The Willis organ

The cathedral’s organ was built by Henry Willis in 1892, replacing an earlier instrument by Gray and Davison dating from 1862–64. The pipe-rack which forms the case of today’s instrument also dates from the time of the Gray and Davison instrument and was designed by Gilbert Scott. The console was orginally situated within the organ case and the instrument was the first cathedral organ in the country to have adjustable pistons, which had recently been invented by Willis.

Further modifications were made in 1909 by Henry Willis II, including the addition of 32 ft Bombarde and 16 ft Ophicleide stops to the Pedal organ. By 1933 the organ’s pneumatic actions was wearing out and the instrument was rebuilt in a conservative fashion by Henry Willis III.

A new detached console in the characteristic style of the builder was provided, positioned on the north side of the choir, opposite the case. The few tonal changes at that time included the addition of mutations on the Choir organ, and enclosure of the flutes on the Solo organ.

Over forty years of daily service later, the instrument was again in need of attention; amongst other signs of wear and tear, the 1930s wiring at the console had become a fire hazard. This time restoration work during 1977–78 was undertaken by the Durham firm of Harrison and Harrison, who have looked after the instrument ever since. Once again, very little was done to the organ tonally, save for the addition to the Pedal organ of two chorus stops, a Schalmei 4 ft reed and a four-rank Mixture. A four-rank Mixture was also added to the Great organ. Today the instrument has four manuals and 67 stops.

During 2004 the instrument once again underwent major refurbishment supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. A far more extensive account of the history of both the Willis instrument and earlier organs in the cathedral may be found in Dr Roy Massey’s excellent chapter ‘The Organs’ in The Organists and Organs of Hereford Cathedral (Hereford Cathedral Organ Committee, 2016), available from the Cathedral Shop.

To view the specification, please click here.