St. Bartholomew's, Armley

The Schulze Organ Story



Two individuals deserve special recognition for their devoted care of the organ during its early years at Armley - Thomas Cawthra, the first organist, and James Jepson Binns, the organ-builder.

Thomas Cawthra (left), organist of St. Bartholomew's from 1878 until his death in 1921, was an accomplished musician with a great love for the instrument over which he presided with such distinction for 42 years. A true Yorkshire-man in dialect, blunt, independent and with a good sense of humour, many stories have been told of his encounters with visitors to the organ loft. Allbutt relates how a young organ-builder attempted to give Cawthra advice about his instrument.

Once when Allbutt visited the church with some friends, Cawthra extemporised very effectively for them. On returning to the loft a lady, seeing no music on the desk said, "Did you play all that out of your head, Mr. Cawthra? What a memory you must have!" Cawthra accepted the compliment with a grunt and muttered to himself
"Memory has nowt to do wi' it.”

Cawthra was immensely proud of the organ and had many interested visitors.  One day two gentlemen appeared, one of whom, described by Cawthra as a "little, ruddy-faced chap," was anxious to see and hear the organ.  After a demonstration, the visitor asked whether he might try it for himself. "Can you play?" asked Cawthra, remembering past awkward experiences.  "WeIl," said the visitor hesitatingly, "I might manage the 'Old Hundredth'."  "Very weIl, let's hear it," said Cawthra, who soon found that the stranger was a fine organist and knew as much about organs as he did himself.  The unknown visitor thanked Cawthra for the  privilege and the pleasure it had given him to play such an organ and left the church.  Cawthra, all curiosity, asked the second visitor "Who was he?" "Don't you know?" was the reply, "That was Sir John Stainer, organist of St. Paul's Cathedral."

Cawthra was very insistent on his position as custodian of the organ and when, in the July, 1888, number of the "Yorkshire Musician," an article appeared on Isaac Abbott (the Leeds organ-builder) with these words:

Choral and Organ Music at Armley Church

Dedication Festivals at Armley were major events in the new church's year, and on St. Bartholomew's day (24th August), the anthem was usually replaced by a short oratorio, or cantata, sung under the direction of Mr. W. Pickersgill, the devoted choirmaster, with organ accompaniment played by Mr. T. Cawthra and with active support from the Vicar, the Rev. F. G. Hume-Smith.

Works rendered by the choir in the early years of the church were

Organ recitals at Armley were very popular at the close of the nineteenth century, given occasionally by visiting players of renown, but mainly by Thomas Cawthra himself. The Church Magazine records that recitals were given on 13th and 14th April, 1891, by the celebrated Belgian organist Auguste Wiegand, who was appointed as organist to the Church of St. Giles, Liège, before reaching the age of seven, and was a pupil of Lemmens. These recitals were criticised both on the grounds of eccentricities of tempo and of doubts as to the suitability for the organ of some of the works played, but a composition by the recitalist which included a representation of a thunderstorm was received with enthusiasm by the audience!

On the occasion of the 57th Annual Meeting of the British Medical Association, held in Leeds during August, 1889,
Mr. Cawthra gave a typical recital for the members, probably at the suggestion of Dr. Clifford Allbutt, with the programme (right)

Cawthra could equally well present in a recital three major works for the organ, e.g. J. S. Bach's B minor Prelude and Fugue, a Handel Concerto and Mendelssohn's Organ Sonata No. 4 in B flat, in addition to minor pieces (30th June, 1891).

James Jepson Binns

By the year 1905, the maintenance of the organ had passed into the hands of James Jepson Binns, who cared for it until his death in 1929.  Born in Burley, near Leeds in 1855 and apprenticed at the early age of 11 to Messrs. Radcliffe & Sagar, organ-builders of Leeds, he later became voicer and tuner to Messrs. Abbott & Co. (later Abbott & Smith), also of Leeds. Throughout his life, Binns was a keen musician, being a chorister as a boy and later having a fine baritone voice. He became organist and choirmaster at Tadcaster, using a pony to travel to and from Leeds.

Mr. J. W. Broughton, chorus master of the Leeds Musical Festival, had a Schulze chamber organ in his Leeds home which was tuned by young Binns for Messrs. Abbott & Smith. Knowing of his ambition to set up for himself as an organ-builder, Mr. Broughton said to Binns:

If you can make a pipe and put it into one of the diapason stops so that I cannot detect the difference between the
pipe and the rest, I think I might be able to put you in the way of starting”

Binns accepted the challenge, succeeding so well that Mr. Broughton spoke to several wealthy Leeds men who advanced the necessary capital to enable Binns to start as an organ-builder. On 2nd July,1881, the following advertisement appeared in the “Leeds Mercury”:

James J. Binns Organ Builder (late Voicer and Tuner to Mr. Isaac Abbott, Organ Builder (Leeds), begs to inform his friends
and the public that he has commenced business as Organ Builder at Lower Town Street, Bramley, and hopes by prompt
attention and skilful work to merit their patronage”.

Removing later to Hough Lane, Bramley, the factory grew to be one of the largest in England at the time of Binns' death in 1929, the stock of first-rate mature timber being used by his successors at Bramley long afterwards.  An ardent admirer of Edmund Schulze and his instruments, Binns' organs were beautifully constructed of excellent materials, his wooden flutes being examples of meticulous care in assembly, but in his later years the Binns organs became stereotyped in design.  Built in 1896 at the height of the Romantic era, the organ at St. Aidan's Church, Leeds, is a fine example of his craftsmanship with a case of unusual merit, also made at the Bramley factory.37 Such was the man entrusted with the major rebuild of the Armley Schulze organ in 1905.

The organ was at first maintained, and in 1889 cleaned, by Messrs. Abbott & Smith of Leeds, a firm founded in 1869 by Isaac Abbott and W. S. Smith.  When the organ was installed at Armley, there was insufficient pressure in the water main to operate the hydraulic engine used to blow the instrument.  Therefore a two horse-power Crossley gas engine was installed in the blowing chamber to augment the water pressure and so to assist the hydraulic engine - a system somewhat similar to that used in York Minster from 1903-17.  The drawbacks to this ingenious solution were first that Henry Cawthra, son of and assistant to Thomas Cawthra, had as a boy to hold a lighted taper to the gas jets of the engine to keep it running, and second that the fumes from the gas engine had very injurious effects upon both the bellows and the pipes of the organ.  Also, being pumped into the church, the fumes polluted the atmosphere within the edifice!  Hence, in 1893, when the water pressure in the mains was greater, the gas engine was removed and two small hydraulic engines by Speight were installed.

After some 20 years of use, the action of the organ was adversely criticised by Dr. William Spark, first City Organist of Leeds, who wrote in 1892:
Of the tones of the magnificent organ it is impossible to speak too highly, though its mechanism,
especially the drawstop action, is faulty and noisy – a defect which will have to be rectified if that
important part of the instrument is to equal the other”

In 1900 the organ was again cleaned by Abbott & Smith, the majority of the pipes being removed to the old church for this purpose. The swell box received a new "bonnet" top and new louvres were fitted to improve the degree of crescendo obtainable, the cost of the whole amounting to £70. It is probable that at that time the Swell Rohrflöte 8ft. was replaced by the present Celeste rank of tapered and slotted spotted metal pipes, since the workmanship of these pipes corresponds with that of others by Abbott & Smith, according to Mr. John T. Jackson, the organ-builder who was maintaining the instrument at the time of writing in 1978.

In Jackson’s view, this "inexcusable substitution" is the only instance of the introduction of pipes other than by Schulze into the organ, apart from the CCCC pipe of the Pedal Sub Bass 32ft. (by Binns) and the nine pipes inserted in the Great Organ to replace those damaged in the 1956 accident described later. The substitution must presumably have had the approval of Thomas Cawthra the organist who, as previously related, was at that time the organ's zealous guardian. Nothing is known as to the fate of the removed Rohrflöte, but the facts that Binns both engraved the stop knob in 1905 as "Rohr Flöte" and so listed the stop in the published specification, suggests that he was anxious to recover or to replace the original pipes. Otherwise it must be assumed that the substitution took place after 1905, which is unlikely.

John (Tommy) Jackson

In 1905, J. J. Binns undertook a major rebuilding of the organ. The original pneumatic lever action, which had been maintained, and probably in part replaced, by Abbott & Smith, had become loose, noisy and erratic - "a source of great vexation to the player" - in addition to the cumbersome and noisy stop action. All this was discarded and replaced by tubular-pneumatic action on the pressure system to manuals, pedals and drawstops, with a very complete array of couplers made possible by that action, and tremulants were added to Choir, Swell and Echo Organs - all of which remained until 1976. Binns was a great exponent of tubular-pneumatic actions, then greatly in vogue, and the octave and suboctave couplers, although disturbing the Schulze tonal balance, were used by many players to compensate for the lack of separate 2ft. ranks (except in the Echo Organ) and for the absence of a 16ft. reed stop in the Swell Organ.

Binns fitted his patent adjustable combination pistons to manuals and pedals, four to Great and Pedal (duplicated by combination pedals), four to Swell (also duplicated by combination pedals), three to Choir and three to Echo. The desired combination set up on the stop knobs was locked to the required piston by pressure on a miniature piston placed to the right of the combination piston in the key slip.
This system had the disadvantage of separating the combination pistons too widely for convenience in use. In addition, fixed pistons were provided for Full Great and Pedal, and Full Swell, both being duplicated by pedals, whilst a reversible pedal operated the Great to Pedal coupler. An entirely new console was provided, with handsome burr walnut stop jambs divided into panels by applied walnut tracery and having the large ivory stop knobs typical of Binns' work at that time
. New keyboards with thick ivory plates and ebony sharps replaced the originals. The swell box was re-lined, the "bonnet" top removed and new vertical louvres fitted, these being controlled by a "balanced" swell pedal. At that time Binns replaced the stopped 16ft. pipe of the Pedal Sub Bass 32ft. stop with an open pipe, thus remedying the error made by the workman on insertion of the stop in 1879, but necessarily leaving the whole rank one pipe larger in scale than was intended by Schulze.

Binn’s interchangeable combination piston to Swell and Pedal organs, each with a small locking piston on its right. The 5th piston below the Swell keys gave the Full Swell combination and was not adjustable.

Binns' tender for the rebuild contains these significant words:
All pipes to be carefully cleaned and where required
readjusted or repaired. The pipes are not to be
interfered with in any other way. Voicing and tone to
remain exactly as they now are”

It is easy to detect the influence of Thomas Cawthra here, but Binns is said to have admitted carrying out modifications to certain of the reed basses, some of which now have rubber weights attached to their tongues - a material which Schulze is unlikely to have used since it is absent from his later work with unweighted reeds.  The Pedal Organ soundboards were remade, one being replaced, but the original manual soundboards were retained, being overhauled and fitted with new pallets whilst being prepared for tubular-pneumatic actions.  Several new reservoirs were provided to ensure a steady wind supply to the individual soundboards, but some of the original reservoirs were retained.

An original Schulze reservoir still in use as a main reservoir

The 4-manual console by J.J.Binns (1905), with ivory stop knobs on traceried burr walnut jambs, as used from 1905 to 1976.

Binns' original tender for this work was £1,390, but this must have been considered excessive and certain items deleted since Mrs. Caroline I. Eyres, of 19 Belgrave Square, London, and Dumbleton Hall, Evesham, the widow of the donor of the organ who generously defrayed the cost of the rebuild, wrote to the Vicar (the Rev. J. B. Seaton) on 17th November, 1905:

I am so glad that you all seem to think the organ satisfactory; even Binns seems pleased with it.
He wrote and told me he had added the part that had been cut out of the estimate as he thought they ought to put it in!”

We are not told what Binns added at his own expense, but this action shows his admiration for the organ and his determination to do the best in his power for its welfare.

In an attempt to improve the tonal balance of the Great Organ, Binns inserted an additional Open Diapason 8ft. on the soundboard.  It is probable that this rank was inserted in place of the Hohlflöte 8ft. since, as pointed out by Mr. J. J. F. Watkins, the Hohlflöte 4ft. is of too small a scale to allow the bass of a large Diapason 8ft. to take its place. Hence, since the Hohlflöte 8ft. is grooved into the Gedact in the bass octave, the substituted rank must have been of Tenor C compass, unless indeed the bass was planted off - a costly method for such an experiment!  Fortunately, this substituted stop was not retained in the 1905 rebuild in deference to the wishes of Mr. Cawthra, although the tonal balance was improved by its insertion according to Binns.

The organ was re-opened at the Harvest Festival on 8th October, 1905, and Mr. T. Cawthra gave a recital on 11th October as follows:

This was followed by a recital by Mr. Tertius T. Noble, organist of York Minster, on 15th November, 1905, which was noteworthy for the time in that it consisted mainly of works composed for the organ, and also because it included two compositions by contemporary composers, Dr. Basil Harwood, and Dr. E. C. Bairstow, then organist elect of Leeds Parish Church, who was to follow Tertius Noble at York Minster in 1913.  The concluding work by Julius Reubke, dating from c.1856, was greatly introduced to England by Mr. Noble, who made it specially his own.

The programme was as follows:

How to find us

Wesley Road, Armley, Leeds, LS12 1SR 

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£20.00, payable on 15th March each year.
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stbartsarmley@gmail.comm (omit the final m)

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Organ History M. Collins