T.C. Lewis 1897, Willis III 1952, Harrison & Harrison 1991, 2017 (console)
The organ remains essentially as built by T.C. Lewis in 1897. Henry Willis & Sons provided a new console, lowered the pitch, added stop No 9 and altered the voicing in 1952. Comprehensive restoration has been undertaken by Harrison & Harrison in two stages: The Willis console and electrical system in 1986, and the main work in 1991.
The Cathedral authorities considered it important to retain the modern pitch, but wished to reverse the changes that had been made in the organ’s musical quality. The pipes have been lengthened and the original wind pressures re-instated, so as to allow the pipes to speak naturally at the new pitch. In this way it has been possible to re-create Lewis’s characteristic musical style. The evidence has been left clearly visible so that a return to the original pitch would be possible in the future.
The Organ chamber is in the angle where the south transept joins the south quire aisle. The Great and Solo Organs face west into the transept, with a case designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield; the Pedal and Swell Organs speak into the aisle. The Choir Organ, originally in the main chamber, was relocated north of the choir stalls in 1952, as was the console, which formerly stood in the south aisle.
Not many Cathedrals possess ‘thoroughbred’ organs. So many instruments have been constantly altered; in the process the original designs have been obscured, and often the organs have ceased to have a distinct personality. Southwark is fortunate in having a thoroughbred instrument which has remained basically unaltered since it was built. It is true that far-reaching and well-intentioned efforts were made in 1952 by Henry Willis to make the organ conform to what at the time was to be considered ideal English organ tone. The 1991 restoration by Harrison & Harrison, however, has attempted to reinstate the original sound by judicious re-voicing of the entire organ on the original wind-pressures.
The instrument was built by T.C.Lewis of Brixton and opened in 1897. When it was first heard, it was considered by many to be out of date, for Lewis was a firm believer in the romantic organ in the classical tradition. He was much influenced by Schulze, the German builder who exhibited at the 1851 Exhibition, and particularly by his fine organ at Doncaster Parish Church. Apart from the two large reeds on the Solo on 12 inches, the whole organ was designed to speak on low pressures of 31/2 inches - an outrage to late 19th century progressives, beguiled as they were by the possibilities of high-pressure voicing.
In this organ, Lewis realised his cherished convictions more than in any other instrument he made. A glance at the specification will reveal the startling originality of the concept. Where else in 1897 could one have found a new organ with a moderate-sized Great which boasted two 16ft flue stops, nine ranks of mixture-work and only one 8ft reed, a Choir Organ with a 3-rank mixture or a pedal division with a true French Bombarde and three full-length 32ft stops on an instrument of 60 speaking stops?
On hearing this organ, lovers of organ tone will be in no doubt that they stand in the presence of greatness. The instrument possesses a great variety of beautiful quiet registers including some notable families of flutes. But ultimately it is the effect of full organ that evokes the greatest admiration. Though the effectiveness of the contribution from the Swell must not be underestimated, the big sound from Southwark comes from the Great and Pedal. The bell-like grandeur and harmonic brilliance of the Diapason Chorus underpinned by the Pedal reeds and flue-work is a sound of astonishing magnificence.
The organ of Southwark Cathedral is an instrument of great originality, standing firmly in the great European tradition. Harry Bramma, Director of the Royal School of Church Music; Organist of Southwark Cathedral 1976-89
The Old Organ of St Saviour’s
Information on the organs previous to the Lewis organ is scarce but we do know that in 1705 Abraham Jordan made a new organ for St Saviour’s Southwark, subsequently Southwark Cathedral. This organ had three manuals and 26 stops, including a full set of mutations and most unusually a Double Diapason on the Great. The organ case had carvings of King David and two angels. They survive and are placed on the sill of the west window of the nave.
Jordan (c1666-1715/6) a prolific organ builder lived in the neighbouring parish of St George the Martyr. Southwark in a house rented from St Thomas’ Hospital. He ‘betook himself to the making of organs, and succeeded beyond expectation”, although he “had never been instructed in the business, but had a mechanical turn”. His first organ was for St George’s and after St Saviour’s went on to build one for St Magnus Martyr over London Bridge.
Music in Southwark Cathedral
Music is essential in the daily work of Southwark Cathedral. The choir of eighteen boys and twelve men is unique in that the choristers are drawn from all over London - from Winchmore Hill to Croydon - since there is no choir school. In this way a vital contribution is made to the musical education of the youngsters in this great city. There are four sung services a week and the accompaniment of the superb Lewis organ has become a recognised part of the “Southwark sound” - with the rumbling of the trains and the traffic scarcely noticed. The voluntaries and improvisations form