Town Hall's William Hill organ turns 180!

Today, Friday 29 August 2014, is exactly 180 years to the day since the ‘opening of the Organ’ in Town Hall Birmingham: on Friday 29 August 1834.

The majestic instrument, commissioned by the general Hospital of Birmingham and built by renowned English organ builder William Hill for use during the Triennial Musical Festivals, was installed shortly after the completion of the hall itself.

The console of the William Hill organ at Town Hall

At its debut, the organ pulled in quite the crowd, as reported in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette on Monday 1 September 1834:

A Choral Rehearsal on occasion of opening the new Organ took place in the Town Hall on Friday morning last; and so general was the curiosity to witness the powers of this magnificent instrument that, although the weather was anything but favourable, and the time of performance far from convenient, nearly 3,000 persons availed themselves of the opportunity thus afforded them.”

From a Drawing by Henry Harris, 1834

Since that first performance, the Town Hall organ has played a significant role in a number of musical milestones, including debut performances of Mendelssohn’s Elijah (1846) and Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius (1900). The organ is still regularly played today by Birmingham City Organist Thomas Trotter as part of the THSH Lunchtime Organ Concerts series, who says of the instrument:

“I’ve come to regard the Town Hall organ as an old friend, having played 700 concerts on it over the past 30 years. Since 1834 the organ has undergone several transformations, and today it is sounding as fine, if not finer than it’s ever sounded before. Its creator William Hill would be gratified to know that it continues to inspire the minds and touch the hearts of all who come to hear it.”

Town Hall Organ facts

The original cost of building the organ was £3000 (equivalent to £250,000 today)
The Fund for the Suppression of Blasphemous and Seditious Publications met 1/6 of the cost
Until 1890 the organ was the property of Birmingham General Hospital
Control was passed to the City Council on Saturday 29 March 1890
At the time of building Town Hall’s organ was the largest in the world
The central pipes alone measure over 32 feet long
Originally the organ had 3000 pipes – today it has over 6000

One of three levels of pipes inside the organ
Thomas Trotter

More information on the Town Hall organ can be found here

Images: Mike Gutteridge, Lyle Bignon for THSH