Father Willis Organ | Salisbury Cathedral

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Father Willis Organ

Salisbury Cathedral organ was built between 1876 and 1877 by ‘Father’ Henry Willis, who was responsible for building...

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Father Willis Organ

Salisbury Cathedral organ was built between 1876 and 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, 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.


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 was restored again by the same firm in 2019 and early 2020, and it 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, 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.


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’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.


Find out more about the most recent restoration of our historic organ here.


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