London pipe organs – contrasts of color and style

London pipe organs – contrasts of color and style

Freemasons Hall London

Freemasons Hall London (Photo: R Blanch)

This time around the Club visited the Freemason’s Hall in Great Queen Street, which was built in the interwar years, when cinemas were springing up like mushrooms all over the country. To those who are aficionados this building has some close ancestry with both the State Kilburn and the Granada Tooting!

Organist Andrew Clark talked to us about acoustics in the Grand Hall, and the organ, which is placed in two shallow chambers with organ cases three-quarters of the way up the hall.  Judged by contemporary Wurlitzers and Comptons, the wind pressures on this Henry III Willis of 1934 vintage are reasonable at 6 to 18 inches, and it proved more than capable of some Rutter and the ‘Intrada Solemnis’ composed by the organist; but it is a pint pot trying to sound like a quart!

Willis Organ (1934)

Willis Organ (1934) (Photo: R Blanch)


The "naked" organ by Robert and William Gray (1796) (Photo: D Clark)

The “naked” Robert and William Gray organ (1796) (Photo: D Clark)







And in Lodge Room 3, there is  a Robert and William Gray chamber organ of 1796.  This had a delightful warm tone, to which one could listen all day.

At the City of London School from Queen Victoria Street, one finds a building of but a single storey; it then increases in height as the ground falls away towards the river.  The Walker organ (3+P/42), which looks terrific in its bespoke case, is more than capable of taking on 800 boys and even the masters, but that there isn’t the necessary cohesion of the various stops to give it that certain ‘magic’ that would set it apart as something special.

Walker Organ City of London School (Photo: R Blanch)

Walker Organ City of London School (Photo: R Blanch)

The final destination of the afternoon was St Mary’s, Bourne Street, just off Sloane Square, a famous centre of Anglo Catholicism.  For such a well-known church it is remarkably self-effacing.

It was then the turn of William Whitehead, the Director of Music, to introduce the organ to us.  He played ‘Salix’ from Whitlock’s Plymouth suite and the transformation scene from Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’  The organ proved that it is well suited in its accompanimental role for the anthems and settings which are such a central part of the services here, but not really a recital instrument.  It started life as a Lewis & Co. instrument of 1913.  Mr Whitehead claimed it was a first cousin of the famous and in my opinion fabulous Lewis in Southwark Cathedral.  Also of note, in St Mary’s, there is a ‘basso profundo’ occasioned by the tube line passing below the building, which adds another twenty-five foot to the 32’ sub-bass!

Lewis organ St. Mary's Bourne Street, Lodon (Photo: R Blanch)

Lewis organ St. Mary’s Bourne Street, Lodon (Photo: R Blanch)

Based on a review by Giles Dimock (2007)

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