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List of beautiful English Organs


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Still Great Western - I can't recall if we've had Bristol Cathedral on this thread yet, but here it is.  A fabulous organ for accompanying the choral foundation, especially in the psalms (it was worth the trot down Park Street to hear Clifford Harker going a-whoring after their own inventions on the twenty-first evening).  Our hosts added an extra mixture to the Great, to give some edge when accompanying a full nave (Clifford said you had to play an octave up with doubles on to lead a big hymn).



Just down the river - the view from my window in Clifton Wood Crescent when I was a student: Brunel's "Great Britain" (the tower behind is St. Paul's, Bedminster, home to a decent enough three manual rebuild by Percy Daniel - nothing outstanding but the BBC found it a useful church for broadcasting) :

Image result for ss great britain



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Redland Park Congregational Church, Bristol (now URC) lost its Father Willis organ during the Blitz, but they acquired another one from a church in St. John's Wood which was installed by Percy Daniel.  It was always a four manual at Redland, and it was much celebrated for its 32' reed.  The church, while cheerfully admitting that it's a lot more organ than it needs, is rather proud of it and keeps adding to it (including a Great Mixture, which , oddly, didn't figure in the original installation, although it had one at St. John's Wood - I think it went to the Swell when the organ was installed in Bristol).  Note the Daniel trademark of a Contra Bourdon, which in this case goes down to bottom F (G was more usual) with only 5 notes produced acoustically.  Although it's so big, it fits the building very well.  No case to speak of, but here is the console:



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On 07/08/2018 at 23:53, David Drinkell said:

I suppose that Willis did something to it following the merger of the two firms shortly after the Great War.  The firm was known as Henry Willis & Sons and Lewis & Co for a few years to satisfy a legal nicety.  The 1925 Willis at St. Magnus Cathedral has "W&L" on the bellows weights - I have one (which was lying about inside, not nicked off one of the reservoirs!) which I use as a paper-weight. The merger meant that Willis, who had lost his own factory, gained the large and palatial Lewis works on Ferndale Road - only to lose that in the Blitz.

This is the builder's plate at St Mary and St Giles, Stony Stratford:



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I am surprised to learn of the nameplate on the Willis at Stony Stratford since...

The St George’s Charlotte Square Edinburgh organ was a 1882 Willis 2/21 r 1897 Willis 3/28 o 1914 Willis r 1932 r/38 removed  when building became West Register House.r 1967-1969 Starmer Shaw

no recorded activity during the willis/lewis period

There are several acknowledged Willis and Lewis organs in Scotland (as noted in Alan Buchan and David Stewart excellent newly published Organs in Scotland - a revised list) but not this Willis

Perhaps someone may enlighten me?



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14 hours ago, David Drinkell said:

A fine picture - thank you!  I hope that, when the time comes, there will be a straightforward restoration, including the Compton console with its luminous stop-heads.  This organ was always reckoned to be one of Compton's finest rebuilds and it deserves careful treatment.  It's amazing how durable Compton's work could be.  His actions could still be working well after more than fifty years.  I believe Downside is running on a lot of original components after 87 years (Roger Taylor deserves much credit for looking after it).

Here's the console at Hull, battered but still going: 


The most important aspect of the eventual Hull Minster restoration is the retention of the original voicing, especially the work of Billy Jones who masterfully voiced the wonderful reeds.

During the past few years much has happened to the internal fabric of the Minster. Gone are the heavy fixed central pews and a new stone floor has been laid, transforming the acoustics to a wonderful level. The nave choir stalls have been modified and transposed to a new position.

It’s easy to be sentimental about the console with its 1930’s patented illuminated Compton stop heads. But the Minster’s reordered nave and the much improved acoustics present an opportunity for a new mobile drawstop console and the organ to be more suitable for recitals.


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Point taken - one can't be too sentimental when an instrument has a job to do.  I looked at the Hull Minster website and it certainly appears to have come up well after the recent re-ordering.  Maybe, in a building of that size, there would be room to display the Compton console as a piece of history.  Regarding the instrument itself, I've always been impressed by Compton reeds, in fact it's the quality of voicing that makes Comptons the epitome of extension work.  The danger with extension, and electric action in general, is that it made it so easy for less gifted builders to take short cuts and turn out work that may have looked impressive but failed to come up to expectations or to remain reliable for very long. With Compton, the quality always seems to have been there.  The luminous consoles had only a fairly brief vogue (Yarmouth Minster, where they installed the large Hill from St. Mary, The Boltons, Kensington, in 1960 had draw-stops but luminous touches under the music desk for the couplers.  Liverpool Cathedral had the same for a while - I wonder if the Compton patent was used. Boris Ord was keen on Compton-style luminous touches for Kings, but Arthur Harrison talked him out of the idea, although the draw-stops had double-touch cancelling on the Compton patent).  Comptons' turned out some very handsome draw-stop consoles for their later jobs, such as Bangor Cathedral (1953):


And, of course, Wakefield:


which also has a fine old case:


and another, by Pearson, in the Quire:



To go off on a slight tangent, the Compton style had a number of imitators, including Conacher and, to an extent, Rutt, but there was a very definite Compton clone by Rushworth & Dreaper at South Norwood Methodist Church.  This organ, slightly modified, is now at Holy Spirit, Southsea.  Has anyone here any experience of what it's like?



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The museum idea for the Compton console at Hull Minster is worthy of consideration. A previous organist had the idea of siting it in the quire where many more services are held these days and a new mobile console for use as a liturgical and recital instrument in the nave.

I only ever knew one Compton drawstop console, Bridlington Priory and when a three-manual following the firm’s rebuild just after the war.

Whether I shall be around to hear a restored organ at Hull Minster is something I dream of being fulfilled. I was fortunate to hear it within 10 years of the 1939 rebuild and its typical Compton singing qualities still resound in my mind.

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Returning to Holdich, he did a lot of work, as has been mentioned, in Norfolk.  Here are a few pretty little jobs:

Irstead - Open and Stopped Diapasons plus Principal and a pleasant Gothick case.


Great Massingham - a fine chorus up to mixture.  Nothing startling about the case, but it has nicely painted front pipes and some rather unusual carved details to the panelling.



Terrington St. John - a large church (although dwarfed by its neighbour, Terrington St. Clement, which is bigger than some cathedrals and has an enormous detached tower, but only a rather dull Rest Cartwright organ), but a well-spoken and down-to-earth diapason chorus to fill it, enclosed in a typical Holdich case.



West Walton - not much to look at again, but interesting because it is (probably dubiously) reputed to contain some Father Smith pipes and also because was replaced in 1975 with a three-manual Willis III rebuild from a church in Sheffield, but was not removed (despite having been sold) and was subsequently properly restored when its successor proved to be less long-lasting.




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A Sackful of Shakings, as Bernard Edmonds would say.  St. John on Bethnal Green, London, assembled from a variety of sources by Rest Cartwright & Son in 1950.  I think that the firm was at that time owned by Ivor Davies, a rather mercurial character who had been a tuner for Hill, Norman & Beard but got the sack when he was caught cleaning one of their organs on his own account.  Thereafter, he did various organ jobs, composed and played (I have a feeling he was FRCO), and (not least) gave Noel Mander his first employment in organ building.

A rather interesting case, I think....



Bradfield Combust, Suffolk (there are three Bradfields neighbouring each other - the other two are St. George and St. Clare - Combust got its name because it suffered a serious fire in the Middle Ages).  A decent old Bevington with a solid but handsome case.



Brent Pelham, Cambridgeshire.  A similar style of Gothick, but more elaborate.  Assembled by Miller of Cambridge, and restored by Peter de Vile a few years ago.



Bristol, St. Thomas - lovely Harris case, the organ last rebuilt by HN&B in 1955.  The church has been closed for a good few years now - I don't know if the organ is still there.



Bristol, Christ Church, City.  Another Harris case, and the church is open and going strong.  I never got to play this one when I was student in Bristol, although I rang the bells, which were not highly renowned for their musicality ("The Bells of Heaven go ting-a-ling-a-ling, but Christ Church bells go boink").



Chichester Cathedral - Hill case, much historic pipe-work. The rebuild, by our hosts, is much admired.  I haven't played it, although I did have a go on the Allen that did duty for several years before the rebuild.



Crimplesham, Norfolk - John Eagles (London) c.1860, restored by Holmes & Swift.






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Here's a sad tale. This organ with a superb Rococo case was built in the 1760s by a certain John Crang for William Beckford snr of Fonthill House ('Splendens') (not the later ill-fated Fonthill Abbey). There is fairly good evidence that Alderman Beckford invited the young Mozart (aged nine) to instruct his son (aged five or six) in about 1764 and we can speculate whether Wolfgang played this instrument. Anyway,  the organ was sold by William jnr in 1801 to the Earl of Pomfret of Easton Neston, Northants and, in 1817, he presented it to Towcester parish church. It began life there on a gallery but was enlarged in 1885 and transferred to the north aisle. Several mutilations and ill-advised changes followed in the next 80 years. I remember playing for an evensong in 1975 when it had grown to about 30 stops and had a detached console. In 1976 vandals broke into the church and set fire to vestments leaning against the case leaving it blistered and charred. As a consequence the remains of this once beautiful and unique instrument were given to the  Victoria and Albert museum. I understand that the case has been restored. It surely deserves new 18th century - style innards!

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I don't think anyone has yet mentioned the work of the Suffolk organ-builder Roger Pulham. He also trained as an architect and his organs are noted, not only for their tone and well-balanced tracker actions, but also for their fine traditional cases.

Langham, Essex (I knew its predecessor quite well, but I haven't got round to playing this one yet):



Burnham Norton, Norfolk:



Chelmondiston, Suffolk - the church was destroyed by a V2 rocket during World War II and rebuilt in the fifties.  It contains some notable stained glass, a full set of embroidered kneelers and a handsome little organ by Pulham.  The picture is from http://www.starorgansofbritain.co.uk/images_counties/Suffolk/suffolk_temp_files/


Image result for chelmondiston church organ

Dunwich, Suffolk, was one of the biggest and most important ports on the east coast, and had at least ten churches, but coastal erosion has virtually destroyed it ( the first big storm surge was in 1286).  The last of the old churches went over the cliff early in the twentieth century.  Dunwich is now a tiny village with a small 19th century church and a famous chip shop.  The church used to have a rather nondescript one manual organ, but in 1992 Roger Pulham built a new organ based on the remains of one he made eight years earlier for Hazelwood School, which had been severely damaged in the "hurricane" of 1987>



Roger Pulham has also constructed a number of small box organs which have replaced toasters and harmonia in Suffolk churches, such as Monewden and Gipping.  If you're ever in Suffolk, you should visit Gipping, a tiny church built as the private chapel for the Tyrrell family. A complete essay in East Anglian Perpendicular on a miniature scale, with box-pews and fragments of medieval glass.  The organ sits comfortably in the chancel and seems to be an ideal solution for small churches such as this.  It can be seen in one of the pictures in Simon Knott's Suffolk Churches website.



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Peter Bumstead is another Suffolk organ maker, as well as being a professionally qualified musician.  He trained with Bishop & Son in Ipswich and has gained a well-deserved reputation for historic restorations.  In 2010, he built this organ for Brundish, Suffolk, and designed a case which is simple but very effective and owes more than a little to the Cambridge school (the Suttons, Osmond Fisher et al):




At Snape, Suffolk, Peter Bumstead built a new organ in the west gallery, in a case with pipe-shades inspired by the reed-beds in the river which runs between the church and the Maltings Concert Hall.  The effect is magical.....



His magnum opus to date (as far as I know) is at Harlton, Cambridgeshire.  Osmond Fisher was incumbent here and brought the organ which he had designed in 1846 for a previous parish, endowing it with the rents from a cottage next to the church (Organ Cottage is still there).  For 140 years, it stood in the north aisle of the nave, looking utterly charming, but tonally it was inadequate (Open, Stopped, Principal, Flute).  In 2009, Peter Bumstead built a new organ, incorporating the old one, together with pipes from the same period acquired from Haslingfield Church when the latter acquired the organ from Ely Parish Church.  The new organ has three manuals, a most ingenious and effective Old English type scheme, and looks stunning in a new west gallery.  I consider this to be a land-mark in organ design, containing so much within a small scheme, while being a refreshing interpretation of a national style.




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I believe the organ is much admired, but I've never cared for the case.  I think it's too wide, there are too many pipes in the centre tower and flats, the pipe shades look crude and the enormous space between the the console and the horizontal trumpet doesn't do anything for the balance.  However, that's just my opinion and I could be wrong.

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Harlton and Brundish are both very much on my 'must get to' lists.  Brundish is so clever in converting a pipe-rack into a simple but presentable organ case. I think more places would do well to emulate this; our churches would become more attractive places for it.

How lucky Harlton were in having all the right elements in place to turn their tiny octopod into a splendid 3-man: that case-work, the pipework from Haslingfield and Little St Mary's Cambridge, excellent advice from Timothy Byram-Wigfield, a bequest from a music-loving church-warden, an open mind on where to put the organ, space under the west tower and so on.  They have ended up with what looks like a splendid traditional English organ, based on an extremely frugal approach to design and use of existing material; I'd love to play it one of these days.

Nothing new from me this time; I propose we indulge Mr Drinkell a few modern organs this once, especially as they are out-of-the way, and Roger Pulham's and Peter Bumstead's work deserve more prominence IMO.


[Correction: it looks like the Brundish organ is actually entirely new?]

Edited by SomeChap
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Brundish is certainly worth a visit, as this picture shows.  The church is not the easiest to find, being down a lane, but will repay the effort.  It was considerably smartened up a few years ago, at around the time the organ was put in, and is a fine example of what happens when people take an interest in their parish church. The organ was new in 2010.  It might contain some historic pipes from elsewhere, but I'm not sure.


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To get back to historic instruments, St. Adamnan's Episcopal Church, Duror-in-Appin, Argyll, has what was always said to be Snetzler, although by the time I got round to trying it about 45 years ago, this claim was generally disputed.  However, more recent investigation seems to prove that not only is it substantially by Snetzler, but a fair amount of the pipes are by Father Smith.  It is probably the oldest church organ in Scotland.


Detail of organ.


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A contrasting pair in Suffolk  - first the Bryceson barrel organ at Shelland, restored by our hosts in 1956 and the only barrel organ in England to be the only instrument in the church and thus used at all services.  Subsequent work included the making by John Budgen of a new barrel with extra tunes, one of which (if memory serves me rightly) was "Shine, Jesus, shine".



And here is one of our host's "Denham" organs, at Buxhall.  Two ranks extended, beautiful little case, and it sounds extremely well.  This is the only Denham organ of which I have personal experience, but I'm sure there must be others around.



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1 hour ago, David Drinkell said:

If we're talking about "modern" organs,  this one has aroused more controversy than most, but I think it's superb, both tonally and visually. No need, probably to say where it is....



In my humble opinion David, it is quite hideous from the other side of the screen - but I do agree with you on all other observations!

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I guess that's a problem with screen organs which have only one speaking front.  Maurice Forsyth-Grant mentioned ("Twenty One Years of Organ Building") that he personally paid for the front pipes at Oxford to be of tin.  There was presumably no chance of a "back front" as well. especially as the case was designed to project the sound forwards. Hexham Abbey suffers similarly.

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18 hours ago, David Drinkell said:

but I've never cared for the case.  I think it's too wide, there are too many pipes in the centre tower and flats, the pipe shades look crude and the enormous space between the the console and the horizontal trumpet doesn't do anything for the balance.  However, that's just my opinion and I could be wrong.


It’s very broad and very plain, David. If there was some decoration/ornamentation (carving, gilding, painted panels, grille-work, anything !) between the top of the font and the en chamade . . . Perhaps the finances didn’t stretch (?).

I wonder if semi-detached pipe towers would have helped.

At least it sounds (all u ü-Tubas) good.  

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David, you made mention of modern organs, this one is in the English tradition and I believe it was tuned in the Valotti Temperament?, was built in the church after a fire in 1988, which destroyed the previous 3 man H & H. I helped the Peter Collins lads carry it into the church at the time, and after it was settled in, my dad had lessons there, with a good friend, who was DOM, a Mr, David Higgins (who sadly passed a few years ago). I remember an American couple looking and taking pictures , saying its nice to see such an old organ..... it was only a year old at the time, ha ha ha 


st oswalds.jpg

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