The Organ
The Alexandra Palace Organ Appeal
Registered Charity No.:285222, London N22 7AY
The Organ in 1926



No little interest has been aroused among organ-lovers generally by the scheme which has been set on foot for the rebuilding and modernising of this renowned instrument.

It is generally understood that it was regarded by Father Willis as his most successful concert organ ; and from the days of its first organist, Frederick Archer, who opened it in 1875, to the brilliant occupancy of Mr. G. D. Cunningham, the last official organist of the Palace, it has provided intense delight for many thousands of interested listeners, and has indeed proved itself the most distinguished feature of the Palace.

Alas, it is now silent. Neglect and worse have done their work, and so severe have been the ravages of time and of the vandal that, if it is to recover its lost glory and regain its place in the front rank of its kind, no less a sum than 8,000 must be spent upon it.

A Committee is working hard to make this practicable, and finds its chief incentive and its largest hope in the fact that H.M. the King has approved of the restoration as a fitting memorial to the late Queen Mother. The following will give a general idea of the salient features of the original organ, with the improvements which it is desired to effect.

The chief feature of both Swell and Great departments is the perfect blend. If all the flue stops be drawn on either keyboard, including Mixtures, the effect is most sparkling and brilliant. The chorus reeds on these departments are as fine as any Willis ever made.

The Solo Organ demands our attention for two important reasons. Fixing the date 1875 firmly in our minds, it is truly remarkable to find a Tuba on 25-inch wind pressure, and such exquisite and delicate imitative stops.

The Choir Organ is perhaps the least satisfying of the manual departments, for bearing in mind that the Choir Organ should be a miniature Great, we are surprised to find a Gamba for the 16-ft. and no Open Diapason of 8-ft. register. There is a 4-ft. Principal, which is the only representative of the metal Open Diapason family. If the Contra Gamba were replaced by a Double Open Diapason 16-ft., and an Open Diapason 8 ft. and a Fifteenth 2-ft. supplied, and if all of these, together with the present Principal, Mixture, and chorus reeds, were placed on a separate soundboard with, perhaps, an 8 and a 4-ft. Flute and all the rest enclosed, the Choir Organ would become far more useful and effective from every point of view. Unfortunately this at present seems impossible.

There is a very complete Pedal department with its four 32-ft. stops, three of which are open. Father Willis never minded Mixture work on the Pedal; in this instance, a Sesquialtera is included in the scheme as well as 3-rank Mixture. The whole of this department is very effective.

A short quotation from Father Willis's own description of the action may be of interest : "From the bellows in the basement the wind passes into twenty-four reservoirs placed in the organ. Each manual is furnished with a pneumatic lever of the most approved construction as an intermediary power, and the pedal has two pneumatic levers interposed for the same purpose. The whole drawstop movement is upon an entirely new principle, each stop being drawn and withdrawn by a pneumatic lever of peculiar construction, the motive being highly compressed air for the one, and highly attenuated air for the other. By this means the ordinary draw movements are entirely got rid of. For this invention and for some other contrivance in connection with the wind, the builder has obtained a patent." At present the improvements under contemplation are as follows :
  • New console with adjustable combination action of Willis's latest type.
  • Revoice Pedal Bourdons, 32 and 16-ft.
  • Add to Pedal a metal Geigen 16-ft.
  • Insert Cor Anglais 8-ft. prepared for, but never put in.
  • 32-ft - reed remade with full length zinc tubes and revoiced.
  • Add Viole d'Orchestre 8-ft.
  • Add Violes Celestes (BB) 8-ft. to Solo Organ.
  • Remove Solo Organ from old position and enclose in a separate swell-box.
  • Add a Carillon-Tubular Bells bA to bE 20 notes chromatic, in two powers with pedal control, playable from Solo keyboard.
  • The whole of the action to be modernised and Willis's latest model electro-pneumatic mechanism substituted, throughout the instrument.
There has been much controversy of late concerning the large sums expended upon the restoration and rebuilding of organs. With regard to this instrument, however, we must take into consideration its unusual size, and remember that nothing beyond ordinary tuning and upkeep has ever been effected and that the organ has stood without any use during the past twelve years. Considering all this, 8,000 is a most modest sum.

© Henry Willis & Sons, Ltd.