Father Willis Organ | Salisbury Cathedral

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Father Willis Organ

Our Father Willis Organ is one of the Cathedral's great treasures. It is still fulfilling its purpose over 140 years after it was installed. Renowned for its exceptional sound quality, it is an irreplacable and important part of the country's musical heritage. It was built between 1876 and 1877 by ‘Father’ Henry Willis. He 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 £3,500, was a gift of the great local benefactor Miss Chafyn Grove. The original console was situated on the north side, 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 tonal additions and several carefully-considered transfers of stops were made, and the Solo Organ became enclosed in its own separate expression box. The organ was renovated again in 1969 by Willis.
 
This famous organ has now come to the end of a comprehensive, fourteen-month long restoration by renowned organ builders and restorers Harrison & Harrison of Durham, who have had the care of the organ since 1978. Over 2019 and early 2020 they completely dismantled the instrument. Every pipe and component has now been cleaned, repaired and reassembled. The organ was brought back into use for Evensong on 24 February 2020, and it is hoped that the return of the instrument may be celebrated with performances in 2021. (All events relating to the 2020 Organ Festival have been cancelled owing to Covid-19.)
 
Apart from some very minor tonal changes, and some small changes of layout, the organ remains largely unaltered, and the Great, Swell and Choir main choruses are still cone-tuned (perhaps the only example of cone tuning left in an English cathedral organ). The organ sounds very much as it would have done in 1877, and 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. It 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’s 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 restoration of our organ has now come to an end, but we are still very grateful for donations towards the work, which has cost over £700,000. The Cathedral needs help to fund this important work: please click here to donate and help us secure the future of this marvellous organ.  
 
For more information contact Jilly Wright on 01722 555122 or j.wright@salcath.co.uk.
 
The specification of the Father Willis Organ can be found below.
 

 

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