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Johnian magazine issue 50, spring 2023

A new organ for St John’s

1 min read

Following generous support from Johnians, we are pleased to announce that St John’s has reached a significant fundraising milestone allowing the College to sign a contract with Harrison & Harrison to install a Willis organ in the Chapel during 2025. Harrison & Harrison are makers and restorers of pipe organs, well known for their work on large-scale organs such as those in King’s College Cambridge, Westminster Abbey and St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol.

St John’s was fortunate to get the opportunity to obtain this Willis organ, renowned for its warmth, character and beauty of tone, as the present Mander organ in Chapel is becoming unreliable. There is currently a mismatch between the reputation of the College Choirs and the potential of the College organ, so we are delighted that the Willis organ will be installed for future generations of Johnians to enjoy.

Henry Willis (1821–1901), commonly known as ‘Father’ Willis, was the greatest British organ builder of the late nineteenth century, the same period in which the College Chapel was built. The Willis organ therefore will help to achieve a synergy between the Choirs, the organ and the Chapel architecture.

Planning permission and the necessary Listed Building Consents are already in place. Preparatory work to the organ chamber and to construct a new home for the blower will begin shortly. The Willis instrument is currently in storage in Durham, and Harrison & Harrison will begin working on restoration of the pipes later this year. The instrument remains under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Chichester until the installation into St John’s Chapel is complete.

Christopher Gray, currently the Director of Music at Truro Cathedral, takes up the post of Director of Music at St John’s in April 2023. He is a great Willis organ fan (Truro Cathedral has one of the finest Willis instruments in the UK), and is very enthusiastic about the project.

We are still fundraising to complete the project and install the organ by the end of 2025. If you are interested in donating, or want to know more about the Willis organ, please contact: