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Christopher Price

Willis Extension Organs

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Our association visited some organs in Burnley yesterday, among which at St.Mary's RC there was an extension organ apparently by Willis, though not labelled as such. All the evidence was there- the tabs, voltmeter, etc, and the instrument was interesting in several ways. Of two manuals, but without a swell box, there were no more than six or seven ranks, with all pipework in metal, stopped 8's for the 16', sub/super octave transfers, and very pleasant 'classical' voicing. Sadly, the organ appears to be little used, and as the tuning was quite awful in places one would presume it hasn't been attended to for some time! It may date from the 1950's, and takes the form of an un-cased pair of semi-circular chests, with the central 16's at floor level, and the Positive to the rear. The detached console stands directly in front.

 

This organ seems to have been provided as replacement for the still-extant (though nearly-defunct) 1855 G&D on the west gallery, itself an interesting job with all swell ranks to TC only, and a single large-scale Pedal Diapason. The preservation order on this is the only reason it is still there, and even the Willis is unused, replaced by a quite new cheap 'baroque' toaster, devoid of pistons, but capable of playing itself!

 

Does anyone have any knowledge of similar Willis jobs to this one?

 

CP

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In about 1977, I saw in the Willis works at Petersfield an instrument which I think had started off as part of the Willis IV Junior Development Plan. As it stood then, the pipes were planted on a soundboard that curved around in a spiral. I think it may have been known to some as the Christmas Tree Organ. Again, I'm relying on memory here, but I think that on one manual it had Klein Gedackt 8 and Gemshorn 4, but the other manual was mostly extension of the gedackt rank. There may have been a Salicional in there somewhere, too. It had a stop-key console such as one might see on any number of jobs, rather than the characteristic Willis type. Not 'done on the cheap' - it was a decent piece of work - just not the usual Willis luxury production.

 

Also sprach Zarathustra:

 

'My name is Henry Willis, but it is also Peter Conacher.'

 

If a job was done with extension and without some of the 'Willis' features such as toggle touch, it would have a Conacher plate on it. I don't know if many such went through the shops - possibly it was a one-off - but that was how Henry IV explained it.

 

I saw recently a specification of a Willis with a Posaune as the Great reed and a coupler 'Posaune in Octaves'. I reckon it's pushing it to say that's not extension. The pre-War St. Mary, Southampton Willis had a coupler 'Great Reeds Sub Octave'. Then there's that odd arrangement at Hereford Cathedral where some Solo ranks are available at either 8' or 16'. However, I have never seen blatant manual extension on a Willis.

 

Didn't Laurence Elvin perpetrate a bloomer in his last book in claiming that St. Jude's, Thornton Heath had an extended reed chorus? (Now there was one fine organ!).

 

Can you give us more details about the organ you mention at Burnley?

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Quote- Does anyone have any knowledge of similar Willis jobs to this one ?

 

St Barnabas Church Sutton Surrey did have one, don't know if it's still there. The organ was based on the Christmas tree design.

 

The organist at the church when the organ was installed was Michael Osborne, reed voicer for Willis's when the works were in the Old Kent Road.

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Most of what has been posted so far seems to ring true with the Burnley organ, and this example may be a smaller version than others. There are no reeds, the ranks as far as I can deduce were mostly Flutes 16-2', Dulciana 8'&4', a second flute on the Positive, and a rank of conical pipes on the Great. There was no conventional Open 8' but I may have noticed a Principal rank from 4' up. It would have taken longer than we had available to work out what was what, although it was obviously on extended ranks.

 

CP

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One extension organ that Willis worked on was St. Matthias, Richmond, which was originally built by Lewis, with pneumatic action(!), to the design of Kenneth Glencairn Burns with twenty-two ranks in four swell boxes, giving fifty-three speaking stops. Willis electrified it with a new console and prepared for straight Principal, Nazard and Fifteenth on the Great. It was later enlarged (by Walker?). The case, by Bloomfield (who was once choirmaster at the church), was similar to that at Southwark Cathedral and a further peculiarity was that the manual compass went up to e65. Burns designed a smaller instrument for a church in Yorkshire (was it Elland?).

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Our association visited some organs in Burnley yesterday, among which at St.Mary's RC there was an extension organ apparently by Willis, though not labelled as such. All the evidence was there- the tabs, voltmeter, etc, and the instrument was interesting in several ways. Of two manuals, but without a swell box, there were no more than six or seven ranks, with all pipework in metal, stopped 8's for the 16', sub/super octave transfers, and very pleasant 'classical' voicing. Sadly, the organ appears to be little used, and as the tuning was quite awful in places one would presume it hasn't been attended to for some time! It may date from the 1950's, and takes the form of an un-cased pair of semi-circular chests, with the central 16's at floor level, and the Positive to the rear. The detached console stands directly in front.

 

This organ seems to have been provided as replacement for the still-extant (though nearly-defunct) 1855 G&D on the west gallery, itself an interesting job with all swell ranks to TC only, and a single large-scale Pedal Diapason. The preservation order on this is the only reason it is still there, and even the Willis is unused, replaced by a quite new cheap 'baroque' toaster, devoid of pistons, but capable of playing itself!

 

Does anyone have any knowledge of similar Willis jobs to this one?

 

CP

I am afraid the situation you describe at St.Mary's RC in Burnley (I have never been there myself) seems all too common in the RC Church in this country. From my limited experience (I am a Catholic and Director of Music in my Parish) I know of other churches with decent pipe organs in situ, who will not fund the work needed to make them function again. Instead the dreaded toaster goes in and then after a few years starts to show its age..........

Sometimes it is the lack of immediate funds - but education and lack of culture plays a major role. I am very lucky, thanks to the support of two very enlightened priests that I am able to embark on a glorious three manual project (real pipes) stemming from the rescue of a fine Rushworth & Dreaper.

In my research, I have spotted a trend - that when Catholic Churches have spent money on organs they are usually too small and too under - powered for the building they are in. They are often unit organs.

In my own ParishChurch (built in 1959) the original organ was inadequate - put in on a tight budget - but only there because the choirmaster at the time, on his own initiative, raised the money with the choir. The Priest had said that there would be no money for a real organ and added that he could not be seen to have anything to do with the project! Now we have a large choir and a growing music tradition we have aquired the Rushworth to take us forward. We have also built a new extention to the choir gallery for the instrument. The old organ was burried in a chamber at the side of the gallery with the sound projecting through a hole in the wall only 44 inches square.

It would have made a fine "Echo" division, but of little use in leading a large congregation.

There is also the sad story to tell of the organ in the Sacred Heart Church in Tunstall in Stoke-on-Trent, but I will save it for another time.

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I am afraid the situation you describe at St.Mary's RC in Burnley (I have never been there myself) seems all too common in the RC Church in this country. From my limited experience (I am a Catholic and Director of Music in my Parish) I know of other churches with decent pipe organs in situ, who will not fund the work needed to make them function again. Instead the dreaded toaster goes in and then after a few years starts to show its age..........

Sometimes it is the lack of immediate funds - but education and lack of culture plays a major role. I am very lucky, thanks to the support of two very enlightened priests that I am able to embark on a glorious three manual project (real pipes) stemming from the rescue of a fine Rushworth & Dreaper.

In my research, I have spotted a trend - that when Catholic Churches have spent money on organs they are usually too small and too under - powered for the building they are in. They are often unit organs.

In my own ParishChurch (built in 1959) the original organ was inadequate - put in on a tight budget - but only there because the choirmaster at the time, on his own initiative, raised the money with the choir. The Priest had said that there would be no money for a real organ and added that he could not be seen to have anything to do with the project! Now we have a large choir and a growing music tradition we have aquired the Rushworth to take us forward. We have also built a new extention to the choir gallery for the instrument. The old organ was burried in a chamber at the side of the gallery with the sound projecting through a hole in the wall only 44 inches square.

It would have made a fine "Echo" division, but of little use in leading a large congregation.

There is also the sad story to tell of the organ in the Sacred Heart Church in Tunstall in Stoke-on-Trent, but I will save it for another time.

 

Oddly enough, I just came across a mention of Sacred Heart, Tunstall, in a back number (1970) of Musical Opinion while I was looking for something else. Reeves and Merner had just rebuilt it. I don't think it's on NPOR.

 

It seems to me, especially from experience in Ireland and here in Newfoundland, that if a Roman Catholic church has a priest who likes organs, that church gets an organ. Its subsequent fate then depends on whether succeeding priests also appreciate organs. In retrospect, the post VAT2 fashion for small, tracker-action, non-British instruments has not worked out as rosily as its protagonists promised. Some of them are pretty nasty and haven't lasted well.

 

Good luck with your Rushworth and congratulations on your perseverance in seeking out and acquiring it. At their best I think they were as good as any and you will hopefully have a fine instrument which is an asset to the church and its worship.

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Oddly enough, I just came across a mention of Sacred Heart, Tunstall, in a back number (1970) of Musical Opinion while I was looking for something else. Reeves and Merner had just rebuilt it. I don't think it's on NPOR.

 

It seems to me, especially from experience in Ireland and here in Newfoundland, that if a Roman Catholic church has a priest who likes organs, that church gets an organ. Its subsequent fate then depends on whether succeeding priests also appreciate organs. In retrospect, the post VAT2 fashion for small, tracker-action, non-British instruments has not worked out as rosily as its protagonists promised. Some of them are pretty nasty and haven't lasted well.

 

Good luck with your Rushworth and congratulations on your perseverance in seeking out and acquiring it. At their best I think they were as good as any and you will hopefully have a fine instrument which is an asset to the church and its worship.

Thanks for your good wishes David. I forgot to mention that I tried out the Rushworth before it was dismantled from its old premises and found every stop to be beautiful. I even made a mini disc recording at the time describing from an extra microphone at the console each stop as I went through the organ. Although typical of its age (c.1920; there was no upper work save a 2' piccolo), the organ boasted 4 reeds (Gt Trumpet and Swell Cornopean with harmonic trebles) and was well above the standard of the average chapel 2 - manual. We have added upperwork in the re-build but have not changed or discarded any of the original stops. It will still be possible to play the organ using just the original pipework. Having said that, the new stops (including a Great fifteenth and 3 - rank mixture) have been made by Terry Shires of Leeds following research into the original instrument and other Rushworth work of that period. We have taken great care to ensure that a good instrument is not spoilt with the addition of inappropriate upperwork.

I will try to obtain more details of the Sacred Heart Organ and post a further relpy as soon as I have checked my information. I am in touch with the successors of Reeves & Merner.

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Nearly six years on here's some more information about the silent pipes of Sacred Heart Church Tunstall in Stoke - on - Trent.

The original instrument came from Tipparary in Ireland and was installed at Tunstall shortly after the Church was opened. After some difficulties the work was finished by W.H.Laycock,organ builders of Tunstall. This is the specification of the original three manual as installed in the West gallery:

 

GREAT

Double open diapason 16

Diapason Phonon 8

Open Diapason 8

Clarabella 8

Principal 4

Harmonic Flute 4

Fifteenth 2

Mixture III

Trumpet 8

 

SWELL

 

Bourdon 16

Open Diapason 8

Stopped Diapason 8

Pierced Gamba 8

Voix Celeste T.C. 8

Principal 4

Suabe Flute 4

Mixture III

Contra Fagotto 16

Cornopean 8

Oboe 8

 

CHOIR (enclosed)

 

Double Dulciana 16

Dolce 8

Gamba 8

Rohr Gedact 8

Wald Flute 4

Piccolo 2

 

SOLO (played on great)

 

Cor de Nuit 8

Tibia Clausa 8

Vox Humana 8

Clarinet 8

Tuba 8 (I think this was playable from the Choir manual)

 

PEDAL

 

Major Bass 16

Bourdon 16

Open Diapason 16

Flute 16

Dulciana 16

Violoncello 8

Trombone 16

 

COUPLERS

 

Great organ off

Swell to Great

Solo to Great

Solo to Great Sub - octave

Swell Octave

Choir Sub - octave

Choir to Great

Swell to Pedal

Great to Pedal

Choir to Pedal

 

Balanced Swell Pedals to Swell and Choir

 

In the 1960s this organ was re-built. A four manual console was installed in the Nave, a few metres from the Sanctuary and a modern choir (positive) division was installed in the Apse behind the high Alter. I don't have the excact stop - list but remember that it included a Nasard, Tierce and Trompette - ALL NEW PIPEWORK.

 

Now comes the sad part of our tale. :( Around ten - fifteen years ago the church was sand - blasted and no one thought to cover up the organ!

The £60K quoted at the time to clean out the organ was more the the church could afford. Then came the vandalism. The massive multi - cable connecting the four manual console to both West and East organs was cut through with a hacksaw, the console removed and a three manual toaster installed in its place. The four manual cosole for the pipe organ is still there, stored in the Apse with the Pedal Board propped up beside it. Unfortunately, the new 1960s Positive division has been removed. i think that the original West end organ is still intact and could be restored with the console if funds were to be found. I know that there is a new priest at the church who I know to be appreciative of good organs (his Father was Sub - chanter at one of our great Anglican Cathedrals) but there will obviously be a large demand on funds for other things. However, this is a sleeping giant waiting to speak again.........

 

Now some better news -

The rescued, restored and extended Rushworth at St Wulstan's in Wulstanton is now a reality and awaits final regulation and tuning to be completed. It has taken eleven years on the tightest of budgets but has been well worth it. :)

 

My apologies. I have just realised that this has little to do with the original thread but hope that it is off interest to all.

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As I rarely visit Tunstall so I'm not sure. Here is the official address:

Sacred Heart. Parish Church. Address 13 Queen's Avenue. Tunstall. Town Stoke-on-Trent. Postcode ST6 6EE. Telephone 01782 838357. Parish Sacred Heart.

 

I was told once that it was earmarked to be a Catholic Cathedral in Stoke - on - Trent but that the Archbishop of Birmingham at the time was against the idea. I am not sure if this is true. It is certainly a large building with what looks like copper domes on the roof from outside. I haven't been in for a while.

My Parish, St Wulstan's, is properly titled "The Parish of the Sacred Heart and St Wulstan" but the Sacred Heart part of the title is generally not used so as not to confuse it with Tunstall!

Thankfully, we DO have a working pipe organ. Its new console can be seen on the choir page of our website, together with a link to a PDF file with the sepecification. Our music list can be seen on the music for mass link. The st Wulstan's website is in the process of being remade. Our address is www.saintwulstans.org.uk/

I hope this is of interest.

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Further to my last post: I could not find the Tustall organ on the NPOR either.

Please be aware also that the entry for St Wulstan's is incorrect. I told them about this many weeks ago and recieved an acknowledgement by email but nothing has been done about it. NPOR list St Wulstan's as the Anglican Church and it is the Roman Catholic Church.

The Anglican Church in the Village is St Margaret's. The Abbreviated specification for the organ at St Wulstan's on NPOR is that of the old instrument (now removed) and also has the Great and Swell labelled back to front.

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St Wulstan's, Wolstanton is the Roman Catholic Church in the Archdiocease of Birmingham. St Margaret's is the Anglican church, part of a team ministry with St Andrew's Porthill and St Barnabas, Bradwell. They are in the Anglican Diocease of Lichfield. There is also St John's Methodist Church in Wolstanton.

We at St Wulstan's (RC) are the only one of these churches with a pipe organ. We are lucky to have a lovely Stopped Diapsaon on the Choir Organ which came from the old Wolstanton Methodist Church before it was pulled down. The Methodists now worship in a building which used to be their Sunday School room (containing a toaster). The Stopped Diapsaon I mentioned has been in our organ builder's workshop for some years, waiting for a good home. He (the organ builder) belongs to the Methodist Church. He and his father run a business which is descended from the now defunct "Reeves & Merner", who not only built the 4 - manual console and new Choir / positive division for Tunstall RC in the 1960s, but also installed the old instrument at St Wulstan's. I hope this clarifies things a little.

Before I became director of music at St Wulstan's (RC) 21 years ago I was organist and choir master at St Margaret's Anglican church. I am afraid I have no idea who passed the old and incorrect information to the NPOR.

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Thanks Dave - I was hoping to have have a quick play on the Sacred Heart organ way back in 86 when I was visiting the garden festival . Only made it as far as the Methodist Church across the road.

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