Feb 27, 2017
Photo by David White

Or should I say, 6000 pipes?  The true number is 5505, but let us forgive the slight exaggeration, because the scale and power of Hull’s City Hall organ are no less impressive for the want of a couple of tubes.

Built by the Hull firm of Forster and Andrews, Hull’s grand organ was completed in March 1911 at a cost of £4,328. A handy online inflation calculator tells me that in today’s money, that would amount to £459,786.95. And when you consider the work and materials that went into creating this instrument, even that looks like a bargain.

Forster and Andrews built organs all over the world.  A list dated 1895 credits them with organs in Australia, South Africa, South and Central America, Ceylon, the Punjab, Newfoundland, and hundreds throughout the U.K. A 1925 list mentions an organ built for the Majestic picture house in Hull, and a ‘cabinet organ’ for the private use of the fortunate T. Hopkinson Esq. Locally they also built the organs of Holy Trinity Church in Hull and St Mary’s in Beverley, among many others in churches and halls all over the city.

Their factory in Charlotte Street (later renamed George Street) contained everything required for the manufacture of the many thousands of parts required – lead and tin for the pipes, iron and brass for rods, rollers and connections, vast amounts of seasoned wood, leather, and the makings of keyboards and stops. The image below shows the room where those almost 6000 pipes probably first saw the light of day.

The specifications for Hull’s City Hall organ give some idea of its grandeur.  Organ stops often have wonderfully fanciful names that describing the quality of the tone produced, for example:

  1. Pedal organ: 19 stops and 392 pipes, including Contra Bombarde and Timpani
  2. Choir organ: 16 stops, 1013 pipes, including Lieblich Bourdon and Unda Maris
  3. Great organ: 21 stops and 1586 pipes, including Claribel Flute
  4. Swell: 23 stops, 1623 pipes including Rohrflote, Musette and Vox Humana
  5. Solo organ: 16 stops and 891 pipes, including Tubular Bells and Steel Bars

How fitting, then, that a new work by Sir Karl Jenkins should celebrate not only our year as City of Culture, but also this under-appreciated treasure in our midst. The City Hall itself, built by far-sighted and gifted Edwardians, and the instrument at its core, lie at the beating heart of our city, priceless gifts of our forebears and the birthright of every Hullensian, now and in years to come.

Joy Holland