Our Father Willis Organ receives some TLC

Delivered by boat and installed in the cathedral in 1887, the Father Willis Organ is a treasured piece of Truro Cathedral’s heritage. Built by Willis, widely regarded as one of the greatest organ builders of all time, the instrument has survived tonally intact. Recently though it needed some TLC and, thanks to the cathedral’s generous supporters, a number of urgent repairs have been successfully carried out. Joseph Wickes, our assistant director of music, explains…

 “As those attending services and events over recent years will know, our Father Willis organ has been struggling. Though we’ve tried to mask some of the problems with careful use of the instrument, we knew the time was fast approaching that some key repairs would need to be undertaken to protect and preserve this instrument.

 Following a report commissioned in 2016, we worked with local organ builder, Lance Foy, to identify a list of the priority work that needed to be undertaken. The price-tag to accompany this was £20,000. The Father Willis is a rare and revered instrument, and we’re fortunate that its special nature is cherished by so many of you that visit and support the cathedral. Determined to preserve the Father Willis, we let our cathedral community know about the repairs needed – the response was simply incredible. Within a matter of just a couple of weeks we had received pledges and donations totalling over £19,000.

 We then received a call from America – internationally renowned organist, David Briggs, wanted to help. David has held the Father Willis in a special place in his heart since his time in Truro as Director of Music and so plans were made for him to visit to perform a special, fundraising concert on 6 June – he helped us to raise another £2,658 – we had hit our target of £20,000!

 At the start of July, Lance was able to undertake the urgent repairs. Perhaps the biggest of these was to the operation of the swell box – musically the most expressive part of the instrument. Thirteen stops (or ‘ranks of pipes’) are enclosed in a large box, resembling a massive garden shed with shutters on the front that act as a volume control and are operated from the organ console. Originally, before the detached console was installed in 1962, these shutters were operated mechanically by the organist with a form of rods and levers. Since the detached console was installed the device for controlling the volume from the swell box has been an ‘electro pneumatic swell engine’. This engine was more than past its sell by date and a new direct electrical control has been installed that is smooth and silent in operation and far more sensitive.

 Additional repair work has been completed on some of the many bellows and wind controls in the organ which were showing wear and tear – these are now airtight ensuring a full supply of air to the various sections of the instrument. At the same time, repairs have been made to the units that provide humidified air to the instrument in times of low humidity, in addition to remedial work and cleaning to various parts of the instrument, together with in-depth tuning.

 The Father Willis is over 130 years old and, though it will need further maintenance work in the future, the ability to undertake these essential repairs now means its well-being is ensured for some time to come. From all of us at the cathedral, I extend a sincere thank you to everyone that donated and supported – the legacy of your support will live on in each note played on the Father Willis. Thank you.”