Author Topic: Willis History  (Read 21632 times)

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David Drinkell

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Re: Willis History
« Reply #20 on: April 23, 2013, 04:00:00 PM »
I'm intrigued as to who would play whom, were the BBC to make a prestige costume-drama series, "The Willis Saga".

Father Willis - Ian McKellen
Henry Willis III - David Suchet
E.M. Skinner - Peter Vaughan
Arthur Hudson Marks - Dustin Hoffmann
etc....
« Last Edit: April 23, 2013, 04:04:00 PM by David Drinkell »

Bryan Moseley

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Re: Willis History
« Reply #21 on: December 10, 2015, 01:53:08 PM »
A few years ago I found a set of Rotundas, missing only the first three issues.  They were all heavily annotated, but tucked inside two early issues were some sheets of manuscript.  They were presumably written by a tuner who had worked for Willis and R&D and as the writer refers to the late Arthur Seare, post-date his death in 1970.  Articles on the organs in question were in the journals.  Perhaps the writer was happier at R&D than at Willis - another HW III that migrated to R&D quite early in its life was his "Model Organ" at St Thomas a Becket, Wandsworth.

I have wondered what to with them as they are potentially interesting anecdotes for a historian, so I've now transcribed and scanned them.  The transcription comes first and the scans are at the end.  I presume the "Loreto" is Loreto Convent Chapel (NPOR N04348) which looks similar to a HW III scheme.  I've also included the annotation of a well-known photo in the Willis works in Ferndale Road.  I wonder who W.J. was?

"Volume 2, Number 2, April 1928

Christ Hospital Hertford (Girls’ Bluecoat School)

Two Organs:

1. Speech Hall: A very fine small 2 manual HW I C & O’d by Horace Norwood (?) and myself for R & Ds.

2.  Chapel Organ a new 2 man HW III.

Nice organ tonally and pitman snbds but the single rise reservoirs with their horrible cone valve wind regulators always in trouble.  W.J. never happy.

Both organs taken away from H.W’s and give into care of R & Ds.  Chapel organ reservoirs re-fitted with orthodox R.Ps (roller pallet blind controls) wind regulators, all worked out perfect. W.J. very pleased after putting up with abuse and a lot of nonsense for years from H.Ws.

I met W.J. when he was an elderly man.  He always recollected (?) he was let down by  H.Ws and what great friends he found in the late Llew Simon and Phil White R&D who put all things right.

W.J. was never happy at Loreto College in spite of that great R.C. organist Guy Weitz pushing (?) the job.

I was sent to Loreto by G.B Cartwright to tune, a great list of complaints left for me and an interview with the Mother Superior.  I told the Revd Lady I did not think we had given the final polish to job, reported this.

I was sent a Rocket over this!  Really dropped in it after Guy Weitz’s visit.  Guy Weitz had passed job but W.J. was not happy.  What a position for a tuner to encounter who was not told who had been there.

This was the start of HW IV’s Baroque style voicing with “CHIP” (“Chiff”).  The nuns and W.J. not accustomed to it in 1952, just asked for a normal tonal scheme.

F. Colmer was sent after me to smooth the Revd Lady and the Organist Sister.  G.B.C. phoned me to say HW III would be exonerating me from all blame not knowing the state of things, I never did get this.

I think again, they called in others to correct organ as they wanted it some years later.

The late Arthur Seare C & O’d Comleys (?) organ at All Saints in the later 20s, they got on well, all perfect.

That P.C. you sent me of St Saviours St Albans was done about the same time.


All Saints Church, Penarth, S Wales

A Willis rebuild of the late 20s.  HW III in Frank Geiger’s (?) time as S Wales tuner operating on an itinerary from Ferndale Rd Brixton.

Trouble here and no satisfactory treatment given.

Messrs C.H. Gill Cardiff Organ Works called in (to) give remedial treatment, had care for many years until John Compton completely rebuilt job in 1953 – 54.  Organ now in R&D’s care.  I think was an original Blackett and Howden rebuilt by HW III.  Not a good organ in the start to work on.



Volume 2, Number 3, September 1928

Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford

Now in H N & B’s care.

H W III’s rebuild and tonal recast to suit the whims of Sir Hugh Allen and Dr Harris.

Swell Mixture HARMONIC CLAUSA 4 RKS

15 17 19 22.  Composed entirely of Stopped Metal Pipes.  A tuner’s nightmare.

The late F Colmer after making a tuning visit made his report to HWIII and asked about this monstrosity mixture and was told you are to take next time cuttings of cardboard cut at graduated width to slide into the mouths to blank off say 3 pipes of each note so one can hear for out of tune!

The practical side was never entered into.

It never was a success and the organ was put into the care of HN&B.  They removed this stopped mixture and replaced it by 5 ranks of orthodox pattern so it could be tuned."


Volume 1, Number 4, April 1927

The photo opposite p.38, captioned “Willis Sliderless Chest, in course of construction” is annotated “Westminster Cathedral Great Reeds” and the staff pictured are identified as: 
Background: left  not annotated, right Mr Stanley Thacker
Foreground: left Mr Arthur (“Wiggy”) Hewitt, right Mr Alfred Marlow (foreman)

The photo also appears at the top of p.322 of Elvin’s “Pipes and Actions”.








 
« Last Edit: July 17, 2017, 09:54:02 AM by Bryan Moseley »

David Wyld

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Re: Willis History
« Reply #22 on: December 10, 2015, 05:09:53 PM »
W.J.  was William J. Comley,  with whom I was in contact in about 2001 (he was by then in his 90s),  as he wanted us to have his complete set of The Rotunda,  which is here in the Library.  He waxed lyrical about his 'friendship' with HW3 - I have had the files out following this last post and am somewhat stunned by the duplicity!

Comley played each side off against the other(s)- he would be as nice as pie to the tuners and then complain about them to Head Office but also having said to the tuners how poorly he was being treated by Mr.. Willis(3).  HW3 bent over backwards for Comley who always took the free service but then moaned about  it.   There are other, multiple, instances in the files which make very interesting reading for anyone doing any research.

The handwriting of the written out notes was instantly recognisable - Ivor Lane,  sacked from Henry Willis & Sons for drunkenness and outright incompetence:  when I was first involved at the Firm, there were still employees here who recoiled at his name, especially those having 'worked' with him away on site.  Mr. Willis once called the local pub next to a place where Lane was supposed to be cleaning an organ and asked the Landlord to put him on to the man in the Bar by the name of Lane!    Interestingly ALL of his comments are negative towards Willis and suddenly R&D are the  miracle firm who sorted everything out.  slightly pathetic really.

As to the Wandsworth organ (St. Thomas):  built in 1928,  with the firm until the West window of the church was blown in in the war (1941 or 44?) and the War Damage Reparations money insufficient to meet the Willis estimates for restoration so in 1950 they went with the local Kingsgate Davidson firm,  who divided the organ either side of the window.  R&D didn't get involved until 1994/5 when they carried out a disastrous "restoration" and I was called in in 1998 to inspect it and report - an interesting letter in the file from R&D to me,  which tells a great deal.   so the assertion that this organ "migrated to R&D quite early in its life" is not at all accurate and possibly falling into the same vein as Lane's slant-eyed view of the situation in the notes above?

These files are available for anyone interested to see.   

David Wyld


 

David Wyld

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Re: Willis History
« Reply #23 on: December 10, 2015, 06:28:40 PM »
A few years ago I found a set of Rotundas, missing only the first three issues.  They were all heavily annotated, but tucked inside two early issues were some sheets of manuscript.  They were presumably written by a tuner who had worked for Willis and R&D and as the writer refers to the late Arthur Seare, post-date his death in 1970.  Articles on the organs in question were in the journals.  Perhaps the writer was happier at R&D than at Willis - another HW III that migrated to R&D quite early in its life was his "Model Organ" at St Thomas a Becket, Wandsworth.


Now that I think about this a little more,  I wonder what the motive might be in simply posting something like this without reference to the firm - considering that the basis of the material is the deluded opinion of a drunkard following his expulsion from the object of his opinion?  Libellous at the time? Probably.  Why do organ enthusiasts believe that they can just pretend that the firms which they regularly rubbish in their internet blathering don't exist (or mind).  In fact I wonder if Mr. Moseley would even have considered posting this if it had referred to, say, Harrison & Harrison or Mander?

I remind you Mr. Mosley that Henry Willis & Sons is still very much alive and potentially kicking!

DW

Bryan Moseley

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Re: Willis History
« Reply #24 on: December 11, 2015, 09:54:22 AM »
There is no reference to the author's identity in the notes and I had never heard of Lane before.  Mr Wyld's comments in his first post have shed a lot of light on their origin and his character, which was the main object of posting the material. 

I am not a "Willis basher".  There are two very fine Willis III organs in Buckinghamshire, High Wycombe Parish Church and Stony Stratford Parish Church, ex-Edinburgh.  The first received a rather unfortunate (my opinion - others may disagree) "restoration" in 1980 in which some characteristic stops were removed and the console spoiled;  the second is being completed following a comprehensive restoration by FH Browne and Son, retaining the Willis III console and adding stops previously prepared for or stolen.

Apologies for getting the wrong end of the stick about the Wandsworth organ.

David Drinkell

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Re: Willis History
« Reply #25 on: December 11, 2015, 04:50:22 PM »
The story about Stony Stratford is that it was put in by Starmer Shaw, a small firm owned by a medical doctor - I can't remember if he had antecedents in the trade or not - who wanted the job mainly to put one over on Rushworth's, who were expecting to get it and against whom he for some reason nursed an amount of animosity.  I played it a long while ago and it seemed that a good job had been done of transplanting a fine Willis I/III organ.  There were indeed a number of registers prepared at the console.

Bryan Moseley

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Re: Willis History
« Reply #26 on: December 12, 2015, 11:23:55 AM »
Stony Stratford have a great website which has a lot of history about the organ:

http://www.musicforallsmsg.org/

I was in the church last week on a "recce" for a possible visit and had a chat with one of Browne's organ builders, who was finishing some carpentry on one of the stair wells.  He was very helpful and showed me round.  The restoration is nearly finished, with the pipes for the replacement Waldhorn soon to arrive.  The new casework is beautifully finished.  It wasn't switched on (and I didn't ask!) but having heard of the Willis "toggle touch" I did try that and it was just the right weight, and much nicer than the rather indeterminate and springy touch of so many electric actions and the frightening lightness of some modern tracker actions.

High Wycombe are running an appeal at present:

http://www.allsaintshighwycombe.org/choir--music.html

Correction to my previous post:  according to NPOR, the previous work was in 1984 rather than 1980.

There's also a 1962 2 manual Willis in Amersham Free Church, recently restored, and I hope to visit that one next year.


« Last Edit: December 12, 2015, 11:30:05 AM by Bryan Moseley »

David Drinkell

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Re: Willis History
« Reply #27 on: December 12, 2015, 05:22:06 PM »
Dr. Ingram!  Reading the Stony Stratford organ history jogged my memory.  There were a lot of Ingrams in organ-building.  One was at Hereford and entered a brief partnership with Hope-Jones, the last organ of this alliance being the one I play every day here in St. John's (HJ absconded to the States while it was under construction and stopped off in Newfoundland to try to persuade the Vestry to renege on the contract and buy an organ from Austin, with whom he would now be working).  I think the father Ingram took over Holdich's business.  The other was in Edinburgh and did a lot of work - competent but rarely inspired.  In Kirkwall, the Cathedral had a 1925 Willis III with all mod cons (not as many as later Willis jobs - he hadn't assimilated all the American influences at the time and was still evolving the house style.  It was said to be the last Willis with slider soundboards), while the nearby Patterson Kirk (later called the East Church) had an Ingram of similar vintage which could have been built 25 years earlier.

Willis took over the Scottish business, I think.  Henry 4 told me that Pa Ingram deliberately set up his sons in business with each as far away from the other as he could contrive.

Amersham is a fine organ, one of a number of excellent jobs from that period, another being Stowmarket URC in Suffolk, which has a fine acoustic and sounds magnificent, despite being quite small.

Bryan Moseley

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Re: Willis History
« Reply #28 on: December 13, 2015, 10:47:37 AM »
Very interesting.  The other Starmer Shaw connection in the area is the 1880 Harrison in Haversham church, NE of Stony Stratford, transplanted from Edinburgh in 1962.  The plan is to try to arrange a Bucks OA meeting for 2017 to visit both churches.

Both the Stowmarket and Amersham Willis designs have a flute as the 4' swell stop (rather than a Principal), which on first sight looks a bit strange.  Is the idea that the Diapason 8, Quartane 12,15 and Octave Coupler gives a chorus of 8-4-12-15-19-22, or was there other thinking behind it?


Bryan Moseley

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Re: Willis History
« Reply #29 on: August 04, 2016, 10:23:00 AM »
To add a little more to this, the Stony Stratford restoration has turned out very well.  The choruses ring out in the building, the flutes and strings are very fine and the reeds magnificent.  The new Choir mutations are wonderful - I've tried them in chorale preludes and they  highlight solo lines beautifully.  The action is instant and the tracker touch gives a very crisp feel.

Courtesy the Bucks OA, I've briefly played two other local Willis instruments recently.  Berkhamsted School Chapel is a 1949 rebuild of a Hope Jones and is superb!  Again, very good choruses, just two big reeds, both on the Swell but what reeds! The action response is instant.  The console is rather odd, with stop keys and built into the HJ console carcass.  It is comfortable but would take a bit of acclimatisation.

The 1962 Willis in Amersham Free Church was a bit of a disappointment.  For me, it didn't hang together tonally although the acoustics in the building don't help and give a rather muffled effect.  The flutes were beautiful but the Great chorus came over as rather woolly.  There have been some tonal changes so my question in the previous post no longer applies.  The action was noticeably slow, also noticed by another of our party who is used (like me) to Victorian tracker, although it didn't worry others more used to electric actions.  Like Berkhamsted it has sprung manuals rather than "tracker touch".

Stony Stratford have an ongoing concert programme, highly recommended to any in the area:

http://www.musicforallsmsg.org/

Hopefully the High Wycombe restoration appeal will be successful.
« Last Edit: August 04, 2016, 10:27:47 AM by Bryan Moseley »

Mike Manners

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Re: Willis History 'Players' Not Welcome On The Payrole
« Reply #30 on: October 05, 2016, 04:39:26 PM »
Here we go again!

This is ALL nonsense I'm afraid.  I get VERY angry when this sort of rubbish raises its head, regularly, on various lists - does no-one ever read ANYTHING written anywhere else??   I posted this on the Mander forum some time ago:

*************************

HW1 did leave things in a mess in 1901, but that didn't bankrupt either the firm or the family: The family did want to wind everything up and share out the 'dibs' but HW2 resolved to pay all his father's debts (when at that time they could actually have walked away from the situation) and in so doing he put both himself and the firm in a difficult position - which ultimately resulted in his failing health and mental breakdown. He died in 1927.

After Lewis got his own firm into financial difficulties (not for the first time) he was bailed out by John Courage, whom he knew through the Architect, Bentley and it was Courage who set up Lewis & Co. in 1901 - under the Co. Reg. No. 70718. Bentley designed and built the new Lewis factory premises at Ferndale Road in Brixton, again funded by Courage.

After the end of WW1 Lewis had lost the greater part of its Staff, John Courage had had enough of losing money via organbuilding ventures and Willis were looking for larger premises:  it was 'arranged' that the Partners in Henry Willis & Sons would purchase the shareholding in Lewis & Co. This had to be the case since at that time it was legally impossible for a Partnership - i.e. a non-limited Company - to take over a Limited Company. The sale of the shares was assisted by Courage himself who took a debenture over the Company with its new "Willis" Directors, loaning the money of the purchase of the shares by the Willis partners.  Due to the legal requirements, on the purchase of the Lewis shares, in 1919, the Company was then renamed Henry Willis & Sons and Lewis & Company Limited.

Of course the same thing had occurred in 1915 between Hill & Son & Norman & Beard Ltd..

John Courage remained on the Board of the Company for several years (his name/signature appears regularly in the Directors meetings book) and in 1926, or thenabouts, the Lewis part of the name was dropped - presumably there was a seven-year rule to be passed before the new 'owners' could revert to their own name.

I was appointed as Managing Director in October 1997 and arranged the purchase of the entire shareholding from the remaining family share holders in November of that year and it was as a part of THAT process that I discovered that, even though it had all been repaid, the Courage Debenture still remained on the Companies House records and an application for its removal was submitted and accepted. We (Henry Willis & Sons Ltd.) are still the same Company, registered under the same, originally Lewis & Co., registration number, 70718.

*****************

So, can we have this right please - there has never been any Willis Bankruptcy and I would question entirely the assertion made that there are papers pasted in any soundboard saying anything of the sort.

By the way, these are not "recollections" of the history, they are the facts as documented in the firm's archives.  Your friends tip-off is nothing other than rumour and scandalization!

David Wyld

On a lighter note, in 1960 at Rotunda, I was an unreliable, very, very, young junior trainee, who preferred to play instruments rather than learn organ building and fix faults.

It was all very exciting for a young teen obsessed with pipe organs. Until that is, one day I was ordered to Mr Willis' office. I was told that organists were usually not welcome as employees. I was warned that Mr Colmer had complained.

I later discovered that there were at least two other players working for the firm: Michael Osborne (Epsom PC), Mathew Copley, and Bruce Buchannon.

Michael and Mathew were diligent in there work so Willis 111 and 1V were happy. Not so the aforementioned ill-disciplined youth, and Tommy Colmer refused to take me with him on jobs !  Oh the shame ....

But as time progressed I found myself being asked by the 'old man' to 'demo' instruments erected in the building room to church councils.

One such instrument was destined for Chesterfield PC. I think this organ was a Lewis, rebuilt, and given a new Willis 111 console which I loved. Wasn't there a fire at Chesterfield?

By then, I had been taken under the nurturing wing of Michael Osborne, and I begun to blossom a little.

Mike.

 


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