Shrewsbury Abbey is fortunate in having a fine William Hill & Sons organ, installed in 1911. This organ was designed for the restored and extended Abbey (John Loughborough Pearson’s 1890s work), and was also designed to fit into a large space to the north side of the new Chancel. Hill was one of the two foremost organ builders of the time and his organs are found in many of the UK’s cathedrals and churches. Shrewsbury Abbey’s Hill organ however needs to be restored and renovated, and is still missing many stops.
The information in the web pages in this section of the Abbey’s web site start with an explanation of how an organ works, then have more information about the organ, the work proposed and its cost. Finally there is information about the Organ Restoration Fund appeal and how to donate.
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There is also more information elsewhere on social media. Facebook, Instagram, and on the Organ’s own Blog. Our Just Giving Page is coming soon:
How an organ works – In very simple terms!
Imagine you are about to play a recorder. You hold the recorder, take a breath, place your fingers on the holes and blow. What changes the sound you make? How hard you blow, how many holes you cover with your fingers and the composition & length of the recorder – the longer it is and the more holes you cover, the deeper the note.
A pipe organ works in just the same way, albeit on a larger scale and with technical and engineering complexities.
Wind is produced by an electric blower and stored in large reservoirs which have a floating top, weighted to create air pressure.
Pipes are inserted onto “soundboards” which are connected through to the wind supply. There are different “ranks” of pipes to produce different sounds. In simple terms, each key on the organ’s keyboards is connected through to a single pipe on each of these ranks. The Abbey’s organ has 61 keys on each of the three keyboards or manuals, so for each rank there are 61 pipes. “Mixture” ranks have two or three pipes to each note, so each mixture rank can have 122 or 183 pipes.
Each rank of pipes is connected to a “stop” on the organ console. Each stop produces a different colour of sound and many different pitches. Sound colour depends on how a pipe is made, wood or metal, and the type of each used; pitch depends on pipe length – the longer the pipe, the deeper the sound; short pipes produce high pitch.
Stop lettering describe the colour of the sound; they also say how long the longest pipe is, and that defines the pitch. The longest (lowest sounding) pipe on an 8’ stop rank of pipes is 8’. The rank will have 61 pipes, each pipe shorter than the one before and each octave of pipes roughly half the length of the previous octave.
The sound produced by an 8’ stop is at the same pitch as a piano. A 4’ stop is an octave higher in pitch, a 2’ stop another octave higher but a 16’ stop is an octave lower.
The different key boards or manuals (the Abbey organ has 3) add variety to the sounds produced. They can be used separately or can be coupled together to broaden the sound for effect. Pedal stops add depth and weight, and again vary the effect and the sounds produced overall
Pallets below the pipes control the supply of air. These pallets are opened/closed by mechanical, electric or pneumatic leather-hinged motors. The Abbey’s actions are tubular pneumatic – i.e. pulses of air travel through lead tubing to the pneumatic motors.
Timeline of Abbey Hill organ
1808 Gray organ installed under the West window of the Abbey. This instrument was moved to the north side of the nave during the 19th century
1890s Major Abbey restoration and east end extension by John Loughborough Pearson
1911 New organ by William Hill and Sons inaugurated in September 1911 at a cost of £850. The organ was incomplete, with missing stops, no casework, and the third manual (choir) was also to follow . Gray organ pipework was not re-used. The 1911 pipework is stamped with Hill’s job number, 2412
Post 1911 The missing third manual (choir) was installed at a further cost of £250
1921 An electric blower replaced the hand-blown mechanisms, which were disconnected but not removed
1937 Hill Norman and Beard installed the great Posaune stop, made the 16’ great double diapason also playable as the missing pedal violone, added a large diapason (HNB manufacture in the 1920s) to the great and cleaned the organ
1937 Chancel facing casework designed by Sir Charles Nicholson was also installed, using the pipes of the great double diapason in the display
1945 Second hand horn pipework installed on the swell organ. The Hill 8’oboe was transposed into a 16’ contra oboe to tenor C and the top octave of pipes was removed. Also, probably at this time, a fifteenth 2’ was installed on the swell organ
1958 Hill Norman and Beard over-hauled the third manual (choir), with two new stops installed (nazard 2 2/3’ and piccolo 2’). The choir box was enlarged also to take in the flue stops (until then it had only contained the two solo reeds), the shutters were re-aligned and two swell pedals replaced the two latch down levers, but remained (unusually) on the RHS of the console. The whole organ was cleaned
1970s A new pedal board was installed
2011 Tenders for restoration and completion of the organ. Work did not proceed for lack of funding
2012 1921 blower failed and was replaced; the asbestos lined blower box was safely removed
2014 New chancel facing casework panels and a lockable door from the choir vestry to the console, as well as new realigned stairs
2016 3 day intensive care visit by GO Organbuilders to correct all the then apparent faults
2017/18 Major upper-stonework project at the Abbe
2018 Scheme for restoration and completion of the Hill organ put forward by GO Organbuilders
“We wouldn’t realise there is anything wrong. The organ sounds magnificent.”
The 1911 organ does sound magnificent and is much loved by the congregation, choir and organists, visitors and visiting musicians. That is because of the quality of the core Hill pipework which produces superb blended Victorian tone, and because of the vast space in the Abbey as a whole and specifically around the organ
But there is much not right with the organ and faults are increasingly common. These are some of the problems:
The Abbey has been quoted for renovating and completing the Hill organ
This work would involve:
The work would take up to 6 months during which time the Hill organ would be completely out of action
The Abbey cannot commit to this work until it has an up-to-date faculty (i.e. diocesan permission to proceed), and until it has funding in hand or pledged to cover a significant proportion of the total cost
It is planned to complete the organ using salvaged, appropriately scaled contemporary Hill pipework. The availability of all the pipework required has still to be confirmed, so the stop lists below are provisional. However, the plan is for the completed organ to have the following specification:
Pedal Organ Open metal 32’ Currently missing. Salvaged pipework with quinted bottom 5 notes
Violone 16’ Currently uses great 16’ double. Replace with salvaged pipework
Open wood 16’ 1911 pipework
Bourdon 16’ 1911 pipework
Octave 8’ From open wood. 1911 pipework
Base flute 8’ From bourdon. 1911 pipework
Cello 8’ Missing. Reuse large 1937 great diapason and rename as principal
Trombone 16’ Missing. Extension from 8’ tromba and salvaged pipework
Tromba 8’ New additional stop using revoiced present swell 8’ horn
Swell organ (enclosed)
Bourdon 16’ Missing. Salvaged pipework
Open diapason 8’ 1911 pipework
Stopped diapason 8 1911 pipework
Salcional 8’ 1911 pipework
Voix celestes 8’ 1911 pipework
Principal 4’ 1911 pipework
Flute 4’ Missing. Salvaged pipework
Fifteenth 2’ 1945 addition
Mixture 3rks 2rks 1911 pipework. Missing prepared for 3rd rank added
Oboe 8’ Currently 1945 contra oboe 16’. Return to 8’ with new trebles to scale
Double trumpet 16’ Missing. Salvaged pipework on electro-pneumatic soundboard for reed chorus
Trumpet 8’ 1945 second hand horn pipework to be reused as pedal tromba. Salvaged pipework to replace on soundboard as above
Clarion 4’ Missing. Salvaged pipework on soundboard as above
Great Organ Double diapason 16’ 1911 pipework
Open diapason no 1 Inappropriate 1937 pipes to pedal organ. Salvaged pipework replaces
Open diapason no2 1911 pipework (originally intended to be the no 1 diapason)
Hohl flute 8’ 1911 pipework
Principal 4’ 1911 pipework
Harmonic flute 4’ 1911 pipework
Twelth 2 2/3 1911 pipework
Fifteenth 2’ 1911 pipework
Mixture 3rks 1911 pipework
Posaune 8’ 1937 addition. Rescale and revoice to give better blend
Tuba 8’ Choir tuba also to be playable from great
Choir organ (reduced choir box so that Hill reeds only enclosed, as intended in 1911
Dulciana 8’ 1911 pipework
Viol di gamba 8’ 1911 pipework
Lieblich Gedact 8’ 1911 pipework
Saube Flute 4’ 1911 pipework
Nazard 2 2/3’ 1958 addition to be retained
Piccolo 2’ 1958 addition to be retained
Clarinet 8’ 1911 pipework
Orchestral oboe 8’ 1911 pipework
Tuba 8’ New additional stop. Salvaged pipework. Also playable from great
The Abbey has to raise at least £150,000 for this work. The table below shows the costs and funding needed:
|Cost of the organ contract, including a contingency sum and allowance for a price rise||180|
|VAT on the organ contract||36|
|VAT recovery through diocesan scheme||-36|
|Scaffolding and incidental costs||15|
|Earmarked funding already raised - about 1/3rd of the total cost||80|
|Fund raising target: funding from|
local and national Trust funds; donations; fund raising events etc
|Total funding needed||195|
If we are able to raise more money than the new £115,000 target, it would be used to: