know, when one buys anything from a liquidation one buys "Without Guarantees or Warranties" and so there was no recourse to law.

 

What is even more galling is the fact that he is still advertising under the name of Rushworth & Dreaper - a Company liquidated - as though they are still in business, still doing organbuilding work and STILL using pictures of the interior of MY factory!! But then again, he always did have more front than Selfridges.

 

Try 'googling' "Rushworth & Dreaper"!

 

:)

 

DW

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"We also have all of the scale templates for reeds and flues - whether we would ever want to use them again is another matter of course!"

(Quote)

 

Maybe if asked very politely, for an organ to be build outside the UK,

by non-UK builders, after an only partially british style, and just a little Diapason chorus ?

(After all, it seems Willis sold Tubas to Stahlhuth of the Aachen area...)

It would be even possible to hide those thick spotted metal pipes under

such names as "Montre-Second Principal 8'- troisième Principal 8'-Prestant-Quinte-Doublette- Plein jeu",

and hide the façade pipes behind zinc plates.

 

Pierre

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Maybe if asked very politely, for an organ to be build outside the UK,

by non-UK builders, after an only partially british style, and just a little Diapason chorus ?

(After all, it seems Willis sold Tubas to Stahlhuth of the Aachen area...)

It would be even possible to hide those thick spotted metal pipes under

such names as "Montre-Second Principal 8'- troisième Principal 8'-Prestant-Quinte-Doublette- Plein jeu",

and hide the façade pipes behind zinc plates.

 

Pierre

 

:)

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Try 'googling' "Rushworth & Dreaper"!

 

Interestingly, a quick WHOIS query yields this:

 

Domain name:

rushworths.co.uk

 

Registrant:

Peter Conacher & Co Ltd

Smithy Steads

Cragg Vale

Hebden Bridge

Unknown

HX7 5SQ

 

 

So there we are.

 

 

(Thank you for your phone message; I'll be in touch during the week!)

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A very special Lewis is here:

 

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=N10959

 

I used to play this as a lad, early teens, and in comparison with the other, leaden stuff to which I was allowed access.....!

 

Unfortunately I understand that the future of the church may be in question as a very high percentage of the population of the old Parish is of a different faith. Notwithstanding, they appear to have divided the church and to be using the rear portion of the building for other community pursuits, so all may not be lost.

 

DW

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Out on the North Tyneside coast, 15 mins East of Newcastle near Whitley Bay is the Lewis inb St Goerges Cullercoats which is a beauty and well worth a detour off the A1. It's in excellent condition too having been restored by Harrisons in the 1990s. A good friend of mine os organist there so PM me if you are passing and want to be put in touch!

 

I spent many a happy hour playing this in my formative years, and heartily endorse the recommendation to pay it a visit! Incidentally the restoration was in 1987: spec and a picture here. St George's is a stone-vaulted J.L.Pearson church, so the acoustic portrait is ideal.

 

H&H also restored this little gem: http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=N14988

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Take a look at the Dictionary of British organ Builders (DBOB) - available on line on the NPOR web site. Put "Lewis" in the search box - there will be basic info on the verious Lewis' and sources of the info. But please note, at present, DBOB stops at 1950.

 

And one Lewis Organ escaped, or went on holiday, to Salerno near Naples!

 

Lewis in Italy

 

Originally built for the music salon of Mrs Eley in London, it was acquired in 1902 by a Methodist Church in Nottingham and used until the 1970s. It was finally rescued by Emanuele Cardi, the organist at San Gregorio VII in Battipaglia, near Salerno. He was keen to have an organ on which he could play French romantic organ music and this Lewis was built in the style of Cavaillé-Coll - but being a house organ, I imagine it is a little quieter than you might expect. I was glad to hear that at least some Italian organists yearn to be allowed out of the baroque school from time to time. It is now listed by the Campania Organists' Society as one of their featured organs, is used in many recitals and an annual Organ Festival/Competition.

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Has anybody had dealings with the Lewis company? The firm does ot seem to have a website though a quick google reveals that a number of good intruments are around. St John's in Norwood is one I remember playing many years ago, and I think that Harry Bramma was a cinsultant on its rebuild (incidentally he taught me for a while at Southwark).

 

So what is the news with Lewis these days?

 

Thanks

Peter

 

 

============================

 

 

We seem to have gone a little off track, so I contribute this as both factual AND speculative....the lawyers can fight about it among themselves!!!!!! :P

 

The story of T C Lewis, the Lewis Company and Henry Willis & Sons, is one of those intriguing mysteries, and something of an unlikely fusion of complete opposites.

 

Over the years, I have not exactly pieced the facts together, but at least I know where to find some of the evidence; both actual and circumstantial. As time goes by, little nuggets of information slip my way, and I add it to my files, yet the whole saga remains incomplete.

 

There are some real personalities involved in it all, which we ignore at our peril. Firstly, there were two great organ-builders; one called Fr Henry Willis, and the other called Thomas C Lewis......complete cheese and chalk as tonal-artists and even personalities. There were great musicians, such as W T Best, Alfred Hollins and even Marcel Dupre. Then there were great individuals, such as the organ-enthusiast John M Courage of the Courage Brewing company, and the man who really shaped the American classical-revival at Aeolian-Skinner, G.Donald Harrison.

 

Even organs which carry or carried the Lewis name could not have been more different from the first to last days, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

 

Thomas C Lewis, was trained (as far as I can recall) as an architect, but one with a great interest in organs and bells. On a visit to Doncaster, he came into contact with the great Edmund Schulze instrument built for Doncaster Parish Church, and declared it to be the finest he had ever heard, and its creator a tonal genius. In this he was probably not far wrong at least in an English church, and it was an experience which immediately inspired him to become an organ-builder.

 

I can but only imagine what trials and tribulations T C Lewis had to suffer on the journey, but there is no doubt that he came very close to matching the style and quality of what Schulze had achieved. That, I think, requires a very special mind, because he did not come from a great organ-building dynasty, by any means.

 

William McVicker has obviously done research about some of the organs, organ-builders and characters associated with South London, and in the notes to a recording released by him, he quotes a fascinating passage from a book written by Alfred Hollins, the blind organist/composer, entitled 'A Blind Organist looks back.'

 

In that book, Hollins described the character of T C Lewis thus:-

'One could not know Lewis all at once. He was a big, heavy man, slow in movement and speech. He had a lethargic and melancholy way of speaking, but when he was annoyed, and in spite of his slowness he was easily roused. He could be terrifying to anyone who had angered him'.

 

Just as Brunel could not build bridges, railways and ships without the skills and support of others, T C Lewis would have achieved little without the interest and support of John M Courage of the brewing-family. Originating in Scotland, the Courage family had gone to London, where they established (towards the end of the 18th century), the Courage brewery which still stands to this day, on Shad Thames, on the southern-side of the Thames next to Tower Bridge. Now known as the Anchor Brewhouse, and converted into swish apartments, I think the current value is around £2.25m (and falling).

 

The Courage Brewery was, like many such endeavours, a great success, and it wasn't far into the 19th century when they became one of the giants of the beer-trade, to rival the other families (all variously associated with organs and organ-building) of Bass in Burton-upon-Trent, and the Joules family of brewers in Mansfield, for example. The fact that the eventual heir to the Courage fortune, John M Courage, was an organ-enthusiast and catholic-convert, meant that he was favourably disposed towards the efforts of T C Lewis and the quality of work which he achieved. What I do NOT know, is exactly how or when Courage involved himself in the T C Lewis company, but one thing is certain, the T C Lewis company was just that: a properly constituted limited liability public company with a board of directors. That suggests early intervention from Courage; behind whom would have been a very able team of property lawyers and commercial lawyers. (The archives of Prescott, the bankers, with whom Courage banked, could probably reveal more).

 

My own gut-feeling is, that T C Lewis was a very well-educated man; meticulous, thorough and possibly a little obsessive. I suggest this, because in his other interests as a bell-founder, he cast 9 bells just to obtain one with exactly the right tone he was searching for. That same obsessive quality is heard in his organs, which demonstrate a meticulous approach to all things tonal. The melancholic character, slow manner and slow speech tend to suggest a certain obsessive, brooding quality of personality.

 

Having come into contact with some of the latter-day members of the Courage family, during my employment with Courage Breweries, I suspect that John Courage was quite a confident socialite; outward-going, well-educated and quite the perfect gentleman. What we do know, is that he was a considerable benefactor to worthy causes; and especially those associated with Roman Catholicism; the religion to which he converted with enthusiasm. It says something about the wealth of Courage, that he more or less paid for the building of Westminster Cathedral; just as William Potts (the clockmaker) paid for the restoration of St.Alban's Cathedral. That wealth was created by hard-headed business ability, and a lot of good decision-making.

 

At the time, both the Willis and Lewis set-ups had rather splendid premises. Willis had the Camden organ-works , while Lewis had sizeable, purpose-built premises in Brixton.

Of the two establishments, Willis were to prove the more flexible in their response to the changing tastes in organ-design and tonal execution. What may have been very fashionable before (say) 1880 (or thereabouts), was to fall out of fashion very quickly as the new century approached. This was, I suspect, the Achilles-heel of the T C Lewis company, who continued to build in the old-style pioneered in the UK by Edmund Schulze. 'Father' Henry Willis had turned all this on its head, with the concept of narrow-scale flues and powerful reeds, which were the total opposite to what Lewis was building, with the use of powerful flue-choruses and quite modest reeds. The Lewis style was the inspiration to G Donald Harrison, who nevertheless ended up working for Willis almost by default.

 

John Courage was doubtless pressing for changes in style; possibly because had knowledge of the French romantic organs, and was to eventually befriend and sponsor Marcel Dupre when he toured the UK. Lewis stuck to what he knew best, but he nevertheless imported reed shallots from France, which can still be heard in the restored instrument of Southwark Cathedral. To put it as briefly as possible, the Lewis style fell from favour very rapidly, and the poor man was left out on a limb.

 

What happened next is murky to say the least, but by 1901, T C Lewis was more or less ejected from the company to which he put his name, and the trading-name was changed

to 'Lewis & Co,' with John Courage presumably in control.

 

For the next instalment, I turn to the words of the late Stephen Bicknell, who wrote the following notes:

 

Lewis and Company continued to struggle. It is said that their attempt to

build a 30-odd rank extension organ in 1911 with PNEUMATIC action virtually

broke them (5 tons of tubing), and the first world war brought things to a

halt.

Meanwhile the Willis company was in serious difficulties. There was a

succession crisis after the death of Father Willis in 1901 as well as

hideous debts. A merger was arranged and it took place in 1919. Legally

speaking the Lewis Company (public limited company) took over Willis

(private); in practice members of the Willis family were appointed to the

board of Lewis & Co in advance of the merger and after a brief period as

Lewis & Co. & Henry Willis & Sons Ltd. the firm became Willis again.

 

Willis had lost their big factory in Camden Town, and the great advantage

was in acquiring the splendid Lewis works

 

That would seem to mark the end of the Lewis name in organ-building, and personally, I find that it raises more questions than it supplies answers. What I fail to comprehend is the fact that the 'Lewis & Co' firm might have been virtually insolvent, when such a wealthy man had an interest in it. It tends to suggest that Lewis was backed by private money rather than by Courage Brewery money, and the losses were therefore unacceptable. In view of the alleged debts of Willis, I also find it interesting that Willis somehow acquired the Lewis shares from the merger of the two organ-building establishments. That, I suspect, tends to suggest a neat legal move, whereby funding may have been supplied by Courage, in return for a significant position on the board of a re-vamped Willis company; albeit after being bought by the Lewis company. It suggests that Courage was acting as banker and guarantor, but this may be far wide of the mark. What it WOULD certainly do, at the time, would have been to enable Willis to settle outstanding private debts, acquire a better business framework for a newly constituted limited liability company (due to the merger and eventual take-over by Lewis & Co), a degree of financial security from John Courage and a return to the Willis name, as Henry Willis & Sons Ltd., once the financial reputation had been restored among their suppliers.

 

If this was indeed the case, then it is really no different to many other backers, who kept companies like Hill, Norman & Beard and John Compton afloat during rocky-times. Lest we forget, the First World War was a disaster in almost every way for virtually every organ-builder, with loss of workmen, loss of new contracts and difficulties with material movement

 

What we can say with absolute certainty, is that the best work of Lewis predates 1901; after which they seemed to lose direction. The change of tonal-style would not, I suspect, have gone down well with T C Lewis himself had he remained. His style and influence was eventually picked up by G Donald Harrison, and his pioneering work in the formulation of the 'American Classic' was the result.

 

MM (I'm going to bed now) :blink:

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