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Father Willis Organ

St John’s has the extraordinary opportunity to obtain a Willis organ for the Chapel. 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 Chapel was built.

I am very excited at this opportunity to acquire a magnificent instrument by the greatest English organ builder of the time when the Chapel was built. It will be perfectly suited to our acoustic and to the sound-world of our Choirs – enhancing the warmth, passion, expressiveness and vitality of our music-making.

Andrew Nethsingha (1987), Director of Music, St John’s College

A unique occasion

An organ for St John’s College Choir needs some versatility, but at the heart of the style of the Choir is the late romantic music written in the hundred years or so after the Chapel was built. Willis organs are renowned for their warmth, character and beauty of tone, and for their fire and excitement. These are the same qualities that the College Choirs aspire to, and with a Willis organ in the Chapel there would be a synergy between architecture, Choirs and organ. 

An unusual event has occurred in which a four-manual, tonally virtually unaltered Father Willis organ has become available for sale. This instrument is considered to be a sister instrument to the Truro Cathedral organ, which was built in the same year and is one of the most admired in the country. The specification is almost identical. It was built in 1887 for a now-defunct Music Conservatory in Hampstead. In 1910 the organ was moved to a Victorian church in Brighton, and it has not been used since 2007 because the church moved to the Evangelical tradition.

Willis organs are known for their longevity, versatility and reliability. They have a broad palette of beautiful, varied colours from tender and warm to brilliant and fiery.

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The future of organ music at St John’s

The College has launched a fundraising campaign to acquire a great work of art by the finest organ builder of the Victorian era. Prior to installation, the instrument will undergo restoration by Harrison & Harrison and, with support from Johnians and friends of St John’s and the Choirs, the College aims to complete the project by the end of 2025.

Contribute to this important acquisition and make the Chapel the home of a Father Willis organ.


Why does St John’s need to fundraise for this project? Read more about College finances.