Halifax Minster Organs

Minster Organ

Although there may have been organs in the church much earlier, the first organ of which we have much knowledge is the one that the famous Swiss organ builder, John Snetzler, built in 1766.

It had three manuals and no pedals and was located on a gallery at the west end of the nave. As was usual for an English organ of this period, the Great and Choir organs went down to G below the modern bottom C, whilst the Swell only went down to tenor C.

This organ was added to by Gray in 1836 and by William Hill in 1842 and 1869.  The church was re-ordered in 1878, and a new organ, incorporating some Snetzler pipework, was built on the north side of the chancel by Abbott and Smith.

By 1926, the organ was in a parlous condition.  Harrison and Harrison of Durham were invited to submit plans for a new instrument, and within a few weeks, Arthur Harrison produced a specification that is little different from the instrument as built.  The new organ cost £7,000, of which half was given by a Mr. Standeven.  The organ was installed during 1929, and opened by Edward Bairstow, the organist of York Minster.

Interestingly, an 8′ open diapason from the Abbott and Smith instrument now stands on the swell organ in the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge.  A small amount of Snetzler’s pipework remains in the present instrument – the 8′ and 4′ flutes on the choir organ and the stopped diapason and open diapason no. 3 on the great are certainly Snetzler pipes.  Whether any other pipes are Snetzler in provenance is debatable.

The organ was re-built in the 1970s by J.W. Walker & Co.  Fortunately, very few changes were made either tonally or as regards the mechanism.  The only significant change was that the Great mixture was modified from a “harmonics” mixture of 17.19.21.24 to a quint mixture of 19.22.26.  The instrument retained its tubular pneumatic mechanism from 1929.  No aids to registration have been added since 1929: there are no general combination pistons and no sequencer, making this instrument one of the few remaining large organs in the UK without such devices.

Described as ‘the Rolls-Royce of instruments’, it is an organ of significant tonal integrity and importance and has provided the ‘Sound of Halifax’ for generations.  Click HERE for much more information and for a full specification of the organ.

Chamber Organ

In addition to our main organ, Halifax Minster boasts another historic instrument.  Following the installation of the main organ in 1766, Snetzler was commissioned to build a chamber organ for John Waterhouse of Well Head, then a Churchwarden of Halifax Parish Church. His house organ was completed in 1770. The organ was later discovered in St Peter’s Convent in Horbury, near Wakefield. The ‘Wellhead Snetzler Organ’ was donated to Halifax Minster where it was re-dedicated on 1st March 2015 at a service of Evensong with Procession.

After the service, a short recital was given by Professor David Baker who was instrumental in its restoration. For more information see The Halifax Organ Academy. http://halifaxorganacademy.com

You can see Graham playing the organ HERE and HERE.

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