DSCF1266[1]July 12th. GOA visit to Colston Hall and Christ Church, Bristol. – Gloucestershire Organists’ Association

Saturday 12th July at 10.30 am COLSTON HALL  and at 1.45 Christ Church, Broad Street, Bristol. The arrangements for this visit were kindly arranged for us by Mike Eddy, our Treasurer, with on-site help from Chris Mansfield of the B&DOA. We are very lucky to have been able to arrange to this visit to Colston Hall. Fourteen members appeared on the day.

We thank Chris Mansfield not only for giving us a fascinating talk about the Colston Hall organ, with an excellent demostration but also for standing in for Jonathan Price, the Director of Music at Christ Church. Jonathan was is playing for a wedding elsewhere. Chris gave up travelling to Llandaff  Cathedral with the Bristol Organists to be our host for the day.

History of the Colston Hall Organ:-


The first Colston Hall was built in 1867 and the first organ was installed in 1869.  This instrument was very small, consisting of just two manuals, with a small number of stops. It was not long before the need for a more substantial instrument was clear and only a year later, Messrs. Henry Willis and Sons provided an instrument of four manuals and pedals. Unfortunately in 1898 a disastrous fire destroyed much of the Hall together with the organ.
Rebuilding of Hall and organ were soon under way and Messrs. Henry Willis & Sons built another fine four manual instrument, the last large instrument to be constructed under the aegis of “Father Willis”. The organ was used at the opening ceremony for the Hall in 1900. In 1905, under the guidance of Mr George Riseley, the organ was enlarged by Messrs. Norman and Beard of Norwich. The main features of the design were four massive towers formed of the 32ft Open Diapason pipes connected at the sides by semi-circular bays of smaller pipes and in the centre by flats of similar pipes fitting in with the woodwork of the case.
In 1919 the Hall was acquired from the Colston Hall Company by the Bristol Corporation. Seventeen years later, in 1936, it was felt that the time had come to modernise the building and rebuild the organ.  An electro-pneumatic action was installed, together with an entirely all-electric console. The old Willis stops were restored to their former quality, while additions were made to the specification to provide five manual departments, playable on four manuals. Then, in 1945, after surviving the blitz of the war years, disaster struck in the form of a major fire which destroyed the Hall.


Because of post war restriction, the rebuilding of the Hall could not take place until after 1950. When it was rebuilt, Harrison & Harrison of Durham were asked to provide the new organ.  The specification of this organ, which is still unchanged, is set out towards the end of this programme. The instrument proper is behind a grille and little of it can be seen from the body of the Hall. The organ extends upwards above the level of the paneling, and in the centre is the Great organ with the Swell behind it. The Swell front stretches across these centre two portions and has a shutter area of 102 square feet. 16ft, 8ft and 4ft Pedal Diapason stops are visible to the left of the grille, with the Pedal reeds. On the right are the basses of the Great Open Diapason I, and more pedal stops including the Open Wood I. The enclosed choir is to the right with the Solo Tubas in front, the rest of the Solo organ is above the Swell and in front on the right is the unenclosed Choir. To the left are the Great reeds. Below the level of the Great and Swell some of the largest pedal pipes lie horizontally along the floor of the organ chamber.


The organ has continued with very little major attention for the last 45 years. In 1995 the BDOA launched an appeal for funds to carry out a limited repair and maintenance programme at a cost of only £7,500, just 1% of the current value of the organ of ¾ million pounds. By 1997 the Appeal had raised around £12,000. Following the receipt of a substantial grant from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts of £14,900 it was possible to carry out more extensive works costing £21,669 and carry forward money for future repair. These next repairs were carried out in 1998 at a cost of £13,287, the City Council making a contribution of £6,000 towards this cost.
Last year, the BDOA committee felt that the remaining amount of money in its Colston Hall Fund should be used to upgrade the console and provide modern electronic registration aids to replace the now very outdated and limited piston changing mechanism. The City Council agreed to find the balance of funds required and the work was carried out in August this year at a cost of £18,500.


The recent work has made use of modern electronic technology to provide eight general pistons instead of five, with 128 channels of memory. This means that up to 1024 stop changes can be preset by the performer. These are activated during performance not only by the general pistons but also by a sequencer (or stepper). A number of + and – buttons are located on the keyboards which make it easy for the performer to move to the next or previous preset registration change. In addition the Crescendo Pedal which provides a graded increase in volume using a swell pedal has not only a setting provided by the organ builders but also provision for three alternatives to be set by the performer.

Click here for the Colston Hall specification:

Colston Organ Specification pdf bb
The Colston Hall has also just commissioned a new video about the organ and I give the link below. It is only short but very informative

 Please click on this link:  http://www.colstonhall.org/
The former organs.
Bristol-Colston-Hall-02[1]  img149[1]Bristol-Colston-Hall-011[1]

Photos Of The GOA Visit

We all enjoyed a lunch at Wetherspoons which was only a few minutes walk from Colston Hall. It was then just across the road to Christ Church.

The NPOR Ref is N08334. It is a lovely church and a fine 3 manual instrument originally by Renatus Harris with changes by Vowles and others. A full article about the organ plus its specification is to be found below the photographs.

Christ Church – The Organ

The organ at Christ Church is first mentioned in 1552 – when Mr John Lylle was paid 8d for playing the
organ on Christmas Day. Other references to the organ and organist appear in the Church’s records from time to time: the tuner also gets a mention in 1558, when Mr Thomas Teken was paid 5 shillings for “kepyng the organs in teune.” Various other references to that instrument appear, but the organ we know today was a product of the reparations to the Church, after damage in the Civil War: (in 1643, “Pd the Sexton for cleaninge the church when organes and windowes war broken when the souldgers ware there”. The wealthy merchants eventually came around to replacing the instrument in 1707, when four meetings with Renatus Harris are recorded – including two at the Nagg’s Head, and one at the Rose Tavem.
The organ took a mere eight months to build, and it is Harris’s case we see today – even if few of the pipes are his.  Both he and his successor Thomas Schwarbrook added extra stops to the instrument. But because Schwarbrook’s workshops were in Warwick, local men were engaged to maintain the instrument.
These included Brice Seede who in the early 1780s agreed (again after a few drinks in the Nagg’s, Head) to repair the organ for £30, and to keep it in tune for three guineas per year.
The medieval church was replaced in 1784, and the organ was reinstated – again in a westem gallery, but With the Woodwork painted white and with gilded mouldings (traces of this coloration still remain).
The next rebuild was made by the Bristol builder John Smith – successor to Richard Seede and inventor of The octave coupler – and it is probably from this time that much of today’s pipework dates. Wind for this instrument was supplied by turning a handle, which remained available for emergency (if noisy) use until the 1970s.
The organ was next modernised in 1869 by WG Vowles (John Smith’s successor): a name familiar to all Bristol ‘organists. He added some new stops, and two more in 1889 when he undertook the next rebuild.
Also in 1889, a new swell box was added together with a sub-octave coupler for the Swell. He also added a bottom octave to the swell, providing today’s compass of CC – g, but the great and choir windchests still extend down to GGG.
The action was modernised, first in 1925 when JW Walkers provided tubular pneumatics (and a super- octave) to the Swell, and again in 1939 when Vowles electrified and repositioned the pedals.
Walkers made the next overhaul in 1973, when a lot of plaster which fell into the organ during the last war was finally removed.
But the organ owes its present condition to Roger Taylor, who in 1997 undertook a full restoration of the instrument. He restored tracker action to all manuals, and provided a new capture system with eight channels for both general and divisional pistons. (Hitherto, there had been minimal mechanical aids, with only a few composition pedals, and a Great to Pedal reversible). He also added four new stops: a new 3-rank swell mixture (to replace the one lost in 1826), the Choir Larigot and a new 4′ Fifteenth and 16’ Trombone for the pedal. Also the Echo Gamba was removed from the Swell and added to the Choir.
The 0rgan’s tercentenary year in 2008 was marked by the addition of a new 8’ Solo Trumpet in the Choir Organ – an extension of the 1997 Trombone, which balances well the other Trumpets on the Swell and Great in terms of dynamic, character and brightness. Also, the beam of the Swell/Great Super-octave coupler was reversed to provide a sub-octave coupler, thus giving provision for sound at 16’ pitch on the manuals, hitherto lacking. There are currently 34 speaking stops.
The anniversary year was further celebrated by the PCC’s commission of a Paean, dedicated to Jonathan Price and the Organ of Christ Church, City from Dr John Marsh, Organist of the Lord Mayor’s Chapel and formerly Organist of St Mary, Redcliffe.
The resulting instrument is one which is immensely satisfying to play, and which speaks clearly into the church. To select individual colours for special mention – the Swell strings, the powerful Great 3-rank Sesquialtera, the 8’ & 4’ flutes on each manual, the Choir Cremona, or the new Pedal Trombone – would be invidious, as the whole effect blends very harmoniously. But the organ has its own distinctive voice, and speaks with a definite “Old English” accent.
It is perhaps fortuitous that at Christ Church, things change slowly: the 1662 Prayer Book is still used at all times, and being appointed in November 1998, I am only the fourth organist since 1881 – succeeding Brian Bussell (1963-1998), Cecil Dyer (1932-1963) and Escombe Baber (1881-1932).

  • [This article was written by Jonathan Price, with acknowledgements to: Brian Bussell. “The organ at Christ Church”, (leaflet, 1997) and Article by Esmond Roden in “The Organ”, July 1947]


Specification – Christ Church with St Ewan, All Saints and St George, Bristol. Click the link: Christ Church Organ Specification pdf

photo-300x224[1]endChrist Church is across the road from the Bristol Registry Office. During the afternoon there was a Scottish wedding which was heralded by a player of the bagpipes in the road. The sounds of multiple verses of “Amazing Grace” found their way into the building and added a curious quality of sound to the organ. Chris Mansfield ended our afternoon by adding his own version of Amazing Grace from the organ.

A large number of choral and organ CDs were on sale in Christ Church during the afternoon. Many of our members took advantage of the bargain prices.