The Music of St James’s Church

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The Organ

A brief history by Dr William McVicker

William Hill & Son of London constructed a three-manual organ in 1882, for Street’s (largely new) church.  Hill was, along with Willis and Lewis, one of the leading organ builders of the second half of the nineteenth century.  The company was then run by Thomas Hill and the specification of the organ was much as one would have expected from the company at this period, although the inclusion of an Orchestral Oboe on the Great Organ was unusual.  Hill & Son would have been on the eve of winning the contract to build what was to become the largest organ in the world – for Sydney Town Hall – and the company was at the top of its game.

The organist of the church between 1894 and 1907 was Henry J.B. Dart; he must have persuaded the church authorities to commission Hele & Co of Plymouth to enlarge the instrument to cathedral-style proportions by adding a fourth manual –the Solo Organ – and the instrument practically doubled in size at that time. The provincial Hele company was doing very well in the early Edwardian period, on account of the outstanding voicing work of George Hele’s son, John.

In 1936 the firm of Rushworth & Dreaper worked on the instrument, remodelling the Choir Organ and updating the console and mechanisms.

Finally, in 1972, J.W. Walker & Sons rebuilt the organ.
The following things were retained:

  • The basic Hill/Hele internal layout
  • Most of the Hill/Hele pipework
  • The Hill/Hele wind system

The following aspects of the organ were new, remodelled, or re-arranged:

  • A new console
  • New, state-of-the-art, solid state electronic switching gear for the key-action or ‘transmission’
  • State-of-the-art piston system
  • Addition of compensator-regulators to the wind system
  • The new Positive Organ
  • Various tonal changes: the new Great Octave 4’, Swell Scharf, alongside a certain amount of judicious revoicing of existing stops and rearrangement of mixtures.

The specification of the organ, as it stands today, is as follows:


Pedal Organ
Sub Bass 32
Open Wood 16
Violone 16
Bourdon 16
Dulciana 16
Octave 8
Violoncello 8
Bass Flute 8
Fifteenth 4
Octave Flute 4
Ophicleide 16
Fagotto 16
Posaune 8
Bassoon 8

Choir Organ
Contra Dulciana 16
Geigen Diapason 8
Claribel 8
Dulciana 8
Salicet 4
Harmonic Flute 4
Harmonic Piccolo 2

Positive Organ
Rohr Flute 8
Principa 4
Nazard 2⅔
Blockflute 2
Tierce 1⅗
Cymbal III

Great Organ
Violone 16
Open Diapason I 8
Open Diapason II  8
Open Diapason III  8
Hohl Flute 8
Octave 4
Principal 4
Wald Flute 4
Twelfth 2⅔
Fifteenth 2
Mixture III
Double Trumpet  16
Trumpet 8
Clarion 4

Swell Organ (Enclosed)
Bourdon 16
Open Diapason 8
Gedact 8
Salicional 8
Celeste 8
Gemshorn 4
Stopped Flute 4
Fifteenth 2
Mixture III
Scharf II
Oboe 8
Contra Fagotto 16
Cornopean 8
Clarion 4

Solo Organ (Enclosed)
Harmonic Flute 8
Viol d’Orchestre 8
Viole Celeste 8
Concert Flute 4
Orchestral Oboe 8
Corno di Bassetto 8
Tuba (unenclosed) 8

Swell to Pedal
Swell to Great
Swell to Choir
Swell Octave
Swell Sub Octave
Swell Unison Off
Choir to Great
Choir to Pedal
Great to Pedal
Solo to Pedal
Solo to Great
Solo to Choir
Solo Octave
Solo Sub Octave
Solo Unison Off