The Father Willis organ
formerly in
St.Luke's Church, Winterton Hospital, Sedgefield, Co.Durham
[now at Brancepeth Parish Church]



Winterton Hospital

Although there was a proposal to establish a County Asylum as early as 1827, nothing materialised until the middle of the century when building was started by the County Justices under the provisions of the 1808 and 1853 Pauper Lunatic Acts. The original site of 52 acres was purchased in 1855. The first buildings were erected to designs of John Howison, the County Architect, at a cost of £50,000, and the Asylum opened on the 13th April 1858. New buildings, including the Winterton wing, after which the whole hospital came to be named, were erected in 1879 and 1889 to the design of Wm.Crozier, County Architect. The site and grounds, including a farm, then covered about 350 acres. 

Until the 1990's Winterton was a large psychiatric hospital, at its height involving some 3000 people - residents and day patients and staff - serving as a local centre for the south Durham area, and for the specialist psychiatric care needs of much of County Durham and beyond.  Current thinking has moved to "care in the community", and large residential institutions like Winterton Hospital have been closed, and are now being redeveloped for other uses - in this case for housing and NetPark, a technology park. The Church is listed, so should not be demolished, but is now intended to be used as a Nurseryin conjunction with surrounding developments. 

St.Luke's Church

Chapel_Exterior Although there was from the start an integral Chapel seating 200,  by early 1882 there was an urgent need for something bigger. The Commissioners in Lunacy [sic!] and the Visiting Justices desired a detached building, of ecclesiastical appearance, to accommodate able patients, staff and their families - in 1884 there were 1137 patients, 193 officers and staff and 63 children. The Quarter Sessions of the Justices authorised the project, which also had to be approved by the Home Secretary, and the new Chapel was erected in 1883/4. It was designed by Wm.Crozier Jun., Chief Assistant to the County Architect, his father. The overall cost was £3879 11s 11d, including everything but the organ. The cost of the chapel per sitting was £5 8s 6d, and later Minutes give "the authority of the Bishop for saying that it is the cheapest and best chapel he has consecrated since he came into the diocese". Obviously value for money was important.
The building was consecrated by Dr.Lightfoot, Bishop of Durham, on Friday morning 3rd October 1884, being followed by a luncheon. A full description of the service, sermon and speeches occupies two and half columns of the following week's  Durham County Advertiser. A surpliced choir processed from the west end in front of the Bishop and clergy, singing Psalm xxiv. Fully choral Morning Prayer succeed the consecration. The anthem was "I have surely built thee an house", which was remarkably well rendered by the choir, the sweet rich tone of the fine organ being heard to advantage. According to the Chairman of the Visiting Justices nothing was too good for Dr.Smith, the Medical Superintendant, with regard to to new church. "He would have it furnished with every article which Solomon required for his temple". Unfortunately for us "he would say nothing about the organ"!  Chapel_Interior
There is satisfaction shown in the Chaplain's Report for 1884: 
"Services are regularly held in the new Chapel. A very efficient choir has been which Dr. Smith as choirmaster devotes much time and pains. The services are a great delight and comfort to the patients. As a rule every seat is occupied and yet the services are perfectly orderly and free from disturbance. Moreover in 1888: "Music is at a pitch which is the admiration of every visitor "[sic!]. 

Chapel facts: Length 125ft, Width 54ft, Height 48ft. Seating for 700. 

The Organ
Angleshot   This was built by "Father" Henry Willis, probably as a residence organ in the 1870's. It hasn't proved possible over many years of searching to be more specific about its origins - where it came from and who transferred it remain obscure. The first Hospital Minutes Book is missing and other local records are either not sufficiently detailed, or confuse the issue.  Surviving detailed records of the Willis firm, now in the British Organ Archive, commence in 1877, but there is no mention of any involvement with the installation at Winterton. 

What is certain is that this organ was placed in its purpose-built chamber in the new church by October 1884. Reports of the consecration describe it as "a very fine one by Willis of London".   The cost was £600, paid for mainly by subscription. A press report on the proceedings of the the Michaelmas 1884 Sessions quotes a member of the Court, the Rev.John Burdon of Castle Eden, saying: "It is a beautiful instrument. Though some might consider that a less costly one might have been got, they must bear in mind that music forms a great part of the system of treatment of the lunatics".

Henry Willis (1821 - 1901) earned his epithet by being one of the greatest and best of the Victorian organ-builders. His instruments reamin eminently versatile and musical even by today's standards. Willis seldon "signed" organs with his nameplate - he argued the instruments spoke for themselves. Though in several ways by no means typical of the builder, the Winterton organ is characteristic in terms of its excellent construction and workmanship. It looks well, too, in its unusal diminutive "classical" case, with the console placed between a downward continuation of the two towers, on which the stop jambs are mounted. Though clearly not designed for the size of this building, the quality of the pipework and voicing produces a splendid singing tone and some exquisite individual registers. 
Gt&ChPipes SwPipes

Until the church closed, the organ was generally well looked after in its 100+ year life at the hospital, though there was talk of replacing it with "a modern electronic instrument" before the last restoration was agreed to. Maintenance work was undertaken, apparently by the installers, in 1896, 1899 and 1907. The local firm, Harrison & Harrison of Durham, quoted unsuccessfully in 1907, but took over responsibility at a cleaning in 1911 [£44]. Apart from regular tuning, more specific work to clean and overhaul the instrument was carried out in 1948 [£270], and 1965 [£1030]. With only minor exceptions the Willis handiwork is unaltered. The Swell shutter operation was changed from a ratchet pedal to a balanced system in 1948, whilst a Pedal stop was changed and tuning slides were added in 1965. An electric blower replaced the earlier hydraulic one, in the shallow cellar below the organ, probably in 1927. 
pipeshades painting pipeshades2

Organbuilders are not noted for being generous in their opinions of other builders' work, and so it is particularly interesting to read comments about this organ in another major firm's records: 

"....Mr.Harrison senior was a pupil of Mr.Henry Willis and knows his work very well....It would be a pity to allow so good an instrument to remain longer with defects...of ordinary wear and tear" (Letter of 10/7/1896). 

"We may say that the organ is very soundly constructed of good quality and workmanship and well worth this expenditure" (Estimate of 20/12/1947). 

"....the organ is the work of one of the outstanding builders of the last century and on that account alone is well worth restoring" (Note on H&H file 14/11 1964).

A number of organ experts and players have visited and tried the Winterton organ over the years and have been impressed with what they have found. For instance The Organ Club of Great Brtain visited the Durham area in 1979, and subsequently its Journal reported that "it would be hard to find two more contrasted organs by Father Willis than those at the Dominican Priory in Newcastle and Winterton Hospital. Most preferred the smaller and in some ways less typical one at Winterton".  On another oaccasion, the then Organ Adviser to the diocese pronounced the diapasons some of the best he had heard for a long time. 

In 1994 when regular use was discontinued, the reed stops in particular were a little "tired" and in need of attention, but otherwise, it remained a fine enjoyable instrument, for players and audiences alike. The plans to move the organ to Brancepeth Church, following the rescue and restoration of the building structure following a devastating fire, have [in 2005] been achieved. At Brancepeth the organ has a setting fully worthy of the organ's special character and appearance and should continue to give good service for many years to come. 
LHjamb RHjamb

Organ details

Great . .
1. Open Diapason 8 Open metal: scale 6" @CC
2. Claribel Flute 8 St.wood + open metal, harmonic from mid.g
3. Principal 4 Open metal
4. Twelfth 22/3 Open metal
5. Fifteenth 2 Open metal
6. Trumpet 8 Originally prepared for. Secondhand rank added 1990
Swell . .
1. Bourdon 16 St.wood + metal. Bass pipes disposed outside under and around swell box
2. Open Diapason 8 Open metal (slotted), st.wood bass
3. Lieblich Gedact 8 St.metal
4. Salcional 8 Open metal (slotted). Common st.wood bass with Gedact
5. Vox Angelica (TC) 8 Open metal (slotted). Permanently grooved to Salcional
6. Gemshorn 4 Open metal, slight taper
7. Celestina 2 Open metal
8. Cornopean 8 Short boots from Ten.F
9. Hautboy 8  -  ditto -
 (i) Tremulant . (by ratchet swell pedal)
Choir (unenclosed) . .
1. Lieblich Gedact 8 St.wood + metal
2. Gamba 8 Open metal (slotted)
3. Dulciana 8 Open metal (slotted)
4. Flute Harmonique 4 Open metal (slotted), harmonic from mid.g
5. Clarinet (TC) 8 Mitred
Pedal . .
1. Bourdon 16 St.wood
2. Lieblich Bourdon 16 St.wood, lowest 12 from Sw.1   Replaced a Bass Flute 8ft in 1965
3. Violoncello 8 Open metal
Couplers . .
Gt/Ped, Sw/Ped, Ch/Ped . Sw/Gt, Ch/Gt, Ch/Sw (really Sw/Ch!)
Compass: Manuals C to a(58 notes), Pedals CC to F (30 notes)
Mechanical action to keys, pedals, and stops
Balanced Swell Pedal (1948)
Three composition pedals to Great and three to Swell

All metal pipework is spotted metal, except the Pedal 'Cello
Willis features:-   pierced button stoppers, round wooden rack nuts, scrolled key cheeks, round-ended sharp keys, foldaway key cover, solid ivory knobs with plain script, japanned case woodwork etc.


Richard Hird: Winterton Organist 1977 to 1995

Leaflet first produced June 1985; up-dated and revised as webpage October 2002, and after the transfer to Brancepeth: May 2005

This organ has now been transferred to Brancepeth Parish Church, near Durham, where it is sited at the west end 
under the tower arch,  and has been restored with the Pedal alterations reversed and a new matching Great Trumpet. 

* More pictures on the Brancepeth website *

Other Durham organ webpages: 
Organs Adviser || Cathedral organs || Recitals || Darlington Organists