Leeds Town Hall's historic organ to get £1.8m of restoration work

It’s an historic conservation project that’s sure to strike a chord with music lovers all across Leeds and beyond

Saturday, 29th May 2021, 4:45 am
Leeds City Organist Darius Battiwalla pictured with the organ at Leeds Town Hall. Picture: Simon Hulme.

Leeds Town Hall’s one-of-a-kind organ, which has been part of the city’s heritage for more than 160 years, is set for some major restoration work designed to protect and preserve it

for future generations.

One of the largest of its kind in Europe the towering 50 foot-high organ was designed by noted architect Cuthbert Brodrick and famously played at the opening ceremony of Leeds

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City Organist Darius Battiwalla in the organ chamber at Leeds Town Hall. Picture: Simon Hulme.

Town Hall, attended by Queen Victoria in 1858.

Over the past 163 years, the organ’s unmistakable sound has filled the building’s stunning Victoria Hall during countless gatherings, events and concerts, entertaining audiences from

Victorian Leeds’s high society as well as today’s popular modern day recitals.

Now as the decades of wear and tear begin to take their toll, a team of highly specialist engineers has been drafted in to take on the mammoth task of replacing the instrument’s

Darius Battiwalla plays the historic organ in Leeds Town Hall. Picture: Simon Hulme.

soundboards, wind supply and console.

The project will also see the instrument re-voiced, giving it a fuller and more integrated sound during future performances.

Leeds City Organist, Darius Battiwalla, who regularly takes to the stage at the town hall to play the organ, said: “The organ is a genuine one of a kind and it’s an absolute honour to be

the latest in a long line of musicians who have taken on the responsibility of sharing its wonderful sound with our visitors and audiences.

The Victorian organ, designed by Cuthbert Broderick, in 1890.

“Performances on the organ are extremely popular and not only do we regularly attract hundreds-strong audiences for our free recitals, the organ also play a huge part in our

international concert season. Inevitably, years of such heavy use and hard work have taken their toll.

“The history and heritage of the organ is such that over the years it has developed something of its own personality for those of us working at the town hall, and we’re

delighted to see it getting some much-needed care and attention after so many decades entertaining the people of Leeds. Thanks to this project, the organ’s fascinating story will

continue and generations of future music-lovers will get to experience its beautiful music.”

The organ refurbishment scheme will cost a total of £1.8m, which will initially be funded by from Leeds City Council, allowing the work to be carried out as soon as possible and

minimise the time the organ will be out of action.

The funding will then be repaid to the council by a fundraising campaign, which will include grant funding, sponsorship and donations and which will take place while the refurbishment

is ongoing.

The scheme is part of wider efforts to refurbish and restore Leeds Town Hall, taking care of a Grade I listed public asset whilst also ensuring the building can host large-scale events and

concerts which generate significant income for the council and the city.

Coun Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy, culture and education, said: “Leeds Town Hall has been the heart of the city for generations and is one

of the city’s best-loved and most recognisable buildings.

“The Town Hall and the organ also plays a central role in the city’s annual programme of cultural events and activities, generating significant income for the council and our local

economy.

“The organ itself is a piece of musical heritage of international significance and it’s hugely important that both the building and its magnificent instrument are protected and

preserved for future generations.”

More information on the Town Hall including upcoming events and how you can support the building by making a donation and being part of fundraising can be found at:

www.leedstownhall.co.ukLeeds Town Hall organ facts

The organ was originally built by Gray and Davison of London to designs by William Spark and Henry Smart, at a cost of £6,500.

The organ is 47 feet wide and weighs almost 70 tons.

The organ was last refurbished in the early 1970s, making it slightly smaller, with 81 stops and three manuals.

The refurbishment project will see the organ will return to its original design of four manuals.

Every Monday between September and April an audience of 200-400 comes to hear free organ recitals given by leading organists from the UK and abroad.