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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WILLIAM HILL ORGAN IN SHREWSBURY ABBEY
PROPOSED SPECIFICATION OF THE COMPLETED ORGAN
RENOVATION OF THE ABBEY ORGAN
ORGANISTS, MASTERS OF MUSIC AND DIRECTORS OF MUSIC 1806 to DATE
A BRIEF HISTORY OF MUSIC AT THE ABBEY

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WILLIAM HILL ORGAN IN SHREWSBURY ABBEY

Organ

 

 The 1911 Hill organ replaced an 1808 Gray instrument.  This organ was originally above the porch at the West end of the Abbey and during the 19th century was moved towards the East end of the nave.  Extensive renovation of the Abbey building also took place at this time, and Pearson’s East end “extension” was finished late in the 19th century.  There was talk of the Abbey becoming the cathedral church for a Shropshire diocese, and a larger organ was felt to be necessary.  William Hill and Sons were commissioned to install a new organ but the full specification was never completed.  Pipe-work from the 1808 Gray organ was not used in the new Hill organ  -  the 1911 instrument pipe-work was all stamped during manufacture by Hill with the same “job number 2412”.

 The Hill organ was inaugurated on 17 September 1911.  The cost of the organ was 850.  At the time, it was hoped to add the choir organ the following year at a further cost of 250, but the timing of this second phase of work has not been verified.

                                                                                                                         The casework 

 

William Hill Organ

The William Hill Organ      

 

An electric blower was installed in 1921 replacing a hand blown mechanism.

In 1937 Hill Norman and Beard carried out work to:

         Install the Great Posaune (in memory of a chorister, Mr Lee)

         Add mechanism to enable the great double open diapason to be shared as the pedal violone

         Add a second Great open diapason.  The original no 1 diapason became the no 2 diapason, and a much larger rank of pipes added as the new no 1 diapason.  The new rank was second hand, of 1920s Hill, Norman and Beard manufacture, and had a broader and more ponderous tone than the former no 1 diapason.  It is possible the pipe-work came from the Glyndebourne music room organ which had been broken up in 1936

         Clean the instrument

         Add the casework by Sir Charles Nicholson utilising pipes from the Great double diapason in display

 In 1945 the Swell horn was added (in memory of a former organist, Mr Tunstill using second hand pipes) and at the same time the existing 8’ oboe was transposed down to become the missing 16’ reed.  It is not known when the swell fifteenth was added in the soundboard slot intended for the 4’ flute, but it could well have been at this time.

There was a general cleaning of the organ in 1958 and, at the same time, changes were made to the choir organ.  Until then, the choir box had contained the two solo reeds only, as was usual in Hill organs of the time, but in 1958 the box was extended, existing ranks moved in, the soundboard extended to take a new 2 2/3’ nazard and 2’ piccolo, and the shutter alignment changed. 

There has been no major work to the work since 1958, and no cleaning work undertaken.  In this period a number of schemes for renovating, completing, refurbishing etc the Hill organ have been prepared, and at least two faculties obtained, but none of these have come to fruition.

Inside the organ

        A view inside - looking at some of the 2000+ pipes






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PROPOSED SPECIFICATION OF THE COMPLETED ORGAN

Original (1911) specification(Hill)

Current (2011) specification

May 2011

 specification

Comments

Pedal Organ

 

Open wood 32

Prepared for

1

Sub bass 32

New, from 3

Violone 16

Violone 16

2

Violone 16

Shared with great double

Open wood 16

Open wood 16

3

Open wood 16

 

Bourdon 16

Bourdon 16

4

Bourdon 16

 

Octave 8

Octave 8

5

Octave 8

From open wood

Bass flute 8

Bass flute 8

6

Bass flute 8

From bourdon

Cello 8

Prepared for

7

Principal 8

New

 

 

8

Fifteenth 4

New, from 8

Trombone 16

Prepared for

9

Trombone 16

New

 

 

10

11

D’ble trumpet 16

Trumpet 8

Duplicates 21

New  -  from 9

Swell Organ

 

Bourdon 16

Prepared for

12

Bourdon 16

New

Open diapason 8

Open diapason 8

13

Open diapason 8

 

Salcional 8

Salcional 8

14

Salcional 8

 

Voix celestes 8

Voix celestes 8

15

Voix celestes 8

 

Stopped diapason 8

Stopped diapason 8

16

Stopped diapason8

 

Principal 4

Principal 4

17

Principal 4

 

Flute 4

Prepared for

18

Flute 4

New

Fifteenth 2

Fifteenth 2

19

Fifteenth 2

 

Mixture 11

Mixture 11(19, 22)

20

Mixture 111

New third rank

Double trumpet 16

Prepared for

21

Double trumpet 16

New

Oboe 8

Contra  oboe 16

22

Oboe 8

Revert to 8’

Horn 8

Horn 8

23

Horn 8

 

Clarion 4

Prepared for

24

Clarion 4

New

Choir Organ

 

Dulciana 8

Dulciana 8

25

Dulciana 8

 

Viol di gamba 8

Viol di gamba 8

26

Viol di gamba 8

 

Lieblich gedacht 8

Lieblich gedacht 8

27

Lieblich gedacht 8

 

 

 

28

Gemshorn 4

New

Suabe flute 4

Suabe flute 4

29

Suabe flute 4

 

 

Nazard 2 2/3

30

Nazard 2 2/3

 

 

Piccolo 2

31

Piccolo 2

 

Clarinet 8

Clarinet 8

32

Clarinet 8

 

Oboe 8

Orchestral oboe 8

33

Orchestral oboe 8

 

 

 

34

Tuba

Great posaune revoiced

Great Organ

 

Double diapason 16

Double diapason 16

35

D’ble diapason 16

 

Open diapason 8

Open diapason 8

36

Open diapason 8

Replaced

Open diapason 8

Open diapason 8

37

Open diapason 8

 

Hohl flute 8

Hohl flute 8

38

Hohl flute 8

 

Principal 4

Principal 4

39

Principal 4

 

 

Harmonic flute 4

40

Harmonic flute 4

 

Twelfth 2 2/3

Twelfth 2 2/3

41

Twelfth 2 2/3

 

Fifteenth 2

Fifteenth 2

42

Fifteenth 2

 

Mixture 111

Mixture 111 (17,19,22)

43

Mixture 111 (17,19,22)

 

Posaune 8

Posaune 8

44

Posaune  8

New

 

 

45

Clarion 4

From 44

 

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RENOVATION OF THE ABBEY ORGAN

 Shrewsbury Abbey’s Hill organ was inaugurated in September 1911, therefore it is now 100 years old.  The quality of the Hill organ and the richness of its Edwardian tone, still shine through and the organ is a wonderful and fitting complement to the beauty of this ancient Abbey church.  It is treasured by the Abbey Parish Church Council (PCC), choir and congregation.

 The original Hill specification has never been completed.  Over the years, various additions and changes have been made, but Hill’s original scheme is incomplete.

The original tubular pneumatic action and winding systems are now showing their age.  The organ is increasingly susceptible to the vagaries of the weather and relative humidity levels, and is becoming progressively more unreliable.  It was virtually unplayable over the Christmas 2010 period and gave a very poor lead to the Abbey’s seasonal congregations.

 The PCC has therefore decided that the organ has to be renovated.  Whilst this major work is carried out, with the organ completely dismantled, the original Hill design should also be completed.

 At the same time, the PCC, the Vicar and the newly appointed Director of Music are taking steps to develop the wider musical life of the Abbey.  The renovation and completion of the 100 year old Hill organ is a key part of this ambition.

 Objectives

The PCC requirement is that the work on the organ must achieve a number of clearly defined objectives, which are:

         The quality and integrity of Hill’s design and sound must be preserved.  Where appropriate, changes made subsequent to the 1911 original installation can be reversed.  Preserving the quality and richness of the Hill sound is of paramount importance.

         The 100 year old actions are to be modernised, and electro- pneumatic actions installed.  The PCC believes this to be the most cost effective way of reducing the future maintenance burden of the organ.  This means the Abbey will preserve the integrity and quality of the Hill “sound” with modern key to pipe technical arrangements.  These changes will also facilitate the addition of electric player aids to the console.

         The organ currently lacks the “punch” needed to give musical leadership to large congregations.  Completing the original Hill design, and making improvements to the internal layout of the organ should increase the projected sound and definition of the organ.

          The PCC and its advisers have considered whether any minor tonal additions are needed.  The probable specification does reflect this, and the PCC believes the changes envisaged are wholly in keeping with other Hill early 20th century organs and will enhance the Hill organ sound for congregational and musical purposes. 

          Finally, the PCC’s intention is to have an organ which gives a substantial period of maintenance free life - which is more resilient, far less susceptible to the vagaries of atmospheric conditions and fit for purpose for the rest of the 21st century.

 Other important aspects of the specification of work to the organ are that:

A structural change will also be made to the way the organ is positioned in the Abbey.  By installing a new steel frame, and lifting the base of the organ, the risk of future flood damage to the organ will be alleviated.

Then -

          All existing pipe-work is to be cleaned, renovated as necessary and reused.  New pipe-work has to be to a Hill standard of specification and sound quality

          There will be new winding arrangements which in turn will release a considerable area of space under the organ for secure storage of music, robes etc.    

         There is to be no change to the external appearance of the organ, with the 1937 Nicholson case retained, but cleaned, and patched/renovated where necessary

          The present organ console is a fine Edwardian example and comfortable to use.  This overall ambience is to be retained, although modern player aids will be installed 

          Access to the console needs to be improved, as the current staircase is difficult to use.  

 A temporary organ will have to be installed for the period of the work when the Hill organ will been removed.

 Cost

For planning purposes, we are currently assuming that the cost of this work will be around 500,000, inclusive of VAT, but in view of the nature of the work involved, this figure may not be sufficient.

Fund Raising

The Abbey therefore has to raise 500,000 or more for this important work to proceed.  The work will not be formally contracted until 75% of the cost has been raised or committed.

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ORGANISTS, MASTERS OF MUSIC AND DIRECTORS OF MUSIC 1806 to DATE

 1806  - 1820        Thomas Tomlins

1820 - 1831           John Amott

1831 - 1847           John Hiles

1847 - 1865           William Fletcher

1865 - 1892           James Warhurst

1892 - 1919           Percy William Pilcher

1919 - 1922

1922 - 1937           George Walter Tonkiss

1937 – 1945           G A Turner

1945 – 1947          Edgar Daniels

1947  - 1974          John R Stanier

1974 – 1976           Ray Willis

 1976 – 1978         Robert Gillings

 1978 – 1984         Kenneth Greenway

1984 – 1986         Charles Jones

1986                      Sean Tucker

1986– 1988          Keith Orrell

1988 - 1992          Paul Derrett

1992 - 1994           James Lloyd-Thomas

1995 – 1999           William Hayward

2000 – 2006          David Leeke

2007 – 2010          Tim Mills

2011 to date          Tom Edwards

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 A BRIEF HISTORY OF MUSIC AT THE ABBEY

 From the foundation of the Abbey in 1083 music has formed a vital and integral part of the life of the building. The Benedictine brothers who populated the Abbey throughout the Middle Ages regularly sang the plainsong offices of their order. The brothers would have gathered together eight times throughout the day and night to sing their praises: The customary offices were,

             Matins             sung at midnight

            Lauds               sung at dawn or 3.00 am

            Prime              sung at 6.00 am

            Terce               sung at 9.00 am

            Sext                 sung at 12.00 pm

            None                sung at 3.00 pm

            Vespers           sung at 6.00 pm

            Compline         sung at 9.00 pm

 Most of these services comprised psalms, readings from scripture and plainsong hymns. The major hours of Lauds and Vespers comprising a more complex liturgy which included canticles which are still regularly sung in the church: the Te Deum, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis and Benedicite.

Whilst there is little evidence of the musical foundation of the Abbey remaining, there are suggestions that music at the Abbey was held in some regard. As early as 1306 King Edward II sent one of his choristers, Richard the Rhymer, to the Abbey to learn the ‘mistrelstry of the crwth’, a forerunner to the violin. There is even evidence that the monks were active as composers: it has been suggested that a four-part Latin motet, composed between 1285 and 1320 in honour of St Winifred, had its origins at the Abbey, where there was a cult devoted to the Saint.

Whatever musical foundation existed at the Abbey was swept away at the Abbey’s dissolution in January 1540 when much of the Abbey was razed and the nave transformed into the Church of the Parish of Holy Cross. From this period until the beginning of the nineteenth-century the Abbey appears to have existed in a musical hinterland – with accompaniment to the singing provided only by ad hoc instrumentalists.

In 1806 Lord Berwick advertised his plan for the restoration of the Abbey Church: He suggested that

by putting up a window of stained-glass at the east end, over the communion-table, and by erecting an organ of suitable dimensions for the service of the church’

the appearance and worship of the Abbey Church would be infinitely improved. He personally offered 100.0s.0d. to the fund but mentioned that whilst the cost of the organ was expected to be

‘400. The salary of an organist can be provided for out of the funds of the parish, without any further assistance’.

Under the scheme, a future mayor of Shrewsbury, Thomas Tomlins was appointed organist. An organ was installed on a gothic gallery in the tower at the west of the Abbey by Gray of London at a cost of 365 guineas. Tomlins opened the organ, with its fascinating and unclassifiable case, in January 1807 on which occasion,

‘a suitable discourse was preached to a large and respectable congregation by the Rev Dr Goddinge’.

Thomas Tomlins left the Abbey in 1820 upon his appointment as organist of St Mary’s Shrewsbury. His death in 1847 was reported in elegiac terms,

‘the attainments of Mr. Tomlins in the science of music were of no ordinary character; his rapid execution on the violin, and the brilliant tones which he elicited from that instrument, will long be remembered with satisfaction and delight. His name for half a century had been associated with music, particularly as the leader of the Shrewsbury Choral Society, and in the exercise of that duty he at all times commanded the highest confidence from those under his direction. At the same time it may be stated, that his untiring zeal, energy, and punctuality, in all that he undertook, was ever conspicuous, and made it a source of pleasurable occupation to everyone who happened to be united with him in the soul-inspiring cultivation of melody’.

He was replaced as organist was John Amott, a former pupil of William Mutlow, at Gloucester Cathedral. Amott returned to Gloucester as organist in 1832 and died in the cathedral in 1865 having conducted the final bars of Mendelssohn’s Hear my prayer.

Amott was replaced as organist by John Hiles, the elder brother of the composer Henry Hiles. John Hiles was also a prolific composer and teacher. He was variously the organist of the Abbey, the Music Hall, St Julian’s and the Trinity Chapel in Shrewsbury. He left in the Abbey in 1847 upon his election to the post at St Julian’s. He left Shropshire in 1853 upon his appointment as organist of St Thomas, Portsmouth, today’s Portsmouth Cathedral.

Hiles was replaced by the brilliant young organist, William Fletcher, born in Ludlow in 1820. Aged only 20, in 1840, and already acknowledged ‘a talented young professor’ and had previously been

‘elected organist of the parish church at Hales Owen Shropshire. The organ is a new instrument containing sixteen stops, built by Banfield of Birmingham’.

Under Hiles and Fletcher the choir assumed its present shape albeit as a choir of men and boys. Sometime in the mid 1850’s Fletcher lost his sight but it was not until 1865 that the vestry advertised nationally for a new organist.

Organist Wanted

The Musical Standard, 1st July 1865

The new organist, James Warburton, arrived at a time when there were extensive restorations happening within the Abbey buildings. His seventeen year tenure saw the removal of the Gray organ from its gallery at the west of the church to a position at the east end and the extension of the east end and quire to something resembling its original dimensions. The laying of the foundation stone of the new chancel in 1886 was commemorated by the photograph of the clergy and choir displayed below.

Warburton left the Abbey in 1892 and was replaced by Percy William Pitcher who combined his position at the Abbey, with a private teaching practice and a teaching position at Shrewsbury School. It was his direction that the Gray organ was replaced in 1911 by a new Hill instrument, which remains today. The new organ was dedicated on 17 September 1911

‘At eleven o’clock full choral matins took place, and a sermon was preached by the Archdeacon of Salop (Ven. C.B. Maude) who preached on the text “Praise Him with stringed instruments and organs” (Psalm 150 verse 4).  In the course of his address the Archdeacon expressed the great gratification it afforded him to be taking part in that service, and said he thought it was praiseworthy that they should have undertaken the provision of a new organ so quickly after the large expenditure of money on the tower.  The preacher went on to trace the origin of organs from the beginning, and gave an interesting description of the early use of stringed instruments.  A new organ necessarily resulted in improving the singing in a church, and he also trusted that their singing would become more and more congregational, as with the attention at present devoted to the teaching of music in the schools, people were now able to take their own part in the services.

Evensong on Sunday began with a procession, and the anthem “For He is a most High Lord” (Sir George Martin) was admirably rendered by the choir.  There were large congregations throughout the day, and the collections were donated to the new organ fund’.

Throughout the twentieth century the Abbey has been served by a number of talented and dedicated musicians who have built upon these historic foundations and have produced a choir which regularly sings cathedral-style services to the very highest standards.

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