Henry Willis, c1870
Harrison & Harrison, 2005
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The origins of this instrument are uncertain, but it was probably constructed by "Father" Willis for a private residence. By 1884, it had been transferred to St Luke's Church, Winterton Hospital, Sedgefield: a new chapel for this large psychiatric hospital in County Durham.
The hosptial provided specialist care for patients from the county and beyond until the 1990s, since when "care in the community" has brought about the closure of large institutions such as Winterton, and the organ ceased to be used on a regular basis in 1994. Following a devastating fire at St Brandon's in 1998, plans were made to restore the instrument and transfer it there, a move that was finally accomplished in 2005.
Responsibility for its tuning & maintenance passed from Henry Willis to the more local firm of Harrisons in 1911, but it remains tonally very much as Willis left it. An electric blower replaced the original hydraulic one in the 1920s and a balanced Swell pedal replaced the original ratchet type in 1948.
The quality of construction and voicing can perhaps be hinted at by the fact that, with the exception of the Pedal Violoncello, all the metal pipework is constructed from spotted metal, even the Great Open Diapason which scales 6 inches at bottom C. One curiosity is that the Swell/Choir coupler is actually labelled "Choir/Swell". The japanned woodwork of the case and console is particularly striking.
You can listen to an historic recording of Sir George Thalben-Ball playing a Willis organ of similar vintage as April 15's Music of the Month