Leeds Town Hall - history of the organ

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 rebuild, 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 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 inaugural recital was given by Flor Peeters in 1972.  Until its removal for rebuilding in 2021 it was tuned and maintained by Andrew Carter.

The future of the organ

Links and more information

We need your support for this exciting project - find out more here


Full history of the organ (published 1978) here

The Civic Organ tradition in Leeds - Leeds Library article here