About Our Organ

About Our Organ

 

Father Henry Willis 1877

A historic gem at the heart of Union Chapel

 

 

The organ at Union Chapel was designed and built specially for the size and acoustics of the new Chapel building in 1877 by master organ builder Henry “Father” Willis. It is undoubtedly one of the finest in the world.

 

  • The organ at Union Chapel was designed and built specially for the size and acoustics of the new Chapel building in 1877 by master organ builder Henry “Father” Willis. It is undoubtedly one of the finest in the world.
  • Neither James Cubitt, the architect of the Chapel, nor Rev Henry Allon, the minister at the time, wanted the congregation to be distracted by the sight of an organ or organist: they wanted the music itself to be the focus during worship. So the organ is deliberately hidden away behind ornate screens under the rose window, which itself actually hints at the organ’s importance, with its depiction of eight angels all playing different musical instruments.
  • It is one of very few organs left in the United Kingdom, and the only one in England, with a fully working original hydraulic (water powered) blowing system, which can be used as an alternative to the electric blowers.
  • It has 3 manuals (the organ term for keyboards): swell, great and choral, plus full foot pedals. It has 37 speaking and 2 sound altering stops (these are the knobs on either side of the organ console). By drawing the stops, the player engages sets of pipes, which fall into various categories of sound quality – diapasons, strings, flutes, reeds – and at various pitches and volumes. There is also an enclosed swell organ with a mechanism for opening the box, thus controlling the volume.
  • There are over 2000 pipes, ranging from the deepest at 16′ in length to the shortest at only a couple of inches!
  • Henry Willis was one of the most celebrated organ builders of his day. He is often referred to as ‘Father Willis’ in recognition of his wide reputation and the fact that he has several family members who followed in his business. Our “Father Willis” is an historic organ and a fine example of its time, which enables organists to play music of the period in an authentic way using the stops that the composers would have had in mind.
  • The organ and water hydraulics were restored in 2012-13 by Harrison and Harrison and Duplex which was generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. 

 

Music Directors

 

John Henry Gauntlett 1852 – 1861
Ebenezer Prout 1861 – 1873
Fountain Meen 1880 – 1909
John Rooker 1973 – 2002
Claire M Singer 2012 – present

 

Please find our organ specification here.