At 70 foot high, the organ case is as tall as two double-decker buses stood end on end. The largest metal pipe is 35 foot and 3 inches long, equivalent to the height of an average house.
Like the original ownership of the Town Hall itself, the organ was originally commissioned and owned by the General Hospital of Birmingham, with the instrument being handed over to the City of Birmingham in March 1890.
A splendid example of Georgian organ building, it is widely acknowledged as a landmark instrument in terms of its engineering and mechanics.
Thought to have been designed by Neukomm or Vincent Novello, the organ builder was William Hill, who was also responsible for building the organ at York Minster. He had been commissioned by the Governors of the General Hospital in Birmingham to build the instrument at a total cost of £3,000.
Like the Hall itself, the organ had been built and designed first and foremost to meet the needs and demands of the Birmingham Triennial Music Festivals. At the time of the opening of the Town Hall, the organ was a major feature of much of the choral and orchestral music of the time.
The largest wooden pipe has an interior measurement of 24 cubic ft, and would hold enough water to fill 7 bath tubs. The organ originally had 3000 pipes; today it has over 6000. To enable the organist, as the principal accompanist, to be close to the conductor, the original position of the console was set very far forward at the front of the concert platform. At 18 feet from the organ, this was a huge distance and presented the organ builder with a fair degree of engineering problems.
Hill had made the organ’s pipes on the largest scale thought practicable. It was inevitable that at a time of ever-increasing engineering technology that Hill should want to take advantage of such abilities and improve further on the instrument.
Over the first 15 years of the Hall’s opening, many other improvements were made, and it was after these improvements that the Birmingham Triennia Musical Festival commission of Mendelssohn’sElijah was first heard.
By 1849 it was the first organ in the world to have a high pressure reed – its now famous Tuba (or Ophicleide), which was believed to have been inspired by Hill’s designs for railway engine steam whistles. The same year also saw the console moved back to the position that it is in today and the introduction of a larger 16 stop pedal organ.