St. Bartholomew's, Armley

The Schulze Organ Story




Mechanism of the Binns adjustable pneumatic system operating
the stop knobs on the left of the console. Removed in 1976.

The renovation of 1956 retained the tubular-pneumatic actions to keys, pedals, couplers and stops inserted by J. J. Binns in 1905. By 1973 it became apparent that this mechanism was deteriorating rapidly. The key actions were sluggish, the adjustable piston mechanism had become quite unreliable and the pistons and combination pedals were very noisy when operated – all this despite the careful maintenance of the instrument by Mr. J. T. Jackson. Further, examination of the pneumatic actions showed that corrosion of the steel wires had reached such a stage that within a very few years, probably before the centenary of the installation of the organ at Armley, notes would become silent and the instrument would no longer be fit for recital purposes and would become an increasing liability to the church. This situation was aggravated by the extreme inaccessibility of the manual pneumatic action and the manual to pedal couplers immediately behind the console, due to the bulky adjustable piston action.

The financial position was serious because not only could the parish no longer rely on the former wealthy members of the congregation to assist, but inflation had caused an unprecedented rise in the cost of organ-building. Therefore in October, 1974, under the chairmanship of Mr. Arnold Mahon the organist, after consideration of tenders from several eminent firms, an appeal was launched to raise the large sum of £25,000 for a complete reconstruction of the action, overhaul of the soundboards, wind trunks and reservoirs, and modernisation of the Binns console to international standards, with new keyboards and pedal-board.

The Appeal was inaugurated with a Celebrity Concert in the church on 20th October, 1974, at which Haydn's "Creation" (parts one and two) was sung magnificently by a section of the Huddersfield Choral Society, under the conductorship of Douglas Robinson, Mus.B., F.R.C.O., a former chorister of St. Bartholomew's and a lover of its organ. The soloists Anne Pashley, soprano, Richard Greager, tenor and Robert Lloyd, bass, all from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, gave of their best in a memorable performance, ably supported by the Sinfonia of Leeds orchestra and attended by a large audience. A reception followed, attended by the Lord Mayor of Leeds, at which Dr. Francis Jackson of York Minster spoke on the importance and unique tonal qualities of the organ, followed by Mr. Ernest Bradbury, the music critic. Many messages of goodwill were received, including one from Elsie Suddaby, the Armley-born soprano.

Mr. Ralph Downes, organist of Brompton Oratory, was appointed as consultant to advise on the best type of action to retain the characteristic Schulze tone. After a thorough examination of the instrument in collaboration with Mr. Arnold Mahon, including tests on Schulze pipes carried out at Brompton Oratory and at The Royal Festival Hall, Mr. Downes advised the Organ Committee that the type of action operating the soundboard pallets had a great effect on the speech of the pipes. Originally voiced on soundboards with mechanical (tracker) action for Choir and Echo Organs, and Barker-lever action for Great and Swell Organs, the tubular-pneumatic actions in their worn-out state operate the pallets too rapidly and impair the speech of the pipes, especially of the Principal stops, to a distressing degree. In Mr. Downes' opinion, this serious defect may have been present to a less extent when the tubular-pneumatic actions were installed in 1905, but fortunately J. J. Binns made no attempt to correct it by re-voicing the pipes, as occurred at St. Peter's Church, Hindley, Lancashire, in 1907, when the Schulze tone was lost as regards the Diapason chorus.

Many suggestions were received for replacement of the action, from the several firms approached and from individuals:

Ralph Downes,

The last proposal was put forward after much thought by Mr. Ralph Downes, but no decision was taken by the authorities at
St. Bartholomew's because, as explained later, insufficient funds were available for any major scheme to be considered. Mr. Downes subsequently had second thoughts about the Pedal Organ action and at present advises the retention of tubular-pneumatic action for that department of the organ.

Of the suggestions for replacement of the action, the last is the only one which, for the manual departments, would return the instrument to the condition in which Schulze left it, as closely as possible, whilst the Pedal Organ would benefit from the application of electro-pneumatic action. Control of the stops by correctly placed pistons operating the stop knobs by solenoids and adjustable at a switchboard, would greatly facilitate changes in registration. The octave and suboctave couplers added by Binns would all disappear and could no longer be used to obtain effects which were never envisaged by Schulze and which often upset the tonal balance, although much used by some players in the past. The essential intermanual and manual to Pedal couplers would be retained, including the valuable Echo to Pedal coupler added by Binns, together with the Tremulants to Choir, Swell and Echo Organs.

Unfortunately, the response to the Appeal, largely due to the unfavourable economic climate, was quite inadequate to allow the major restoration scheme to go forward, and the return to tracker and Barker lever actions has had to be postponed until the necessary financial support is forthcoming. With the money raised by the many individual subscriptions from lovers of the organ, together with generous donations from the Pilgrim Trust and the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council, a start has been made by the removal of the cumbersome Binns adjustable combination action to stops and pistons, and by its replacement with a compact direct electric system. The handsome Binns stop jambs have been retained, after re-arrangement of the ivory stop knobs in accordance with modern practice. The Pedal stops have therefore been transferred to the left-hand jamb in exchange for the Choir stops, which are now on the right-hand jamb, whilst the Great stops have been moved to the extreme right position. All speaking stops are now arranged in the order shown on the original stop jambs, preserved in the organ gallery.

Left: 1976 - Left hand stop jamb, after removal of
octave and suboctave couplers and transfer of
Pedal stops to this jamb.

Right: 1976 – Right hand stop jamb after transfer of
Choir stops to this jamb.

With the money raised by the many individual subscriptions from lovers of the organ, together with generous donations from the Pilgrim Trust and the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council, a start has been made by the removal of the cumbersome Binns adjustable combination action to stops and pistons, and by its replacement with a compact direct electric system. The handsome Binns stop jambs have been retained, after re-arrangement of the ivory stop knobs in accordance with modern practice. The Pedal stops have therefore been transferred to the left-hand jamb in exchange for the Choir stops, which are now on the right-hand jamb, whilst the Great stops have been moved to the extreme right position. All speaking stops are now arranged in the order shown on the original stop jambs, preserved in the organ gallery.

The positions formerly occupied by the discarded octave and suboctave couplers are now filled by five inter manual couplers, four manual to pedal couplers and a stop knob coupling the Great and Pedal combination pistons. Four thumb pistons to the Choir Organ, six to the Great Organ, six (duplicated by toe pistons) to the Swell Organ, four to the Echo Organ and six toe pistons to the Pedal Organ, are adjustable at a switchboard accessible from the organ gallery. Reversible thumb pistons operate the Swell to Pedal, Great to Pedal and Swell to Great couplers, the two latter being duplicated by toe pistons, and a General Cancel piston to all stops and couplers is provided. The stop actions have been converted to electro- pneumatic operation, but the manual to pedal couplers remain mechanical in action. The balanced swell pedal, which was formerly too near to the player, has been moved back to a normal position and the Piccolo stop of the Choir Organ has been restored to its original 4ft. pitch as provided by Schulze.

This work, which forms part of the main restoration scheme, has been carried out by John T. Jackson & Son of Leeds. It has made control of the registration convenient for the player, prompt in response, reliable and much more silent than formerly, whilst the removal of the old combination mechanism gives access to the rear of the large console for maintenance, which was previously almost inaccessible. It is hoped that several small stages on this scale can be carried out until a major restoration can be undertaken.

1976 – New Thumb pistons operating the stop knobs by direct electric action and adjustable at a switchboard

The organ was re-opened on
17th May, 1976, by Ralph Downes in a memorable recital designed to display the tonal beauties of the organ, with this programme:

No major funds had become available since the first publication of this book in 1978 to enable the ideal restoration of the organ advised by Ralph Downes, as consultant, to take place, which would cost over £125,000 in 1985, at the time of writing. The pneumatic actions of 1905 were becoming still more sluggish and at differing rates, making co-ordinated playing increasing difficult, whilst perishing of the leatherwork in the Echo Organ and in the bass octave of the Swell Organ is now serious. Temporary repairs have been made by J. T. Jackson & Son, but the small funds available must be conserved as far as possible to meet emergencies as they arise.

Since the great increase in the cost of oil in the 1970's the old oil-fired heating system in the church has been little used, but for the induction and installation of the Rev. R. G. N. Plant as Vicar of Armley on 22nd January, 1982, the heating system was turned on after a heavy frost which had, unobserved, burst a cast-iron radiator in the blowing chamber. As a result, the Discus blower sucked in hot water spray and vapour which were blown through the large double-rise main reservoir mounted above the Discus and carried up into the organ. After several weeks, when the leatherwork of the reservoir had dried out and split, a serious loss of wind was detected, whilst still later certain notes of the Swell Organ reed stops became silent, due to the combination of condensed, water vapour with dust and dirt on the surfaces of the brass tongues. The other reeds in the organ were unaffected, being outside the swellbox.

After consultation on the site between Ralph Downes, the organ builder and the organist, all the tongues of the Swell Organ reed stops were cleaned, burnished and re-set by J. T. Jackson & Son, taking especial care to retain the original tones. They also repaired numerous splits in the resonators of these three stops and restored the damaged main reservoir as a single-rise unit, as described in a letter from Schulze to Kennedy. The cost of this work was covered by insurance.

The Centenary of the Installation of the Schulze Organ at Armley

In 1979 the Centenary of the coming of the Schulze Organ to St. Bartholomew's Church was celebrated in Festival style, with a full programme of events from May to September, arranged through the enthusiasm and devotion of the present organist Arnold Mahon. Included were recitals by Jennifer Bate (recorded by the B.B.C.), Francis Jackson and the American organist Carlo Curley, all of whom attracted large audiences: the last-named drew one of about 700. Francis Jackson's virtuoso playing included the premiere of his Sonata No. 3, commissioned for the occasion with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain and dedicated to Elsie Suddaby of happy memory (see Chapter VIII) whose second cousin was Francis Jackson's mother.

During the interval in Jennifer Bate's outstanding recital, Ralph Downes gave a short talk: ‘The Schulze Organ At Armley – an Appreciation of its Qualities and a hope for its future’ which he had originally given on BBC Radio 3 before a recital at St Bartholomew's by Nicholas Kynaston:

If it could be said that 17th and 18th century organ-building in England was shaken out of conservatism, revitalised and eventully dominated by the influx of European traditions through the agency of "Father" Smith, Renatus Harris, Iohn Snetzler and others, until a new conservatism was reached and bogged it down again; then one could argue that an equally radical process set in during the second half of the 19th century, stemming from the person and work of the German Edmund Schulze, who was born in 1824.

Schulze, one of six grandsons in a distinguished organ-building family firm which flourished in Paulinzelle in the mid-19th century, came to London at the instigation of Prince Consort Albert to place a small organ in the Great Exhibition of 1851. By the side of other exhibits, (notably the monster organ built by Henry Willis) the Schulze organ was extremely modest, but it appealed strongly to the imagination of all who saw and heard it. They admired its sturdy, wholesome construction and the excellence of the materials employed, but especially the great volume of sound produced by the "flue-chorus" of such a small instrument, voiced on very moderate wind pressure, while English pressures were escalating
like an inflationary spiral! These superior qualities led immediately to his being given a number of organ building commissions in England.

Edmund Schulze, the eldest son and partner with his father, and chief voicer, came with the organ and stayed for the period of the Exhibition, When he returned with a Gold Medal - and minus the organ - he could have had little idea of what was in store, for he was a quiet modest man.

The first commission was from Jeremiah Rogers, for a monster 4 (later 5) manual organ to replace his splendid 18th century instrument which had burned down with St. George's Parish Church in Doncaster in 1853: and many others, large and small, were to follow.

While Schulze clearly adapted his style to meet English tastes and requirements, these organs had a marked stylistic influence on English organ building over the succeeding years, and particularly on the work of one of our finest builders, T C Lewis. But during the first half of the present century nearly all of these manifestations have perished or been drastically modified according to "modern" ideas. It was a sterile period of organ building and it is true to say that the Armley organ is unique in that it is the only large Schulze-style instrument in Britain to have almost completely escaped the hand of the rebuilder. The pipework, apart from the loss of one stop out of fifty-seven (the Rohr Flõte 8ft of the Swell Organ) is quite intact, and the soundboards are nearly so; and the Schulze tonal spectrum is still unmistakably preserved. The key mechanisms - its "works" - were altered, seemingly harmlessly enough at the time, in 1905, by J. J. Binns, a Leeds organ builder who held Schulze in great regard, and as far as can be judged he left the pipes severely alone — but more of this in a minute.

Especially remarkable in Schulze's organs, and clearly demonstrated at Armley, is the employment of wooden pipes to produce the "string" sonorities so favoured in German 19th century organ building. Other features are the stupendous magnificence of the main "Principal chorus" - totally unlike the Baroque style except in its use of very moderate wind pressure - and the uniform application of the system of diameter-scaling of the pipes, devised by the eminent physicist, Professor J G Tõpfer in early mid-9th century. Equally noteworthy is the profusion of delicately voiced stops of various sonorities in the Choir and Echo divisions - although the former is at present suffering partial eclipse from its buried position behind and under the Great Organ.

The Armley organ is unique in another way, that it has come through its extraordinary history so little spoiled or changed. It was not built for
St. Bartholomew's Church, or any church, but for the chalet-like organ house erected at Meanwood Towers by the rich Leeds alpinist,
T. S. Kennedy for his wife who was a keen amateur organist. The story was told by Clifford Allbutt - the Queen's physician and another enthusiastic alpinist - how Kennedy and he, after a month's climbing in Switzerland in 1866, decided to call on the Schulze family in their ideal village workshop on the way home. When they left, a 2-manual organ had been commissioned from Edmund, now the head of the firm; with the sole proviso that the reeds should be French. Schulze had agreed to their manufacture by Cavaillé-Coll in Paris and M. Cavaillé, whom they visited on their way through Paris, also agreed. However, he eventually persuaded them to let Schulze build the whole integral organ and this was
done, Schulze's reeds being absolutely "right" for the ensemble.

Allbutt‘s reminiscences, which were published in 1925, went into some technical detail, including Schulze's memorandum about the main wind pressure which he would prefer to set at 3¾ inches rather than 3¾ inches to favour "sweetness" and quality rather than quantity of tonal output in the main Principal chorus. It must be remembered that the acoustics of the wood-panelled "chalet" would be rather "dead" for an organ, and such pressures would not be excessive, even though, as Binns remarked later, looking at the wide open feet of the pipes, Schulze planned to get the absolute maximum out of every pipe. In St. Bartholomew's, the hard wall-surfaces and the great resonating space do naturally amplify the apparently prodigious tone: (a similar phenomenon occurred when Lord Glentanar's organ was moved from his private music room to the
Temple Church, London, in the 1950s; the organ was at first unexpectedly, impossibly, loud for the church!).

The Kennedy's organ, (the plans having been gradually enlarged to that of a 4-manual instrument) was duly finished and inaugurated (privately) by S S Wesley. It might have long remained at Meanwood but for two unforseen mishaps: the failure of Mrs. Kennedy's health and the impermanence of the chalet. Water got in and damaged the organ, despite Schulze's timely warnings. Eventually the organ had to be sold and after a brief sojourn in the new church of St. Peter, Harrogate, where it was said to sound "suffocated". It was bought for the new Armley Church by another rich patron, a Mr. Eyres. The organ was inaugurated in 1879, enlarged by two stops (32ft and 16ft) and embellished by a great gothic facade designed by the architects of the church, where it now occupies the whole of the north transept on a gallery. Meantime, Edmund Schulze was dead - as was his brother who had installed the organ with the new pipes - so the firm was completely wound up in 1879.

Many testified to the organ's magnificent effect in its new home, and its fame spread far and wide. But by 1903 there were complaints about its poor condition, and the poverty of the church prevented its thorough overhaul. However, Tom Cawthra, the organist, persuaded Mr. Eyres' widow to pay for renovation and bringing the organ up-to-date, mainly by replacing the original tracker and Barker-lever mechanisms with a pneumatic tubular action and adding various pneumatic playing aids including "octave couplers" for obtaining quasi-orchestral effects (then very much in fashion). Undoubtedly the new action facilitated the execution of very rapid music but the provision of such devices had a disruptive effect on tonal balance. Binns did the work, and the Press report of the re-opening recital by Dr. Tertius Noble of York Minster showed that no music could be too rapid for the renovated mechanism.

Fortunately, Binns had too much reverence for Schulze to revoice the pipes to suit the new action as was most unfortunately done elsewhere. In the smaller but once equally famous Schulze organ at Hindley, Wigan, the organ-builder Pendelbury radically changed the voicing of all the metal pipes to suit his new pneumatics, and Schulze's tone was lost for ever.

Unfortunately Binns‘ pneumatic action had a most unfavourable effect on the speech of some of Schulze's most characteristic pipes which are voiced to give the maximum tonal output from a very copius supply of low pressure wind. The impact of the (mechanically released) wind‘s arrival at the pipe mouth is too sudden and "explosive" and, combined with the over-wide mouth width, has the effect of "choking" the pipes in a way that the original mechanical tracker and Barker-lever actions would have avoided when discreetly handled. Tests made recently have shown that a complete restoration of the older type of action would eliminate this effect and now that the pneumatics are wearing out after nearly 75 years’ service, there is a great move to make this complete saving restoration of Schulze's ideal mechanism. It will be costly but infinitely worth all the care that can be taken to preserve a treasure of more than national fame and artistic value. Incidentally, during the same tests it was conclusively demonstrated that to electrify the key mechanisms - which had been considered - would be disastrous in its effect on the voicing as Schulze left it.
Binns‘ ingenious system of adjustable pre-set combinations of stops was a useful and efficient playing aid in 1905 but now, virtually collapsed and a hindrance and a liability, was replaced by a completely modern electrical reconstruction of this device in 1975. This was a practical necessity for easy management of the organ in recitals and, being independent of and extraneous to Schulze's work, cannot be said to violate any historical principle since Schulze's combination system had already perished. On the other hand Binns’ octave couplers were all discarded for good.

Yes, this organ is unique and still a glorious instrument - utterly different from the Baroque ideal at almost every turn it is the organ par excellence for Mendelssohn, Schumann, Reubke, Rheinberger, even Max Reger, as well as the greater organ works of Victorian England.

A project of restoration incorporating the above recommendations would obviously cost many thousands of pounds; probably as much as £75,000 at 1979 prices. Such a sum could never be raised by the Church - they could hardly come within one-tenth of this amount - but this organ‘s artistic importance extends far beyond the confines of Armley, Leeds, even Britain. May we hope that when the original action is restored, the Armley organ will continue to be a place of pilgrimage for all who are vitally interested in the history and aesthetic of the "King of Instruments" and its music, and be a lasting monument to its creator”.

Left, Arnold Mahon, left of the Gallery, and Lynne Davies on the right, October, 1978.
This recording was re-issued as a CD in 2006 on the Priory label and is available from the Church. Visit ‘Sales’

In 1978, the first solo recording of the Armley Schulze was made for release in the Centenary year of the Organ. Playing was shared by Lynne Davis, the American First Prize winner of the St. Alban’s International Competition in 1975, and Arnold Mahon. The vinyl record was produced by Michael Woodward who enclosed it in one of his typically well illustrated and descriptive record sleeves. Michael was a very talented hobbyist recording engineer and a perfectionist for quality. His working motto, which he said brought great personal satisfaction to all concerned, was the opening of Shelley’s song “Rarely, rarely comest thou; Spirit of Delight.” The “Spirit” came from this recording which received many comlimentary reviews in journals and magazines, showing clearly the organ’s suitability for music of the 19th Century French School.

1981 an appeal was raised for funds to preserve the fabric of the church itself, so essential as the home of the famous organ, and as a spiritual home for the surrounding parish. Much work had already been done on drainage and guttering to remove sources of damp, on pointing of the tower masonry and on repairs to the leading of the spire. A novel radiant gas heating system had been installed to heat the church rapidly and economically but unfortunately this did not provide the consistent levels of temperature and humidity required for the organ. In winter, condensation still remained a problem in the organ loft where its elevated position produces considerable temperature fluctuations. All available information suggests that there are now no other Schulze organs, even in Germany, in as completely original a state as that in St Bartholomew's, Armley. The inability of the parish to support a restoration, which was rapidly becoming more urgent, meant that to secure the organ's future some outside body (national or international, artistic or commercial) must supply the necessary funds so that the organ could be restored and remain in its present ideal position for another century. Meanwhile the annual series of recitals still continued and with many visitors it was evident that the attraction and mystique of this unique instrument is as great as ever.


How to find us

Wesley Road, Armley, Leeds, LS12 1SR 

To make a regular contribution to the Schulze Organ Maintenance Fund,
by Standing Order,


£20.00, payable on 15th March each year.
by Standing Order,

stbartsarmley@gmail.comm  (omit the final m)

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Organ History M. Collins