We are very fortunate in having a two very fine instruments in first class condition. A large three-manual and pedal organ. built by 'Father Willis' in 1899 and a 3 stop box organ built by Gary Crane in 1983 for Justin Sillman Organs.
We have extensive files on the later history of the organ in the old church, the plans for an instrument for the new church and also a variety of proposals and schemes during the 20th century.
We will be posting more infomation (and links) here as our researches progress.
The 'Willis' Organ 1899
The firm of Henry Willis and Sons built the organ for the newly erected church of All Saints.
Born in 1821, Henry Willis was in business on his own account by 1845, securing contracts in Gloucester Cathedral (1847) and Tewkesbury Abbey (1848). From this basis Willis grew his business rapidly and provided instruments for many churches, cathedrals and town halls. He was an ingenious inventor and his instruments marked a new departure in terms of scale, mechanical complexity and tonal ambition.
The All Saints' organ was completed in 1899 and cost the grand sum of £1240, including carriage. Willis died in 1901, making All Saints one of the last instruments he built. The casework was installed, along with a new pedal stop, in 1913. The organ was hand-blown until 1923 when an electric blower was installed.
The 1913 CaseThe case was designed by Paley and Austin, the original architects. A report of the Dedication originally published in the Hertford Mercury on 4th April 1914 gives some details of what was done.
"The organ pipes have been partly remodelled to suit the new oak case. The console is retained in its present position, but has a new platform and balustrade, and steps of oak to match the case. The fronts facing the chancel and the aisles have projecting bays in each centre, supported by brackets. All the pipe shades are richly carved with tracery and carved patterns, and the crestings have inscriptions including 'Laudate Dominum'."
Arnold, Williamson & Hyatt 1971
In 1971 the firm of Arnold, Williamson & Hyatt of Thaxted, overhauled the organ. A total of sixteen new stops were added, mostly in line with proposals Willis made, completing the choruses of Great and Swell, adding mutations to the Choir and enhancing the Pedal.
Village Workshop 2001
Between November 2000 and April 2001 the Village Workshop restored the organ. The work was in three parts: the complete overhaul of all the leatherwork (most dated from 1899); enhancements to the action and piston control systems; the addition of new stops: a Fanfare Trumpet, Great Clarion (as Willis intended) and 32' Reed (installed in October 2001). All the new pipe-work was specially made to match the Willis originals.
This work was only possible due to the generosity of many people in giving time, money and talents and we thank them all. The Bishop of
Hertford dedicated a book listing the sponsors on Sunday June 24th 2001.
The Box Organ 1983
We acquired this instrument in September 2020. It was built by Gary Crane for Justin Sillman Organs, voiced by Michael Buttolph and recently restored by Peter de Vile. It is said to be the demonstration instrument shown at the St Albans International Organ Festival in Summer 1983. It is extremely well-made with a high quality of finish so it may well be that instrument.
We are trying to establish its history and will post it here (and supply to NPOR) if/when we find out more.
The instrument destroyed in the fire of 1891 had its origins in the mid eighteenth century if not earlier (possibly 1678). It was most recently worked on
by the firm of Henry Willis & Co in 1873 and its specification was similar to that of the new organ of 1899, albeit somewhat smaller.
The current specification of the Willis can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register at R00207. The 1971 specification is stored at N13066 and the original, including 'prepared for' stops such as the Pedal Ophicleide (1971) and Great Clarion (2001) at N14556.
The organ has three stops: Stopt Diapason 8', Chimney Flute 4' and Fifteenth 2' with a compass of CC-g.
The NPOR entry is at F00145 and the entry for the 1983 IOFS organ is at N07975.
The final specification of the organ destroyed in 1891 (Gray & Davison 1840, rebuilt Willis 1873) can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register at
D07513. The specification of the 1840 original is stored at
Photographs of the Willis can be found here and of the Box Organ here.
Incorporated Association of Organists
RSCM St Albans Hertford Bedford
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