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A Brief History
When St. Philips Church was built in 1715, Schwarbrick (a pupil of the famous Renatus Harris) installed an organ in a West End gallery. The present organ retains from the original organ the magnificent South casework (facing across the Church) and 6 or 7 ranks of pipes: the Great (smaller) Diapason chorus and Stopt Diapason and the Choir Open Diapason.

added the Choir Stopt Diapason in 1777 and George Pike England the Swell Open Diapason and Principal in 1805.

In 1883, the chancel was enlarged and Hill moved the organ to its present position in the northeast corner of the Church.

In 1894, Nicholsons added a third manual.

In 1905 the Church was made the Cathedral for the new Diocese of Birmingham. The next major re-build came 24 years later in 1929, again by Nicholsons. They added the Solo division, making it a 4-manual instrument. The reeds were voiced by the renowned "Billy" Jones and it is very good to know that a pupil of his is still employed by Nicholsons and has been involved in the reed voicing of the 1993 rebuild. The present console and most of the reeds date from the 1929 work.

In 1940 the Cathedral was severely damaged by firebombs and the organ suffered mainly from the firefighters water. It was then dismantled and stored in Pershore Abbey. After the War building regulations meant delays in repairing the Church and the organ was not re-installed until 1948, by which time the Vicar of Pershore had lost patience with the "pile of junk" in his Church and had it moved to a Birmingham church.

The 1948 re-build (again by Nicholsons) was an opportunity to make some changes. Electro-pneumatic action replaced the tubular pneumatic action. The Swell Oboe was replaced by a Clarion. The Clarinet moved from the Choir to the (enclosed) Solo, where it replaced a Vox Humana, and a Tuba Major plus Pedal Ophicleide were added. There were other minor changes too, but the Board of Trade would not permit the 32-foot reed that was "prepared for".

In 1955, Willis Grant had the Choir Clarabella replaced by a gentle Sesquialtera (now on the Swell and less gentle). In 1966, Thomas Tunnard had an Oboe put back in the Swell at the expense of the Clarion. Two years later Roy Massey had this swap reversed (using the same Clarion pipes). Now the Swell has both stops! In 1969, inspired by the then new Walker organ in St. Chads Cathedral, the Friends of the Cathedral contributed the Trompeta Real, a fiery Fanfare Trumpet which replaced the big Tuba.

The following year, 1970, the instrument was greatly enhanced by the addition of the gallery casework, which dates from c.1730. It has seen service in various different churches over the centuries, but we trust it has now found a permanent home, which, incidentally, it fits miraculously.

Through the 1970s various plans for re-builds and even new organs came to nothing and by the late 1980s it became clear that much of the mechanism was showing its age. While this was being replaced, it seemed opportune to improve (modestly) the specification, to re-think the layout in terms of the jobs the organ had to do and yet to preserve all that was good in the old instrument. Thus, the casework, the console and the great majority of the pipes are retained, yet most of the structure and the "workings" were new in 1993.

The 1993 Rebuild
Thanks to the great generosity of the Bigbury Trust, it was possible to commission Nicholsons, who have now had care of the organ for 100 years, to undertake this work.

The layout of the old organ was very unsatisfactory. It had grown higgledy-piggledy. For example, a "screen" of big Open Wood pipes blocked egress of the sound via the gallery; the Great had to speak through a narrow "pillar-box"; the Choir was buried; and access to some pipes for tuning or repair was impossible.

The thinking behind the present layout is to provide two organs in one.

The first, south facing, is for accompanying a choir in the chancel. It comprises the Choir (in the front of the south case, acting as a "chancel Great"); the Solo behind it, speaking through the Choir; and the Swell (on top of the Solo and using only its south-facing shutters) with the Pedal basses in the back corner.

The second, west facing, speaks from the gallery for use in the nave (recitals, voluntaries and accompanying a congregation). It comprises the Great (immediately behind the gallery casework); the Swell behind it (with both sets of shutters working) and the Pedal and Trompeta Real well placed to speak from the gallery. The "Chancel" departments, Choir and Solo, are also usable, though with slightly less direct impact in the nave.

New stops include Great 4-ft. Flute, Tierce and two Mixtures; Swell Oboe, 2ft. Flute and Mixture; Choir Larigot and Mixture; Solo 8-ft. Flute; Pedal 32-ft, Trumpet and upperwork. The Sesquialtera has moved from Choir to Swell, where it is useful both in a "solo" combination and as a constituent of an English "Full Swell". The Trompeta Real now has a bottom octave and the Cor Anglais has reverted to 8-ft. pitch. The stops that have made way are the Swell 1-ft, the Great 5 1/3 and the Pedal Open Wood.

Other innovations include 8 general pistons (on 16 channels), Tremulants on Great and Choir, a Solo/Choir coupler and a more conventional layout of stops at the console.

Canon Marcus Huxley, April 1993

Additional photos of the organ shown on this page were taken by Mike Gutteridge.

The Diocese of Birmingham  

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