The organ was originally built by Gray and Davison of London to designs by William Spark and Henry Smart, at a cost of £6,500.    It was an ambitious design of nearly 100 stops with many technical innovations,  and was said to be able to do ‘everything an orchestra could do but considerably cheaper’.

It was played at the opening of the hall in 1858 but not completely finished until the following year.  By the 1890s it had become mechanically unreliable and the condition of some pipes was causing concern.   A further problem was that the pitch of the organ was below the emerging standard of A=440; for all these reasons the Leeds firm of Abbott and Smith was asked to rebuild the organ in 1895.   This r
ebuild, combined with more alterations in 1908, greatly changed the character of the organ, losing some brilliance in favour of a more weighty sound.  
The organ was overhauled again in 1927; after that its condition gradually deteriorated until by the 1960s

The console before 1972

it had become quite unreliable.  By 1968 it was unplayable and fell completely silent. 
Although there was some debate about replacing the organ with an electronic instrument, in 1971 Donald Hunt, then Organist of Leeds Parish Church, was asked to draw up a scheme for the restoration of the organ.  The work was carried out by the local firm of Wood, Wordsworth & Co, with the console and pipework coming from various other manufacturers both in the UK and abroad.  The character of the organ once again changed greatly, reflecting the musical taste of the time - the weight and thickness of sound was considerably
reduced in favour of an emphasis on clarity and brilliance.  The rebuilt organ was slightly smaller, with 81 stops on three manuals.  This enormous task, involving the complete dismantling, cleaning, redesign and reassembly of the instrument, was achieved in 6 months at a cost of £38,000.

The organ photographed in 1956

The inaugural recital was given by Flor Peeters in 1972.  Since then the organ has been a highly successful recital and orchestral instrument played on a weekly basis; it is currently tuned and maintained by Andrew Carter.


Present condition and future plans for the organ

 

The Leeds Town Hall Organ

Leeds City Organists

Further Information


A booklet containing the full history of the organ up to 1972 can be downloaded here




Organ specifications on the National Pipe Organ Register:


Pre 1895 specification

1908 specification

1972 specification




1859-1897 William Spark


One of the leading recitalists of the day, Spark was a pioneer of playing orchestral transcriptions on the organ. He inaugurated a series of recitals on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and later established an orchestra to give regular concerts in the Town Hall.



1898-1917 H A Fricker

A pupil of Edwin Lemare and Frank Bridge, Fricker was conductor of the Leeds Philharmonic as well as numerous choral societies in the West Riding.  He oversaw the alterations to the organ in 1908; he emigrated to Canada in 1917.


After Fricker’s departure, the post was left vacant for 55 years, until the rebuilding of the organ in 1972.


1972-1976 Donald Hunt

Organist of Leeds Parish Church, he was responsible for the restoration of the organ,  and like his predecessor conducted numerous choirs including the Leeds Philharmonic.  He departed in 1976 to become organist of Worcester Cathedral.


1976-2017 Simon Lindley

Leeds’ longest serving City Organist and one of the country’s foremost church musicians, Simon Lindley established the weekly organ recitals which continue to this day.  He raised the profile of the organ and built up the recital series to become one of the most successful in the UK.  He took the title of City Organist Emeritus in 2017, when he was succeeded as City Organist by Darius Battiwalla.