The Hill Organ

The Organ at St. Oswald's was built by the well known organ builders William Hill & Co. in 1911. It comprises three manuals and pedals and is considered one of the finest examples of late romantic organ design in a parish church in the Midlands.

William Hill studied in Paris with Cavaille-Coll and this probably accounts for the romantic flavour of the instrument and the fact that it is ideally suited to the playing of French Romantic music. Nonetheless, the organ is an extremely versatile instrument and music of all styles can be successfully rendered on it. It is equally possible to give an authentic interpretation of Baroque music and the works of J.S.Bach in particular.

The organ was rebuilt in 1958 by Rushworth & Dreaper who cared for it until 2002 when they ceased trading. It is now in the care of Brian Jones.

Now the organ had a complete restoration in March/April 2014 particularly to replace the old and worn out electro-pneumatic action and to update the console itself. 

An explanation of what an organ is, how it works and why we needed to restore the St. Osawld's organ is given on the Layperson's guide to the organ page.

Mrs Veronica Donkin, our organist and Joint Musical Director, put a great deal of time and effort into the Organ Restoration Appeal. It is especially sad that she was not well enough to play it in its restored state. She would have been thrilled to hear its grand and subtle sounds. 


A Layperson's guide to the organ.

Over the past two years recitals have been given by Dame Gillian Weir, Carlo Curley and a number of other eminent organists. Listening to these performers or indeed listening to it during the weekly services you may be asking why the organ is in need of restoration. To answer this I want to try and give a brief explanation of what an organ is, for the majority of our readers who will not be musicians or organ buffs.

Our organ is actually 4 instruments in one - 3 are played from one each of the 3 keyboards (manuals in organ terminology) and the fourth is played by the feet on the pedal board. Essentially each division of the organ is a set of pipes which sits on a box of compressed wind. The wind is supplied by an electrically operated blower. The wind is stored in large bellows or reservoirs made of leather or sheepskin supported on a wooden frame. Pressing a key with either a finger or a foot pulls down a mechanism that allows the wind to travel into a pipe thus producing sound in the same way that sound is produced in any other wind instrument. Normally there is one pipe per note for each different sound.

Inside the organ there is a variety of different sounds produced by pipes of different shapes, sizes and materials. Pipes that produce the same quality of sound are placed in rows. These rows form what is known as a rank of pipes. Each of these pipes is under the control of a white knob on the console called a stop.

There are many different sounds that an organ can make. Firstly there is the sound that all of us associate with an organ. This is known as a Diapason and each manual has its Diapason Chorus. Additionally there are pipes which imitate flutes and other woodwind sounds, strings and brass (the Reeds). So with one pipe per note for each type of sound an organ may contain many thousands of pipes.

The organist sits at the console and the way in which the console is linked to the pipes is known as the key action. There are 4 types of action but I shall only describe 3 which relate directly to the St. Oswald's organ.

  1. Pneumatic Action:
    • The keys are linked to the pipes by small bellows or pneumatic motors which do all the work.
  2. Electric Action:
    • Electrical relays, magnets etc. replace all the mechanics of the above.
  3. Electro-Pneumatic Action:
    • This is the mechanism in use at St. Oswald's. It is a combination of pneumatic and electric. The connection from the key to the inside of the organ is by electrical relay. Inside the organ an electrical mechanism activates a pneumatic motor which, in turn, pulls down another motor or pallet allowing wind into the pipes.

For each stop at St. Oswald's there is a pneumatic motor which pulls a slider into position. There is in the region of 1000 of these motors inside the organ. Prior to the restoration,  the sheepskin or leather of the tiny bellows on these motors decayed or burst and when this happens there is no sound from the affected pipe or pipes. This made a mammoth task for Brian Jones, our organ tuner, who replaced between 8 - 10 leathers at each tuning visit. The leather he usedwas left over scraps from work to other organs; it is no exaggeration to say that without Brian's constant and loving attention over the years the fine Hill organ at St. Oswald's would have been  unplayable long before.

OrganWe are grateful as we are to Brian Jones for the care which he has given,. The organ has had  a thorough overhaul and rebuild to maintain it through the 21st century. The work was carried out by Nicholsons of Malvern, and the workmen were careful and competent, allowing the life of the church to continue normally as far as possible. 

Click here to see pictures of the dismantling of the organ.

Organ restoration