J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd
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Bristol Cathedral organ (Walker, 1907)
|Founded||London, UK, 1828|
|Founder||Joseph William Walker|
|Headquarters||Brandon and Devizes, England, UK|
Number of locations
|UK, Europe, USA, worldwide|
J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd is a British firm of organ builders established in 1828 by Joseph William Walker in London. Walker organs were popular additions to churches during the Gothic Revival era of church building and restoration in Victorian Britain, and instruments built by Walker are found in many churches around the UK and internationally. The firm continues to build organs today.
Joseph William Walker
The firm was founded by Joseph William Walker (1802–1870), an apprentice to George Pike England. Walker established his own organ-building business in Soho, London in 1828, and moved later to Francis Street off Tottenham Court Road.
Notable initially for pleasing small church and barrel organs, Walker achieved a breakthrough with the order for a large three-manual instrument at Romsey Abbey in 1858, including a thirty-two foot Pedal Open Wood, an instrument still (2007) in substantially its original state, a recent renovation confirming its outstanding musical qualities.
Joseph William Walker died in 1870, and his youngest and only surviving son, James John Walker, took over the organ firm.
James John Walker
Arguably, the heyday of the company occurred towards the end of the nineteenth century under the leadership of James John Walker (1846–1922), the youngest and only surviving son of Joseph William. The company developed a reputation in the 1890s for excellence in massive diapason voicing using scales and pressures for flue work greater than those used by Hill or Willis. The effect was rolling and magnificent. Notable instruments included London instruments at Holy Trinity Sloane Street and St Margaret's Westminster; cathedrals at York, Rochester and Bristol, and the organs at St Mary's, Portsea and St Matthew's Northampton. Walker also eventually rebuilt the Gray & Davison concert organ at the Crystal Palace, increasing its power to carry across the vast space of the central transept. The sequence of the church instruments continued into the twentieth century including the large instrument at the Roman Catholic church of The Sacred Heart, Wimbledon, built in 1912.
After James Walker's death, the reputation of the firm in the "first division" of British organ building lasted through the Second World War before the its star began to set somewhat. By the 1960s, British organ design had become not only eclectic but, to some ears, meekly derivative. The rebuild at Wimborne Minster in 1965 incorporated pipework from earlier periods beginning in 1664; the old material was made to sit with elements in vogue at the time of the Walker rebuild to create an organ whose character could be said to be either of all its history or properly representative of none of it, except perhaps 1965 itself. Later commentators have levelled harsh words at the 1960s "Jack-of-all-trades" British pipe organ without realizing that for the players of the day, such innovations drawn from European practice entirely outside the original scheme and character of the instruments, did at least open new avenues for players just getting used to attempt, for example, baroque performance practice.
Given enough money, the Walker firm could produce impressive, cogent and exciting new work, as at Liverpool's new Catholic cathedral (1967–68). The instrument could be seen as a response to the existing (and outstanding) instrument by Henry Willis III at the neighbouring Anglican cathedral, and recordings by several outstanding European players, including Jeanne Demessieux and Flor Peeters, were made there.
Robert Pennells and the move to Brandon
Eventually, a recognizable revival came to the Walker firm with its move, in stages, from west London to the small town of Brandon, on the Suffolk/Norfolk border, where the organ building firm and a parts supply business ("P & S") occupied modern workshops. In the 1980s, under the leadership of Robert Pennells, his German (Klais)-trained son Andrew, B. Q. S. F. Buchanan and head voicer Michael Butler, a number of new and prestigious instruments were made, including town hall organs at Bolton in 1985 (after a fire four years before which destroyed a famous 1874 Gray & Davison instrument) and, leading a group of instruments for export, at Adelaide (1989); at Lancing College Chapel in 1986-7 and several years later at London's St Martin-in-the-Fields. The visual effect of a number of the new instruments benefited considerably from the superb case-designs of David Graebe. Later organs included a Cavaillé-Coll-inspired instrument, built in 1995 at Exeter College, Oxford.
In 1999, Andrew Pennells died, drawing his father out of retirement. Today, the business has four distinct parts under the umbrella of "The Walker Group": restoration work operating from premises in the Wiltshire town of Devizes; tuning, supplies to the trade and a small new-organbuilding practice in Brandon, from which diversity a further substantial revival may flow.
In terms of its artistic achievement there have so far been three valuable, yet discretely differing phases in the history of the company:
- Joseph Walker's nineteenth-century work
- The "imperial-style" organs of James John Walker
- The Pennells revival
List of works
- Waltham Abbey 1850–1953 (see below)
- Romsey Abbey 1858
- St John the Baptist, Penshurst, Kent 1858
- St Audoen's Catholic Church, Dublin 1861
- St Mary's Church, Belstone, Devon 1862 [believed to have been made originally for Knole, Kent)
- St John's Pro-Cathedral, Parramatta, Australia 1863
- St Michael and All Angels Church, Hughenden 1864
- Dorchester Abbey, 1870-1875
- St John the Divine, Kennington 1875
- All Saints' Church, Maidenhead 1879
- St. Alban's Anglican Church, Copenhagen, Denmark (1887, renovated in 1966)
- St James' Church, Stretham Installed at the time of J P St Aubyn's restoration, 1886
- St Mary's Portsea, Portsmouth 1889
- Holy Trinity Sloane Street 1890
- St Matthew's Church Northampton 1895
- St George in the Meadows, Nottingham 1895
- St Boniface, Portsmouth 1898, (Closed 1962, disposal unknown)
- Church of SS Mary and Ambrose, Edgbaston 1898
- Church of The Good Shepherd, Lake 1901
- York Minster 1903
- Hatchlands Park, Surrey, 1904
- Bluecoat School Chapel, Wavertree, Liverpool 1906
- Bristol Cathedral 1907
- Christ the King Catholic Church, Gothenburg, Sweden 1907, reinstalled 2010. Originally built for First Church of Christ Scientist, London (today the Cadogan Hall)
- St John's Church, Watford 1911
- Sacred Heart, Wimbledon 1912
- El Buen Tono Church, Mexico City 1912
- St Peter's Church, Chertsey 1880
- St Peter's Church, Selsey 1912
- St. Mary's Church, Nottingham 1916
- St Wilfrid's, Portsmouth 1922
- St Clement Eastcheap, London 1926
- St Cyprian's Cathedral, Kimberley, South Africa, 1936 (dedicated 1937)
- St. Mary's Church, Wollaton Park, Nottingham 1938
- London Oratory, London 1952–54
- St Faith's, Portsmouth 1957?
- Church of the Good Shepherd, Nottingham 1964?
- Ampleforth Abbey 1961 Ampleforth College
- The Queen's Chapel of the Savoy 1965
- Wimborne Minster 1965
- St Paul's Cathedral, Rockhampton Australia 1965
- Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral 1968
- King Edward VI School[disambiguation needed] 1969
- Blackburn Cathedral 1970
- St. Leodegarius Church, Basford 1977
- St. Bernard Parish, Appleton, WI 1986
- Lancing College 1987
- St Peter and St Paul, Bromley 1991
- Exeter College, Oxford 1995
- St. Martin-in-the-Fields London 1995
- Peace Lutheran Church, Hutchinson, Minnesota, USA 1997
- St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church, St. Peter, Minnesota USA 1983
- St Cuthbert's Church Edinburgh 1998
- Ongar United Reformed Church, Essex 1886 thought to have been originally built for the Courtauld family
- Hustad Church, Norway 2001
- City of London School, London – installed originally in 1969, then moved to its current location in the new school buildings in 1986
- All Saints' Anglican Cathedral, Nairobi, Kenya
Notes on Walker's work at Waltham Abbey
Maintenance of the organ at Waltham Abbey, installed in 1819 by Flight & Robson, was taken over by J. W. Walker in 1850. The company carried out a number of additions and reconstructions to it between then and 1953, including installing a new replacement in 1879. In 1953 they "completely dismantled and rebuilt" it and resited the console at a cost of "under £7,000." Since 2003, this organ has been in the care of Harrison & Harrison of Durham. An appeal is currently under way to raise £250,000 for a replacement organ.
The organ removed in 1879 could be the "fine Walker organ" said to have come from Waltham Abbey and made "an absolutely splendid sound" which was installed at Little Clacton, Essex in 1939, and more recently sold on to Christ Church, Greenwich.
- "Our History". J.W. Walker & Sons website. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
- Initially built in the north chancel aisle, subsequently removed to its present position in a gallery on the north side of the nave. Tyack, Geoffrey 2005. 'The abbey restored, c. 1800-1920.' IN Tiller, Kate (ed) Dorchester Abbey: Church and People 635-2005. The Dorchester Abbey Preservation Trust. page 58.
- "About the Church". St. Alben's Church. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
- "Cambridgeshire, Stretham St. James [N10223]". The British Institute of Organ Studies. 2005. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
- Atkinson, T.D.; Hampson, Ethel M.; Long, E.T.; Meekings, C.A.F.; Miller, Edward; Wells, H.B.; Woodgate, G.M.G. (1953). Pugh, R.B., ed. The Victoria History of the Counties of England: Cambridge and the isle of Ely IV. Oxford University Press. p. 155.
- Consecrated to Prayer – A Centenary History of St Mary's, Portsea 1889–1989, Chapter 22. John Radford 1989
- Heron-Allen, Edward (1943). The Parish Church of St Peter on Selsey Bill Sussex 2nd Edition. Chichester: Moore and Tillyer. p.18. two-manual tracker action instrument with nine speaking stops, four couplers, full pedal board and balanced swell..
- City of London school. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
- "The history of the ancient parish of Waltham abbey, or Holy Cross : Winters, Williams, 1835?-1893 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". Archive.org. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
- Waltham Abbey. Music. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
- Plaque currently on the organ console, transcribed in The Memorial Inscriptions in the Parish Church of the Holy Cross and Saint Lawrence at Waltham Abbey, by the late Dr. K. N. Bascombe and G. Weltch, Waltham Abbey Historical Society Millennium Project No. 22, March 2009, pp.14–15
- Jensen, Isabel (23 February 2009). "WALTHAM ABBEY: Organ appeal hits £100,000 mark (From This Is Local London)". Thisislocallondon.co.uk. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
- "St James Little Clacton Parish Church". Littleclactonparishchurch.co.uk. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
- "Photograph of Little Clacton Parish Church Organ". Littleclactonparishchurch.co.uk. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
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