It wasn't long before George Robertson Sinclair sought to augment the Hereford tonal
scheme and in 1909, Henry Willis II provided a new Ophicleide/Bombarde unit on the
Pedal, with wooden resonators. He also installed a Cor Anglais made by French organ
builder Rolin Freres and provided 16 foot extensions for the Solo Clarionet, Orchestral
Oboe and Tromba. Then, in 1920, the organ was cleaned and the Bombarde 32' wooden
resonators were replaced by some made of zinc, which greatly improved the tone.
By 1933, the organ's pneumatic action was starting to wear out and it was becoming
obvious that repair was necessary. In addition, tastes in organ design had changed
and there was always the danger that the current fashion would dictate some drastic
tonal changes as well. Fortunately, the organist, Percy Hull, had no intention of
making any changes to sound of the instrument, concentrating instead on the augmentation
of the existing sound. The Choir mutations and Trumpet date from this period, as
does the Swell Dulzian, which replaced the Vox Humana. Henry Willis III also revoiced
and enclosed the Solo flutes and carried out some work on the 32 foot pedal reed.
Finally, the five hydraulic blowing engines, which had given service since 1892,
were replaced with an electric blower.
This work kept the organ in good order for another 40 years, but by the 1970s, the
leatherwork of the instrument that had not been renewed in 1933 was in need of replacement.
The console wiring was also becoming a safety hazard and wind leakage had become
an increasing problem. The rebuild of 1978 was perhaps the most significant period
in the organ's history, coming as it did at the height of the organ reform movement.
The influence of Ralph Downes at this time in the UK was considerable and some great
Cathedral instruments (notably Gloucester, just down the road) had been changed beyond
all recognition. Very fortunately, Hereford had as its organist Dr Roy Massey, whose
vision for the Willis was one of conservation – opting to keep true to the great
legacy of Father Willis rather than following Continental fashions.
The organ was rebuilt by the country's pre-eminent organ builders – Harrison and
Harrison of Durham. As previously, the tonal scheme was enhanced, particularly in
the Pedal, were new open metal 8', 4' and mixture ranks were provided along with
two flutes and a 4' Schalmei. The characteristic Willis tierce mixture on the Great
was joined by a new 4 rank quint mixture and the Choir gained a 2' Spitzflute and
a 3 rank mixture. In addition, the Choir was moved from a previously rather buried
position to speak out directly above the choir stalls, proving of great benefit in
choral accompaniment. Although the Swell was left unaltered, steps were taken to
improve the projection of its sound and the Solo Tuba was moved to its current position
above the Great where it takes no prisoners ! The original 1933 Willis III console
was retained, although completely remade internally and the provision of playing
aids bears favourable comparison with other similar sized English Cathedral instruments.
All of this work was paid for by local cider makers H.P. Bulmer, whose very generous
gift is marked by a tasteful carving on the front of the organ case of the company's
logo, a woodpecker.
DEVELOPMENTS AND ADDITIONS FROM 1892 TO THE PRESENT DAY
The final stage of the organ's history is the 2004/5 restoration, which was again
carried out by Harrison and Harrison under the direction of current Cathedral organist,
Geraint Bowen. The cost of the work was supported by a UK National Lottery grant
of £269,500 and consisted largely of restoration and repair, with the only tonal
change being the revoicing of the Pedal Schalmei so that the rank has now become
a Clarion. Given that this latest work took place in a period where conservation
of historic material is paramount and unsuitable additions are generally dispensed
with, the fact that only one tonal change was considered necessary is testament to
the careful stewardship the organ has enjoyed over the years.
For further detail on the organ's history, see Roy Massey's excellent chapter in
the book “Hereford Cathedral”, ISBN 1852851945, published by Hambledon.
The bottom octave of the Bombarde 32’ with a close-up view of the boots, complete
with their unusual glass inspection panels. Beyond the Bombarde pipes are the Pedal
Open Woods alongside which is the Solo box.