Pipe organ builders

Pipe Organ Builders in the UK

Harrison & Harrison (Durham)
are the largest organ builders in the UK, with a well-deserved reputation for excellence. The firm was founded 
by Thomas Harrison in Rochdale in 1861: he was the son of Thomas William Harrison of St Pancras, London, whose firm made parts for the organ-building trade.  The firm relocated  to Durham City in 1872  and with Thomas’ father as a partner conducted business under the name Harrison & Harrison.  Thomas was succeed by his two sons Harry and Arthur who built up the reputation of the company in the early part of twentieth century. In 1905 they were commissioned to rebuild the Father Willis organ in Durham Cathedral. This was a significant instrument for the firm and much work followed from it including rebuilding many notable cathedral instruments and the organ in the Royal Albert Hall. The organ in St Mary’s Redcliffe (Bristol) built in 1912 (and most recently restored by H&H in 2010) is a particularly fine example of the firm’s work.  After the second world war, Cuthbert Harrison (Harry’s son) became head of the firm.  Under his direction the firm continued to carry out important work including working with Ralph Downes on the Royal Festival Hall Organ (1954), which has just undergone a major restoration, and the new organ for Coventry Cathedral.  Mark Venning took over from Cuthbert Harrison in 1975.  Christopher Batchelor succeed Mark Venning as managing director in 2011, and Mark Venning continues to the Chairman of the Board.  The H&H  web site provides a good overview of the firm’s history and their past and current work.  An interesting account of the firm’s activities up to the mid 1970s  can be found in  The Harrison Story, by Laurence Elvin, published by the author (in 1977).

Mander Organs (London)
was founded by Noel Mander in 1936. During the second world war he rescued many instruments from churches damaged in the blitz and after the war undertook many  repairs and restorations.  John Mander became managing director in 1983 on the retirement of his father.  It was under Noel Mander’s direction that the firm restored the Father Willis organ in St Paul’s Cathedral between 1972 and 1977 and under John Mander the firm completed the restoration of the  Willis/Arthur Harrison organ in the Royal Albert Hall in 2004. The firm has worked extensively in the UK and built a number of organs overseas, I particularly like the instrument they built for the Church of St Ignatius Loyola in New York.  Noel Mander’s contribution to organ building is recognised in the book of essays entitled Fanfare for an Organ Builder (Positif Press, 1996)

Henry Willis & Sons Ltd
is perhaps the most famous name in UK organ building. The firm was established by Henry Willis. Henry was born in 1821 and apprenticed to John Gray (a London organ builder); he then worked for the organ builder William Evans in Cheltenham. In 1847 Henry Willis was commissioned to build a new organ for Gloucester Cathedral and in 1851 he exhibited a 3 manual organ at the Great Exhibition in London. At the Great Exhibition, a committee from St George’s Hall Liverpool were searching for a firm to build a new organ for the Hall.  W.T. Best, the city organist, demonstrated the organs from three builders and the committee were most impressed by the Willis organ. Best played the Willis organ without registrants using Willis’ new thumb pistons to manage the instrument on his own.  Henry Willis went on to build many fine instruments for churches cathedrals, great houses and concert halls; many of these have been subsequently rebuilt. He was the foremost organ builder in the country and when the organ was need for the Royal Albert Hall he was called upon to provide the instrument – not other builders being asked to tender.  He was honoured in his lifetime by being called Father Henry Willis. Father Willis was join in the firm by his two sons Vincent and Henry II.  Vincent left the firm to work in the United States.  Henry II’s son Henry III joined the firm and was responsible for building many of the firms larger instruments including the organs in Liverpool and Westminster cathedrals. The family connection continued with Henry IV joining the firm.  The Willis Factory in London (the Rotunda Organ Works) was destroyed in the blitz.  In the post-war period he leadership of the firm passed to  Henry Willis IV;  its Victorian image became unfashionable and this   prevented the securing of significant contracts.  Since the retirement of Henry Willis IV in 1997, the firm  has been under new ownership and management and under its new managing director, David Wyld, the firm is undergoing a revival. They have moved to premises in Liverpool (previously occupied by Rushworth & Dreaper) which they have extended and known as the Rotunda Organ Works. They have completed some major rebuilding and restoration work (including Lancaster Cathedral, Christ Church Port Sunlight, St Peter’s Ruthin and All Saints’ Carshalton) and completed new organs in Florence and Auckland.   W L Sumner’s book Father Henry Willis, Organ Builder, and his successors (1955 Musical Opinion Ltd) provides a sympathetic account of the firm’s history up to the early 1950s.

J.W. Walker & Sons
another well established builder in the UK who have carried out some interesting jobs overseas as well as at home.

Gloucester Organ

Nicholson & Company (Worcester)
have done some very interesting work in recent years including the rebuilding of the Gloucester Cathedral organ and new organs for Christchurch Priory and Llandaff Cathedral.


David Wells
The company first established to maintain the organ in the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool (I understand) that is now a significant player in the UK. (Place-holder web site)

Kenneth Tickell
has build some excellent new organs including large instruments at Eton College and St Barnabus Dulwich.  They have recently completed the new organ in Worcester Cathedral.

The smaller companies listed below have been established by their owners and are responsible for some fine new organs and rebuilding jobs.
Bower & Company has both build and restored some fine instruments.
Peter Collins Organs has build some very fine classical instruments and builds a fine range of home practice instruments.
Martin Goetze and Dominic Gwynn make new organs in the classical British style using traditional materials and undertake historic restorations. The firm was found in 1980 and has an impressive portfolio on their excellent web site.
A.J. Carter activities include looking after the Doncaster Schulze.
William Drake has carried out some fine restoration work including the ballroom organ at Buckingham Palace.

Wood of Huddersfield their work includes the rebuilding organ in St Asaph Cathedral’s (North Wales) and more recently the Blackburn Cathedral 1969 Walker organ.
The Wells-Kennedy Partnership are probably the major pipe organ builder in Northern Ireland.
David R. Leach makes mechanical street and fairground organs.

Pipe Organ Builders in USA
A few organ builders from over the pond
founded in the 1880s is one of the major organ builders in the US; large opus list included on their web site. Built theatre and church instruments.
founded in the early 1960s and their web site includes a number of papers written by their founder Charles Fisk. They have built a large number of instruments and are active internationally.
a company that has built a large number of instruments (small and large) within the USA. The firm has a reputation for small, direct electric action instruments (the web site describes some standard unit extension organs) but they also build mechanical action instruments. American style organs were their forte but they now embrace classical style instruments too.
Taylor and Boody
a “small company” (about 17 staff) building and restoring some very fine looking mechanical action instruments.
Martin Pasi’s small company builds mechanical action instruments.
Nichols and Simpson
small company in the State of Arkansas.
Hendrickson (MN)
founded by Charles Hendrickson in 1964 seems to be a large builder with a good web site.
Dobson (IW)
a fine web site setting out a good view of the work of this company founded in the 1960s. They appear to be a fairly significant USA organ builder.
Schantz Organ Company (OH)
started business in 1873 and is still under the management of the founding family. From the web site the majority of the work seems like traditional American style organs.
Ontko (NC)
small comapany working in the southeast of the USA.
Redman (TX)
build and restore instruments within the US. The new organs include mechanical and electric action instruments with stop lists from the classical as well as the American organ traditions.
Oberlinger (US Portal)
this is a portal for Americans into the Oberlinger web site. 

Pipe Organ Builders in Canada
Létourneau (Canada)
an international company who have built some fine organs in the UK (in the French style) including St.Peter’s ad Vincula (Tower of London) and Pembroke College Oxford.
Casavant Frères (Canada)
build some excellent instruments in North America (in the French Style).
Doddington & Doddington (Canada)
A small Canadian company who have recently survived a major fire. They rebuild and instrument s and install new organs as agents for Casavant Frères.

Pipe Organ Builders elsewhere in Europe

This section is a bit thin – I’m sure there are many more builders to add in here and it is probably a very UK biased view.

From Germany
Klais Orgelbau

have build some excellent organs in the UK including the new organ in Symphony Hall (Birmingham) as well as being a major international builder.
have built some fine organs in Germany and undertaken some significant work in the USA. Current work includes the organ for the Disney Concert Hall.
Oberlinger Bros
have worked in Germany and in the USA and produced some fine instruments. Their work includes some very nice house organs. The web site is excellent and there is a US portal to the site too.

From France
Manufacture Provençale d’Orgues
run by Yves Cabourdin seems to be a good solid firm in France. They have built numerous new instruments and rebuilt / restored a large number of instruments. One of their most recent projects is the restoration of the 1775 organ in the church of Saint Maximin (Var, Provence). Most of this web site is in French.

From Holland
J.L. van den Heuvel
have an interesting international portfolio of work (and a good web site). The company was established 35 years ago by Jan van den Heuvel who still directs its activities.

From Scandinavia
Marcussen (Denmark)
their work in the UK includes the new organ for Bridgewater Hall (Manchester) and the much recorded organ in Tonbridge School. (Alternative sites 1 and 2)
Frobenius (Demark) have built a number of fine organs for the UK including Kingston Parish Church and Robinson College Cambridge.

Pipe Organ Builders elsewhere
Jubal Ltd (Japan)
Click here to go straight to the English version of this very interesting site.

Suppliers to organ builders
A.J. & L. Taylor electrical and other action parts.
State Logic
electronic control.
Otto Heuss GmbH & Co. – mechanical and electrical parts including cymbelstern.

Syndyne Corporation electronic control gear.

Artisan control and electronic voices.
Musicom control and electronic voices
Klann general supplies (including consoles and chests).
A.R.Schopp’s Sons pipe maker and voicer.
F. Booth & Son pipe makers, voicers and pipe restorers.
F.J. Rogers pipe makers, voicers and restorers.
 mechanical, pneumatic, electrical actions, console parts and general supplies.
Classic Organworks – Organ design software with a free trial down-load. I found this is really very helpful for preparing my console layout.
Renatus fine consoles, cases and other parts for the trade (electronic and pipe). They are have completed some fine casework for a number of recently completed instruments and are to build the case for the new organ in St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh.