Calderdale Organs

Organs in Calderdale

There are many interesting organs in the Calderdale area, including one or two very famous and important ones.  This part of our website describes some particularly interesting organs, including (sadly) several which have now disappeared.

If you would like an organ featured here which we haven’t included, or if you have some more details of the instruments included already, please don’t hesitate to contact us through webmaster@hdoa.org.uk.

The specifications of each of the organs listed here can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register www.npor.org.uk

All Souls’, Haley Hill

All Souls, Haley HillBuilt in 1868 by Forster and Andrews to a specification by Edmund Schultze. The organ was rebuilt in 1906 by Norman and Beard, and restored in 1969 by Walker. Unfortunately, the church was forced to close within a decade when pieces of masonry began to fall from the spire. The organ subsequently suffered some vandalism; much of the surviving pipework is now in storage.

Bolton Brow Methodist

The beginnings of Bolton Brow Church go back to the late 18th century. The chief founder was one John Walker, a Methodist Manufacturer from Dewsbury, who came to reside at Sterne Mills, where he opened his house as the first place of worship. When the canal was being cut from Sowerby Bridge to Salterhebble the Mearclough Estate was broken up, and Walker purchased Mearclough Bottom where he resided until his death in 1816.  At that time the preaching place was transferred to a nearby hayloft.  In 1796 the society had 20 members and adherents. It is said that the present Walker Lane is named after John Walker, because of the number of times he walked along it to see the progress on a new chapel being built in 1806 at its junction with Bolton Brow. These were the first purpose built premises of the society. However they were rather small, so in 1832 a new building was erected further down Bolton Brow. This is the building which is still standing today, although it has now been converted for residential use. Opened in June 1832, the new chapel was initially shorter than it is now, but the frontage is still in its original state.

As is well known, Methodism and organs did not always see eye to eye until well into the 19th century.  At Bolton Brow it took until 1858 for the first organ to appear.  It was by William Holt of Leeds, who had built a number of organs in Calderdale by then, probably the best of these had been at Square Chapel in the 1840s.  (The splendid case from this organ is still in existence, in Altrincham Parish Church.)  Holt had already worked in Sowerby Bridge by 1858, at West End Independent Chapel, where he had rebuilt an organ by Taylor of Halifax. His organ at Bolton Brow had 16 stops and 885 pipes, and was opened on April 30th 1858. It had the distinction of being only the third organ in the Calderdale region to be blown by hydraulic power, in the form of one of Holt’s patent engines.  The first had been Square Chapel, and the second was a house organ in Well Head Mansion, Halifax.

In 1868, the chapel was enlarged by extending it two bays further south towards the canal. After this time Holt’s organ may have seemed inadequate, so by 1896 plans were afoot to replace it. The history of the way this happened is fascinating, but too involved to relate here. Suffice it to say that the new organ was built by J.J.Binns of Bramley and was opened in 1897 by Dr.A.L.Peace, city organist of Liverpool at the time. At the time of the organ’s installation, a new recess had been created to house it, with additional meeting rooms on either side and a much lower floor. The old organ was transferred to the next door Sunday school where it remained until well after the second world war. The new organ was also hydraulically blown, using one of “Binns’ Patent” engines, which were actually made by a firm called Farrar Whiteley of Leeds. This engine remained in use until the organ was removed from the building in 1979 when it was moved to Christ Church, Sowerby Bridge. This gave the church the distinction of never having had an electric blower in its entire history, the water engine must have been one of the last remaining in working order in England by 1979. The Binns organ had 36 speaking stops, with most of its metal pipes being made of spotted metal, a very unusual feature. The case and pulpit were made by Fielding and Bottomley of Halifax, to a design based on a similar organ in Greenfield Chapel, Manningham, Bradford.

Christ Church, Sowerby Bridge

The present building in Wharf Street dates from 1819, according to Pevsner, but the date of 1820 can be found carved on the inside of the tower battlements. It was designed by John Oates, who was born in Halifax, trained in Manchester and had his practice in Huddersfield. Apart from Christ Church, other buildings he was also responsible for included The Old Huddersfield Infirmary, St.Paul’s Church, Huddersfield, (now the University Concert Hall), and All Saints Church, Paddock, where he was buried in 1831.

The first organ was installed in 1825, and built by John Ward of York, who also built one other organ in Calderdale, at Square Chapel in 1821. He was apparently the last person to work on the York Minster organ before the great fire there in 1829, and does not seem to have had the best of reputations.

The first organ was opened by Dr.John Camidge, who was then assistant to his father Matthew at the Minster. It had seventeen speaking stops over two manuals and pedals, quite a good size for the times, and cost £400.

The second organ was installed by Conacher of Huddersfield, at a cost of £266. It was opened by Dr.Spark of Leeds on December 6th 1865. One wonders why a new organ was necessary, unless of course the rumours about Ward’s workmanship were true, and his organ was by now considered to be beyond repair. The Conacher organ also had seventeen stops, but cost rather less than Ward’s instrument, at a mere £266.

Both these instruments were located in the west gallery. In 1873-4 the building was extended to provide the existing chancel and organ chamber. Prior to this there had been a small apse at the east end of the nave, the shape of which can still be seen in the boiler room below the chancel. After 1874, the rear part of what is now the organ chamber formed the choir vestry. The Conacher organ was moved from the gallery to the front part of this space.

In 1894 there was a major fire in the church which was reputed to have started in the organ, and destroyed most of the chancel and nave roof, as well as the organ itself. During this fire a local firefighter was killed when he fell through an open trap door in the tower, in thick smoke.

A new organ was provided as part of the reconstruction. This was now the third organ, and was built by Abbott & Smith of Leeds. It was considerably larger than its predecessor and occupied the space of the old choir vestry as well. It had 29 speaking stops over three manuals and pedals, with tubular pneumatic action to the manuals and pedals. This was in fact a very productive decade for Abbott & Smith, as they rebuilt Halifax Parish Church and provided a new action for Park Congregational Church, Halifax in 1896, which was also the year that they rebuilt the organ of Leeds Town Hall. A new organ for St.Judes, Saville Park, Halifax had also been built in 1895. All these organs used the same design of pneumatic action, which although generally reliable, tended to become noisy after several decades of use. Apart from Christ Church, they had all been mechanically altered by the second world war, but at Sowerby Bridge there had been no changes at all, and by 1979 the instrument was in a sorry state.

The present organ was installed in Christ Church between 1979 and 1983. It had originally been built in 1897 for the nearby Bolton Brow Methodist Church, by J.J. Binns of Bramley, Leeds. The organ retains the oak case and four stops from the Abbott and Smith instrument. The work was done by the Sowerby Bridge Organ Group, a non-professional group of three enthusiasts, Richard Barnes, Brian Biggin and George Barnard, while the final tonal finishing was done by John Walls, of Rushworth & Dreaper Ltd. The instrument was converted to electro-pneumatic action, with direct electric action for the stops, and a piston switchboard behind the music desk. A new BOB blower was also installed. The instrument has 42 speaking stops, and the vast majority of the pipes are made of spotted metal, including three additional ranks by Brindley of Sheffield, 1869, from the organ of the nearby former Warley Congregational Church. It was re-opened on October 22nd 1983 by Philip Tordoff of Halifax Parish Church.

Halifax Minster

Although there may have been organs in the church much earlier, the first organ of which we have much knowledge is the one that the famous Swiss organ builder, John Snetzler, built in 1766. It had three manuals and no pedals, and was located on a gallery at the west end of the nave. As was usual for an English organ of this period, the Great and Choir organs went down to G below the modern bottom C, whilst the Swell only went down to tenor C.

This organ was added to by Gray in 1836 and by William Hill in 1842 and 1869. The church was re-ordered in 1878, and a new organ, incorporating some Snetzler pipework, was built on the north side of the chancel by Abbott and Smith.

By 1926, the organ was in a parlous condition. Harrison and Harrison of Durham were invited to submit plans for a new instrument, and within a few weeks, Arthur Harrison produced a specification that is little different from the instrument as built. The new organ cost £7,000, of which half was given by a Mr. Standeven. The organ was installed during 1929, and opened by Edward Bairstow, the organist of York Minster.

Interestingly, an 8′ open diapason from the Abbott and Smith instrument now stands on the swell organ in the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge.

A small amount of Snetzler’s pipework remains in the present instrument – the 8′ and 4′ flutes on the choir organ and the stopped diapason and open diapason no. 3 on the great are certainly Snetzler pipes. Whether any other pipes are Snetzler in provenance is debatable.

The organ was re-built in the 1970s by J.W. Walker & Co.  Fortunately, very few changes were made either tonally or as regards the mechanism. The only significant change was that the Great mixture was modified from a “harmonics” mixture of 17.19.21.24 to a quint mixture of 19.22.26. The instrument retained its tubular pneumatic mechanism from 1929. No aids to registration have been added since 1929: there are no general combination pistons and no sequencer, making this instrument one of the few remaining large organs in the UK without such devices.

St Michael and All Angels’, Mytholmroyd

In an article by Rev R V Sellars, Vicar from 1924-1931, we read that music in 1848 was provided by an orchestra, probably two violins, a bass and a ‘clarionet’.

The first organ was installed in 1851, but where it was located is unknown. It was ultimately moved to the west gallery, where it remained until 1912. It was then given to the parish of Skelmanthorpe. It was built by Kirtland and Jardine, and was a late example of a small organ with a short swell. It had 14 stops and 718 pipes.

The present organ, by William Andrews of Bradford, was installed in 1912. Changes made to the instrument since then are:

  • 16ft Bourdon on Great replaced by 2-rank mixture
  • 16ft and 8ft Trombone/Trumpet unit added to Pedal
  • Vox Humana on Swell replaced by Fifteenth
  • Dulciana on Choir replaced by Block Flute
  • Choir sub-octave added
  • Action converted from tubular pneumatic to electro-pneumatic

In 2013, the instrument had some further work completed on it by Wood of Huddersfield, including the replacement of the drawstops and renewal of the Great mixture.

St Paul, King Cross

St Paul, King CrossThe organ, built by Abbott and Smith of Leeds, dates from 1912, the same year that the present church was built. It incorporates a considerable amount of pipework from the organ in the old church, which was installed in 1884 by Henry Halmshaw, a Birmingham organbuilder of some repute.

The specification was drawn up by Sydney Nicholson, then organist of Manchester Cathedral. His brother was the architect of the church.

St Peter, Sowerby

The present church of St.Peter, Sowerby is a Grade I listed building completed in 1766, the same year as the opening of Snetzler’s famous organ in Halifax Parish Church, now the Minster. This fact is more than mere co-incidence. The Halifax organ was actually completed in 1763, confirmed by Snetzler’s signature inside the windchest. However the Halifax officials had not reckoned with the people of Sowerby, who had just begun the construction of their new building in that same year. In those days places like Sowerby were “chapelries” of the parish of Halifax, and had to pay dues there, a bit like today’s “parish share” in the Church of England.  Sowerby had already lost one dispute with Halifax in the ecclesiastical court, so when they heard of the new organ ordered for Halifax they mistakenly assumed they were going to have to contribute towards it, and went to law again to oppose the faculty for the organ. This was the main reason for the three-year delay in getting the Halifax organ transported from London and installed in the church.

One of the reasons for the listing status of St.Peter’s, is the apse plasterwork, by Giuseppe Cortese, who was also responsible for much of the interior of Somerset House in Halifax, a building recently restored and which is now the venue for civil marriages in the town.

Despite their opposition to the Halifax organ, it did not take too long before Sowerby got one of their own!

The first Organ was built in 1791 by John Donaldson, then of York but formerly of Newcastle. Of the two dozen or so Organs known to have been by him, only one still exists. It is in the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, but was originally built for Belvedere College, Dublin in 1790. It seems to have been the instrument built immediately prior to the one for Sowerby.  From it we can tell that had the Sowerby organ survived, it would have had a historical importance equal to that of the church itself.

The Sowerby Donaldson organ probably had an early form of swell-box called a “nags head”, and a total of 11 speaking stops, but there were no pedals. It was located in the west gallery. When the second organ was installed, it was sold to the Wesleyan Chapel, Bradford Road, Islington, Manchester, (not far from today’s Piccadilly Station.)

The second organ was built in 1861 by the still-young firm of Conacher of Huddersfield. This firm had reformed itself in 1854, after a disastrous fire in the works. Their very first new organ after that date had in fact been built in 1857 for St.Mary’s, Cottonstones, now also part of Sowerby Parish. Perhaps this had an influence on John Rawson who gave the Sowerby organ “….in memory of the late William Priestley, a consistent churchman and promoter of local music” to quote the Halifax Guardian at the time. It was also originally located in the west gallery, there is a very old photograph in existence showing a screen of diapered zinc pipes in that location. There were eight great organ stops, five swell and one pedal, a total of 714 pipes. It cost £70.

In 1878 the church was extensively (but sensitively) re-ordered into more or less today’s appearance. At that time the organ was moved from the west gallery and installed in the present north-east corner position.  What happened to the Conacher organ after 1914 is unknown.

The existing organ was built in 1914 by James Jepson Binns of Bramley, Leeds. It is still substantially as he left it, although two tonal changes were made during an overhaul in 1972, the swell wind pressure was reduced, and the Great Trumpet re-voiced with “harmonic trebles”, making it into an extremely effective stop. There is some evidence that when the organ was first specified, some mistakes were made with the layout, needing on-site modifications to parts of the mechanism. In addition, this is the only organ the writer has come across where the 32ft Harmonic Bass is derived from the 16ft Open Diapason, rather than the 16ft stopped rank. Was this also an on-site mistake? It’s effect can only be described as devastating! Despite all this, the organ makes a fine sound in an excellent acoustic.  It has 2 manuals and 21 speaking stops, with tubular pneumatic action to the manuals and pedals.