Friday 10th December

Continuing our story of the organ (if you missed the first part, you can find it on the second day) the following tells of the Willis Organ.

In 1939 the church authorities entrusted Messrs Henry Willis Ltd with the scheme for reconstruction of the organ. The choir was moved to a position immediately below the tower and the platform of the previous organ, together with the console were removed. The organ was rebuilt with a more varied specification, but on a floor space reduced by one third. This was so that it did not project out from the south transept and so interrupt the view from the Moray aisle, through the carved screen that stood there and past the Royal Pew to the Thistle Ante-Chapel. Most of the pipework from the previous instrument was retained but it was remodelled and revoiced. Soundboards and reservoirs were kept, in the interests of economy, but reconditioned. The reconstructed organ had two consoles. One was above the North door, one hundred feet from the organ and forty feet from the choir. This was used for major services. It had keys of heavy ivory 1/8 inch thick and solid ivory drawstop knobs. The second console was much smaller and only controlled part of the organ. It was used at daily services and was situated in what is now called the Holy Blood aisle. The organ case was designed by Esm‚ Gordon. Stress was placed on simplicity. The upper case contained three pieces of sculpture – Jubal and two angels* – by a young English sculptor Elizabeth Dempster. The lower part of the case served as a background for new stalls placed in front of it for the use of the University Senate, the President of the Royal College of Physicians and the President of the Royal College of Surgeons. This work was by Messrs Scott Morton who also collaborated with Esm‚ Gordon on work on the North Porch. The carvings there are the best surviving examples of their work in the church.

By the time of the architect’s report in 1968, it had become obvious that a renewal, or a total rebuild of the organ was necessary. The quality of the organ deteriorated rapidly in the bad weather of the winter of 1976. The first organ commission was set up in 1977, leading to the appointment of Charles Fisk in 1982, to design and create a new organ. Fisk died in autumn 1984 and it was only as a result of the Salvesen donation in March 1987 that the plans for a new organ got underway once more. A temporary pipe organ taken from Lockart Memorial Church, Leith was set up in the south chancel at the end of 1989/beginning of 1990 and in 1990 the dismantling of the old organ was started.

The console went to a church in Perth, the speaking pipes went to the McEwan Hall in Edinburgh (all except the Tuba Magna, which went to Peebles Parish Church), the case wood went to Neil Ritcherby, an organ builder in Oldhamstocks, in the Borders, who worked as a consultant on the new organ. Over thirty of the smaller pipes were given to visitors and members of the congregation to raise money for the church. Some of the largest wooden pipes from the old organ were re-used in the new one. When the new organ was finished in May 1992, the temporary organ
was removed to Cleish Parish Church.