The Henry Willis Organ

Built 1884, restored by Bower & Company 1996

The Parish Church’s Henry Willis organ was built in 1884. It was in fact the second organ to be built by this distinguished organ builder for Hampstead Parish Church. Willis came here as a young man to be the church Organist in 1853. Fresh from the success of the organ he had just built for the Great Exhibition of 1851, he used his time here to build another of his earliest instruments. When the building was substantially extended 30 years later he was invited back to build the larger instrument which was then required. Willis’s second Hampstead organ was designed at the height of his career as one of the greatest English organ builders of the19th century and it is a superb instrument.

The organ has since that time been subjected to two rebuilds and a restoration. The first rebuild, by Willis’s successors in 1930, was sensitive to the original instrument, but the second, by Harrison & Harrison in 1964, was swayed by the fashion for neo-Baroque sound and made considerable alterations to it. In 1996 the PCC commissioned Richard Bower of the Norfolk firm of pipe organ builders, Bower & Company, to restore as far as possible the original Willis sound. Bower did this remarkably successfully, in spite of not having to hand any details of the original specification until a late stage of his work. He retained the Great, Swell and Pedal organs, built a new Choir organ to replace the lost original, and also added a new Nave organ. This was achieved with comparatively little new pipework, because Bower was able to transfer existing pipes or else provide old secondhand Willis pipes unearthed from the recesses of his own workshop. All the pipework was restored to its original voicing, and the new Nave organ voiced to complement the Willis organ. The final result was an instrument recreated close to the original 1881 specification. The Harrison console of 1964 was retained, along with the electric action which was modernised with Solid State.

The fine old instrument, still housed in the imposing walnut case built for it by T G Jackson (architect of the Examination Schools at Oxford), is an integral part of the worship of the Parish, and an essential part of the musical tradition at Hampstead. It is frequently used for recitals, by the church’s own organists, Lee Ward and David Moore, as well as by visiting performers, who have recently included Gillian Weir, Barry Rose, Malcolm Archer and Ian Tracey.

Specification

SWELL ORGAN GREAT ORGAN
Hautboy 8 Clarion 4
Cornopean 8 Trumpet 8
Vox Humana 8 Mixture III
Contra Posaune 16 Fifteenth 2
Mixture III Twelfth 2 2/3
Gemshorn 4 Flute Harmonique 4
Lieblich Gedackt 8 Principal 4
Salicional 8 Claribel Flute 8
Vox Angelica 8 Open Diapason 8
Open Diapason 8 Double Diapason 16
     
CHOIR ORGAN   PEDAL ORGAN  
       
Corno di Bassetto 8 Clarion 4
Piccolo 2 Trumpet 8
Concert Flute 4 Opheicleide 16
Dulciana 8 Cornet V
Claribel Flute 8 Mixture III
Viola da Gamba 8 Super Octave 4
    Flute 8
    Violoncello 8
NAVE ORGAN   Bourdon 16
    Open Diapason 16
Trumpet 8    
Mixture IV    
Fifteenth 2 COUPLERS  
Principal 4    
Open Diapason (I) 8 Full complement