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Finest Organ-builders of England

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I have just dipped into the world of classical English organs. Today, I tried out a 4 manual Harrison & Harrison, Durham organ and found it very different from the regular J.W.Walker that I play on. The Lewis & Co has its differences as well. I would like to know more 'good' English organ-builders. Would anyone like to share their experiences with a specific organ and from which maker? I spotted a Hill & Sons Organ in Wales on the Web and the sound it produces is beautiful. (Youtube did the sound job)

I know the Father Willis organs are widely spoken of, which I did hear in the recent Albert Hall Organ celebration concert. 

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A very late response, but your question was so far-reaching that it would be difficult to give a “potted” answer.  Also, by now, some of the ground has been covered in posts to the other threads you have started.  But to take just one builder, Harrison & Harrison, their organs cover a span of more than a century.  There is an undoubted house style, a strongly Romantic bias particularly in the early organs, exemplified by St Mary Redcliffe Bristol (1912) which Martin Cooke suggested you try to visit.  Among their hallmarks are their especially sumptuous all draw-stops consoles.

For their modern work, there could be no greater contrast to Redcliffe than their organ at the Royal Festival Hall (1954) and another, not too far from you, St Albans Abbey (1961-62), both in a distinct classical style, and important for the first being designed by Ralph Downes, who was also involved, with Peter Hurford, at St Albans.  If you get the chance, go to Coventry Cathedral to hear their exactly contemporary post-WW II magnum opus (also 1961-62) which bridges the gaps between the two stylistic traditions, and is a fine, actually remarkable, example of a top builder’s versatility in producing two such different instruments at the same time.

The subject of “Father Willis” at the Royal Albert.Hall is controversial! - see the separate current thread “Tuning at the Albert Hall”.  One could write a book about Willis, but I think you will form your own views.  As I said at the outset, it's a big subject.

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I don't get to know as much as I did about the British scene, having lived in Canada for the last fifteen years, but here are some thoughts (which I should be glad to have corrected or amplified).

Things have changed a lot over the last twenty years or so.  I remember it being said when I was a teenager, "In twenty years time, there'll be no HN&B, no Rushworth and no Willis".  Well, HN&B and Rushworths have ceased trading, but Willis has undergone a rebirth under the direction of David Wyld.  Walkers, on the other hand, after producing some stunning work when Bob Pennells was in charge, had a tragedy when his son Mark succumbed to cancer at an early age and now seem to work on a smaller scale.  On the other hand, newer and smaller firms such as David Wells and Kenneth Tickell have produced some world-class work and Nicholsons have joined the big league, having always been excellent, but on a smaller scale.  

I think the best thing is to play as many instruments as you can, because there are a lot of fine organs around which may not be by the most famous builders.  To name but a very few:

Cedric Arnold, Williamson & Hyatt: Little Walsingham PC, Norfolk; St. Botolph, Colchester, Essex

Holmes & Swift: Kings Lynn Minster, Norfolk

Roger Yates: Kilkhampton PC, Cornwall (also a remarkable  3 manual, 7 stop Father Willis ex-chamber organ in the Methodist Church); Bozeat PC, Northants; St. John, Taunton, Devon (rebuild of a Father Willis)

Percy Daniel: Christ Church, Swindon, Wiltshire, Westbury-on-Trym PC, Henbury PC and Redland URC, Bristol (big, fun 4 manual)

Sometimes, smaller organs by big builders are well worth the trouble of seeking out:

Arthur Harrison: St. Alkmund, Shrewsbury (built for the RSCM and on long loan here); Christ Church, Keighley, Yorkshire (Wow!); All Saints, Maidenhead, Berks (the organist is my oldest friend if you want an intro).

Norman & Beard: Colchester Town Hall

Peter Collins: Holy Angels, Cranford, Middlesex

Or off the beaten track:

Binns: Old Independent Church, Haverhill, Suffolk; St. Mary, Shrewsbury

Rushworth & Dreaper: Holy Rude, Stirling; Reid Memorial, Edinburgh; Christ's Hospital, Horsham (they also have an historic 3 manual Hill and a Father Willis "Model" Organ); Malvern Priory

Compton: Downside Abbey

Father Willis: St. Bees Priory, Cumbria (worth the journey!)

Hill: All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London; St. John, Hove (not my cup of tea, this one, although generally thought to be very fine indeed - I prefer the Father Willis at St. Peter's, Brighton, or the ambience of the mongrel at St. Bartholomew: the church is essential viewing for OTT Anglo-Catholicism!)

A crawl round the City of London would yield a lot of interest.

Mander: St. Giles, Cripplegate, St. Vedast, Foster Lane, St. Michael Paternoster Royal (a 1 manual in 18th century style with GGG compass), St. James Garlickhythe (restoration of an organ with very varied ancestry), St. Paul's!

Kenneth Tickell: St. Mary-le-Bow

Compton: St. Bride, Fleet Street, St. Olave, Hart Street (a very nice smaller job), and, outside the City, St. Luke's, Chelsea and St. Mary Magdalen, Paddington

Willis III: St. Dunstan in the West

Hill: St. Mary Woolnoth, St. Mary at Hill (excellent restoration by our hosts following a fire)

Bates: St. Martin, Ludgate (a notable early restoration by our hosts)

Harrison: All Hallows by the Tower

van Leeuwen: Dutch Church, Austin Friars

David Wells: St. Katharine Cree (reinstatement of Father Willis, previously much-altered, in gorgeous Father Smith case)

Spurden Rutt: St. Magnus the Martyr (the only Rutt that I like!  Very varied ancestry, but a fine Romantic organ in an impressive Jordan case)

Bishop & Son: St. Margaret Lothbury (excellent example of John Budgen's Old English style - Framlingham PC, Suffolk, is another: a definite must-see/play)

Norman & Beard: St. Mary Aldermary

and so on.......

To experience a wide variety of instruments and styles and, more important, the way they work and should be played, join the Organ Club.  I joined when I was 13 and learned such a lot.

 

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4 hours ago, David Drinkell said:

Walkers, on the other hand, after producing some stunning work when Bob Pennells was in charge, had a tragedy when his son Mark succumbed to cancer at an early age and now seem to work on a smaller scale. 

It was Andrew Pennells. His death was a tragedy for his family, but a disaster for British organ building.

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Yes, of course - mea culpa!  As you say, a disaster for British organ building.  Walkers had reinvented themselves on innovative but solidly British lines and were producing instruments of world-class quality and musicality which are now showing their durability.

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Sadly, I think that the teaching/practice organ built and installed this spring in the concert hall of the new music school at King's College School, Wimbledon may well be the last instrument by the firm of Kenneth Tickell and Company Ltd.

IMG_2773.jpeg

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17 hours ago, David Drinkell said:

I don't get to know as much as I did about the British scene, having lived in Canada for the last fifteen years, but here are some thoughts (which I should be glad to have corrected or amplified).

Things have changed a lot over the last twenty years or so.  I remember it being said when I was a teenager, "In twenty years time, there'll be no HN&B, no Rushworth and no Willis".  Well, HN&B and Rushworths have ceased trading, but Willis has undergone a rebirth under the direction of David Wyld.  Walkers, on the other hand, after producing some stunning work when Bob Pennells was in charge, had a tragedy when his son Mark succumbed to cancer at an early age and now seem to work on a smaller scale.  On the other hand, newer and smaller firms such as David Wells and Kenneth Tickell have produced some world-class work and Nicholsons have joined the big league, having always been excellent, but on a smaller scale.  

I think the best thing is to play as many instruments as you can, because there are a lot of fine organs around which may not be by the most famous builders.  To name but a very few:

Cedric Arnold, Williamson & Hyatt: Little Walsingham PC, Norfolk; St. Botolph, Colchester, Essex

Holmes & Swift: Kings Lynn Minster, Norfolk

Roger Yates: Kilkhampton PC, Cornwall (also a remarkable  3 manual, 7 stop Father Willis ex-chamber organ in the Methodist Church); Bozeat PC, Northants; St. John, Taunton, Devon (rebuild of a Father Willis)

Percy Daniel: Christ Church, Swindon, Wiltshire, Westbury-on-Trym PC, Henbury PC and Redland URC, Bristol (big, fun 4 manual)

Sometimes, smaller organs by big builders are well worth the trouble of seeking out:

Arthur Harrison: St. Alkmund, Shrewsbury (built for the RSCM and on long loan here); Christ Church, Keighley, Yorkshire (Wow!); All Saints, Maidenhead, Berks (the organist is my oldest friend if you want an intro).

Norman & Beard: Colchester Town Hall

Peter Collins: Holy Angels, Cranford, Middlesex

Or off the beaten track:

Binns: Old Independent Church, Haverhill, Suffolk; St. Mary, Shrewsbury

Rushworth & Dreaper: Holy Rude, Stirling; Reid Memorial, Edinburgh; Christ's Hospital, Horsham (they also have an historic 3 manual Hill and a Father Willis "Model" Organ); Malvern Priory

Compton: Downside Abbey

Father Willis: St. Bees Priory, Cumbria (worth the journey!)

Hill: All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London; St. John, Hove (not my cup of tea, this one, although generally thought to be very fine indeed - I prefer the Father Willis at St. Peter's, Brighton, or the ambience of the mongrel at St. Bartholomew: the church is essential viewing for OTT Anglo-Catholicism!)

A crawl round the City of London would yield a lot of interest.

Mander: St. Giles, Cripplegate, St. Vedast, Foster Lane, St. Michael Paternoster Royal (a 1 manual in 18th century style with GGG compass), St. James Garlickhythe (restoration of an organ with very varied ancestry), St. Paul's!

Kenneth Tickell: St. Mary-le-Bow

Compton: St. Bride, Fleet Street, St. Olave, Hart Street (a very nice smaller job), and, outside the City, St. Luke's, Chelsea and St. Mary Magdalen, Paddington

Willis III: St. Dunstan in the West

Hill: St. Mary Woolnoth, St. Mary at Hill (excellent restoration by our hosts following a fire)

Bates: St. Martin, Ludgate (a notable early restoration by our hosts)

Harrison: All Hallows by the Tower

van Leeuwen: Dutch Church, Austin Friars

David Wells: St. Katharine Cree (reinstatement of Father Willis, previously much-altered, in gorgeous Father Smith case)

Spurden Rutt: St. Magnus the Martyr (the only Rutt that I like!  Very varied ancestry, but a fine Romantic organ in an impressive Jordan case)

Bishop & Son: St. Margaret Lothbury (excellent example of John Budgen's Old English style - Framlingham PC, Suffolk, is another: a definite must-see/play)

Norman & Beard: St. Mary Aldermary

and so on.......

To experience a wide variety of instruments and styles and, more important, the way they work and should be played, join the Organ Club.  I joined when I was 13 and learned such a lot.

 

And so on...........

You also forget the work of Compton in transforming the organs of Hull Minster (formerly known as Holy Trinity) and of Hull City Hall, both now in the care of former Walker-trained organ builder, Andrew Carter. The Hull Minster organ is slowly being restored and when completed, its new acoustically sympathetic environment will place it high on the list of must play organs. Compton was a genius who did not just build instruments for the cinema.

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I quite agree about Compton.  I only know the Hull organs by repute and I was citing organs of which I had personal experience (and only those that came to mind at the time).  I hope one day to visit HT and Hull City Hall and get to know them, as also the Compton transplant of a big Hill organ at Yarmouth Minster (and Wakefield Cathedral, etc).

I'm sorry to learn that Kenneth Tickell's company may not be continuing.  His early death was another tragedy for British organ building.  I was tremendously impressed with his organ at Douai Abbey, near Reading, to give just one example.

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On 23/10/2018 at 15:55, David Drinkell said:

Roger Yates: Kilkhampton PC, Cornwall (also a remarkable  3 manual, 7 stop Father Willis ex-chamber organ in the Methodist Church); Bozeat PC, Northants; St. John, Taunton, Devon (rebuild of a Father Willis)

Percy Daniel: Christ Church, Swindon, Wiltshire, Westbury-on-Trym PC, Henbury PC and Redland URC, Bristol (big, fun 4 manual)

Having once been resident in Bristol, I have played many instrument by Percy Daniels and I would have to say that he wouldn't figure in my personal list of fine builders, at least from the artistic point of view.

The only experience I have of Roger Yates's work is the two manual instrument at Stogursey Priory in Somerset, on which he was working when he died and which was finished by Bill Drake. I've played it a few times over the years and have always found it a joy, even though it has by some margin the most dangerous tracker action I have ever encountered. Quite literally, the touch of a coat cuff is enough to sound a note. I've played heavier harpsichords. Personally I love it.

Bill Drake was undoubtedly one of Britain's Rolls Royce organ builders. His organ at St John's, Bridgetown, Devon is one of the finest in the county. His artistry was matchless. He once took a friend and me around several organs he had worked on in Devon and it was quite evident that, whatever he worked on, he breathed gold over it.

Talking of Devon, I suppose that I ought to mention Hele & Co, even if they are in a similar bracket to Daniels.  Under John C. Hele they, too, were undoubtedly builders of the finest workmanship, albeit very much of their time. Artistically their tonal schemes and voicing tend to be less than musical, tending towards stiflingly opaque sonorities with insipid and useless Choir divisions, but their organs were built like tanks. And they did build a few instruments that sounded well. Their organ at Chagford parish church (alas no more after an extensive rebuild a few years ago, not yet reported to NPOR) was fascinatingly orchestral for such a comparatively modest instrument, if a tad underpowered (one reason for the rebuild). His organs at St Matthias and St Simon's, Plymouth were two of the finest in the city, although both are in parlous condition and under threat - if, indeed, they still survive.  St Matthias has been taken over by HTB, who have no interest in the instrument, and they have designs on St Simon's also. The latter in particular would be a major loss. Originally the Harris/England/Hedgeland/Hele instrument from St Peter Mancroft, Norwich replaced by Hele's in 1912, it retains some very early pipework and is/was capable of sounding like an organ of cathedral proportions.

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Bill Drake’s legacy continues under Joost de Boer  and we wait in anticipation for the new organ for Chelsea Old Church to be up and running. Interesting also was their tender for a new west end organ for Buckfast Abbey complete with 32’ Bombarde. One can but wonder....

A

 

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12 hours ago, Vox Humana said:

Having once been resident in Bristol, I have played many instrument by Percy Daniels and I would have to say that he wouldn't figure in my personal list of fine builders, at least from the artistic point of view.

The only experience I have of Roger Yates's work is the two manual instrument at Stogursey Priory in Somerset, on which he was working when he died and which was finished by Bill Drake. I've played it a few times over the years and have always found it a joy, even though it has by some margin the most dangerous tracker action I have ever encountered. Quite literally, the touch of a coat cuff is enough to sound a note. I've played heavier harpsichords. Personally I love it.

Bill Drake was undoubtedly one of Britain's Rolls Royce organ builders. His organ at St John's, Bridgetown, Devon is one of the finest in the county. His artistry was matchless. He once took a friend and me around several organs he had worked on in Devon and it was quite evident that, whatever he worked on, he breathed gold over it.

Talking of Devon, I suppose that I ought to mention Hele & Co, even if they are in a similar bracket to Daniels.  Under John C. Hele they, too, were undoubtedly builders of the finest workmanship, albeit very much of their time. Artistically their tonal schemes and voicing tend to be less than musical, tending towards stiflingly opaque sonorities with insipid and useless Choir divisions, but their organs were built like tanks. And they did build a few instruments that sounded well. Their organ at Chagford parish church (alas no more after an extensive rebuild a few years ago, not yet reported to NPOR) was fascinatingly orchestral for such a comparatively modest instrument, if a tad underpowered (one reason for the rebuild). His organs at St Matthias and St Simon's, Plymouth were two of the finest in the city, although both are in parlous condition and under threat - if, indeed, they still survive.  St Matthias has been taken over by HTB, who have no interest in the instrument, and they have designs on St Simon's also. The latter in particular would be a major loss. Originally the Harris/England/Hedgeland/Hele instrument from St Peter Mancroft, Norwich replaced by Hele's in 1912, it retains some very early pipework and is/was capable of sounding like an organ of cathedral proportions.

Daniel's work could be run-of-the-mill, but the Westbury organ was/is a fine achievement.  I was organist at Henbury, the parish next door, as a student, and the organ there, while perhaps not the most refined of instruments close up, managed to pack several assorted quarts into a pint pot and I always found inspiration from it.  Redland is a big, cheerful beast and tremendous fun to play.  I mentioned Christ Church, Swindon, where I gave a recital - I thought it very fine.  I was not too impressed by their rebuild at St. Paul's, Clifton, which repeated a number of features which I didn't like on Nicholson's rebuild at the University.  Having played the old Rothwell (with distinctive console and some fine reeds) before the rebuild, I was sad that it wasn't sympathetically restored, but the date was just a little too early for that sort of thing.  One aspect of the rebuild was the ditching of the wooden Pedal Open.  Since it stood in front of a window and shaded the rest of the organ from the sun, the tuning after the rebuild tended to be less than perfect.

I don't know Bill Drake's work at all, but all reports are very positive.  I hope to experience Spitalfields some day.

I practiced on the 3m Hele at Stoke Bishop as a first year student living in hall down the road, and found it to be a fine, solid example of its period.  It was done up later and slightly modified, but I never got around to playing it after the rebuild.  Some of the Hele/Rushworth Mancroft organ was retained and made into a small east end organ by Boggis of Diss.

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On 23/10/2018 at 23:55, David Drinkell said:

I don't get to know as much as I did about the British scene, having lived in Canada for the last fifteen years, but here are some thoughts (which I should be glad to have corrected or amplified).

Things have changed a lot over the last twenty years or so.  I remember it being said when I was a teenager, "In twenty years time, there'll be no HN&B, no Rushworth and no Willis".  Well, HN&B and Rushworths have ceased trading, but Willis has undergone a rebirth under the direction of David Wyld.  Walkers, on the other hand, after producing some stunning work when Bob Pennells was in charge, had a tragedy when his son Mark succumbed to cancer at an early age and now seem to work on a smaller scale.  On the other hand, newer and smaller firms such as David Wells and Kenneth Tickell have produced some world-class work and Nicholsons have joined the big league, having always been excellent, but on a smaller scale.  

I think the best thing is to play as many instruments as you can, because there are a lot of fine organs around which may not be by the most famous builders.  To name but a very few:

Cedric Arnold, Williamson & Hyatt: Little Walsingham PC, Norfolk; St. Botolph, Colchester, Essex

Holmes & Swift: Kings Lynn Minster, Norfolk

Roger Yates: Kilkhampton PC, Cornwall (also a remarkable  3 manual, 7 stop Father Willis ex-chamber organ in the Methodist Church); Bozeat PC, Northants; St. John, Taunton, Devon (rebuild of a Father Willis)

Percy Daniel: Christ Church, Swindon, Wiltshire, Westbury-on-Trym PC, Henbury PC and Redland URC, Bristol (big, fun 4 manual)

Sometimes, smaller organs by big builders are well worth the trouble of seeking out:

Arthur Harrison: St. Alkmund, Shrewsbury (built for the RSCM and on long loan here); Christ Church, Keighley, Yorkshire (Wow!); All Saints, Maidenhead, Berks (the organist is my oldest friend if you want an intro).

Norman & Beard: Colchester Town Hall

Peter Collins: Holy Angels, Cranford, Middlesex

Or off the beaten track:

Binns: Old Independent Church, Haverhill, Suffolk; St. Mary, Shrewsbury

Rushworth & Dreaper: Holy Rude, Stirling; Reid Memorial, Edinburgh; Christ's Hospital, Horsham (they also have an historic 3 manual Hill and a Father Willis "Model" Organ); Malvern Priory

Compton: Downside Abbey

Father Willis: St. Bees Priory, Cumbria (worth the journey!)

Hill: All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London; St. John, Hove (not my cup of tea, this one, although generally thought to be very fine indeed - I prefer the Father Willis at St. Peter's, Brighton, or the ambience of the mongrel at St. Bartholomew: the church is essential viewing for OTT Anglo-Catholicism!)

A crawl round the City of London would yield a lot of interest.

Mander: St. Giles, Cripplegate, St. Vedast, Foster Lane, St. Michael Paternoster Royal (a 1 manual in 18th century style with GGG compass), St. James Garlickhythe (restoration of an organ with very varied ancestry), St. Paul's!

Kenneth Tickell: St. Mary-le-Bow

Compton: St. Bride, Fleet Street, St. Olave, Hart Street (a very nice smaller job), and, outside the City, St. Luke's, Chelsea and St. Mary Magdalen, Paddington

Willis III: St. Dunstan in the West

Hill: St. Mary Woolnoth, St. Mary at Hill (excellent restoration by our hosts following a fire)

Bates: St. Martin, Ludgate (a notable early restoration by our hosts)

Harrison: All Hallows by the Tower

van Leeuwen: Dutch Church, Austin Friars

David Wells: St. Katharine Cree (reinstatement of Father Willis, previously much-altered, in gorgeous Father Smith case)

Spurden Rutt: St. Magnus the Martyr (the only Rutt that I like!  Very varied ancestry, but a fine Romantic organ in an impressive Jordan case)

Bishop & Son: St. Margaret Lothbury (excellent example of John Budgen's Old English style - Framlingham PC, Suffolk, is another: a definite must-see/play)

Norman & Beard: St. Mary Aldermary

and so on.......

To experience a wide variety of instruments and styles and, more important, the way they work and should be played, join the Organ Club.  I joined when I was 13 and learned such a lot.

 

I must definitely make this as a bucket-list of organs to play! Thank you for the excellent contribution!

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Our "local" during my youth, St Teresa in Filton, just on the northern border of Bristol, contains a Percy Daniel 2 manual, rebuilt from an earlier 3 manual and installed in the new church.

http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N13149

I didn't pay much attention to it then, not really being interested in organs at the time. But much later I played on it just a couple of times, and found it cohesive and quite entertaining. Being a Catholic church the demands on it are different, but sitting on a high gallery at the back of a decent-sized Roman basilica style church, with a clean great, and a really quite effective swell furnished with sub- and super-octave couplers it sounds good and can be quite powerful, and certainly looked well maintained and sounded in good tune.

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I remember this organ from my student days - a very decent instrument which sounded well in the building.

Incidentally, by a strange coincidence, Percy Daniel's nephew was the RE teacher at Colchester Royal Grammar School when I was a pupil and was my form master one year.  He was a local organist, latterly at Bures, just over the border in Suffolk (at least, the church is), where he played rather good Norman & Beard organ.

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