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Father Willis Organ

‘I honestly believe that you have the finest church organ in the world—certainly the best in England, and I heartily congratulate you on the same.’ Sir Frederick Ouseley, 1877

The Salisbury Cathedral organ was built in 1877 by ‘Father’ Henry Willis, who was responsible for building some of the very finest pipe organs in the country and across the world. The organ, built at a cost of £3500, was gifted by Miss Chafyn Grove. The organ case cost £1000 to build, and the blowing apparatus an additional £800-1000. The original console was situated on the north side, buried deep within the organ chamber. In 1934, Henry Willis III installed the current detached console in a separate loft on the south side, with electro-pneumatic action and additional couplers and pistons. A few stops were added or transferred, and the Solo Organ became enclosed in its own separate ‘swell’ box. The organ was renovated again in 1969 by Willis.

In 1978, the firm Harrison & Harrison renewed the console mechanism and electrics, and in 1993 the same firm overhauled the instrument, re-leathering the actions and reservoirs. The organ remains in the care of Harrison & Harrison today.

Apart from some very minor tonal changes, and some small changes of layout, the organ remains largely unaltered, and the Great and Swell choruses are still cone-tuned. The organ sounds very much as it would have done in 1877, as it has not been enlarged or ‘improved’ by subsequent organists and organ builders. Indeed, during the 1934 restoration, Sir Walter Alcock refused to allow parts of the instrument to leave the Cathedral in case unauthorised alterations were made without his knowledge.

‘No single stop is of undue power, yet the final result is greater than the sum of its parts: delicate, transparent, Gothic: tall rather than broad: tone in height.’ Peter Temple

The organ is regarded by many as one of the finest pipe organs in the country. Willis himself later confided in Alcock that he considered the organ at Salisbury his finest. As with so many of Willis’ great organs, the Salisbury instrument is perfectly designed for the building, and has an immense vivacity of sound which is always arresting, exciting and alive.

The organ is divided in two cases on either side of the Quire: the Swell and Choir divisions are on the south side, the Great and Solo on the north. There are Pedal stops on both sides, and the two 32ft stops are located in the North Transept.

The specification of the Father Willis Organ can be found below.