From its earliest years, the Nicholson firm has been a ‘complete’ organ builder, producing the majority of its components in-house, thus ensuring absolute quality control, efficiency of construction schedules, uniformity of style and control over every aspect of an organ’s creation. It retains to this day all these techniques, from making its own pipes to the finest examples of cabinet making and voicing.
An Organ Building Company with Experience
With the development of electro-pneumatic action in the 1920s and 1930s came the design of the famous and comfortable Nicholson & Co. console. Built usually of solid oak to well tried and tested proportions, the company’s consoles have long been objects of beauty and of great convenience to the player. Significant electro-pneumatic organs by Nicholson & Co. featuring these consoles came to be built in the second half of the twentieth century in many churches and cathedrals.
In recent years, major electric action rebuilds have been undertaken on the organs of St. Woolos’ Cathedral, Newport, on the venerable Nicholson & Co. at St. Philip’s Anglican Cathedral, Birmingham, on the large divided organ in St. Mary’s Collegiate Church, Warwick, at Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s church), Malvern Priory, St Michael’s Cornhill (City of London) and Bridlington Priory.
An Organ Building Company using the Latest Technology
Mechanical (‘tracker’) action is today the choice of many discerning musicans and Nicholson & Co. has in recent years built many examples in parish churches large and small and in the Anglican cathedrals at Portsmouth and Southwell. One major development which has brought Nicholson & Co. organs to the forefront of modern mechanical action design has been the advent of computer aided design (CAD), in whose use the company is well ahead of most other British firms.
Through this medium and through the application of the professional engineering expertise of Managing Director, Andrew Moyes, Nicholson & Co. has developed its own unique techniques to optimise the design of pallets and associated mechanics. The computerised design makes it possible to build large mechanical action organs with mechanical coupling and an excellent touch without recourse to the use of balanciers or other forms of assistance to lighten the touch.
The preferred method of coupling is mechanical but Nicholson & Co. also has excellent experience of electrical coupling as on the four-manual mechanical action organ in Southwell Minster built in 1996. The Portsmouth Cathedral organ, with its large Great division of 17 stops, has both mechanical and electrical coupling selected by a switch at the console. The new four-manual organ built in 1998 for Christchurch Priory, Dorset, has an attached mechanical action console with mechanical coupling and, unusually, an independent electro-pneumatic action controlled from a second, movable, console.
An Organ Building Company to Satisfy All Requirements
The company’s busy workload comprises a great variety of projects, from large cathedral organs and electro-pneumatic rebuilds or restorations to complex mechanical-action instruments often showing great ingenuity in overcoming awkward sites. This variety of work necessitates a stable, committed workforce covering all the skills required. Just as from the start when John Nicholson assembled around him a devoted team, so many of the present staff have remained with the company from their apprenticeship. There are, therefore, specialists with many years’ experience in the fields of pipe-making, pipe conserving, reed voicing, flue voicing, cabinet making, casework construction and restoration, console building, soundboard and reservoir construction and restoration, mechanical and electro-pneumatic action construction, electrical wiring, electrical and mechanical design, and now computer aided design.
Since the start of the twenty-first century, rebuilding projects have included the four-manual Nicholson/Rushworth & Dreaper organ in Great Malvern Priory, the three-manual Hill/Rushworth & Dreaper in St Michael’s Cornhill and the famous four-manual Anneessens instrument in Bridlington Priory, Yorkshire. Smaller restorations include St Mary’s, Twyning (Nicholson 1886), St John the Baptist, Eastnor (Nicholson 1867), Usk Priory (Gray & Davison, for Llandaff Cathedral, 1861) and St Peter’s College, Oxford (“Father” Willis 1875).
Recent large restorations include the four-manual Harrison/Compton in St Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham and the organ at Gloucester Cathedral which included the addition of pedal mutations of the 32ft harmonic series, a new pedal reed at 32ft pitch and a commanding solo trumpet.
Nicholson & Co.’s largest and most recent prestigious contract was at Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff, the largest new organ to be built for a British cathedral since Coventry Cathedral’s new instrument in 1962. The installation, at a cost of £1.5m, took 18 months to design and construct and contains a total of 4870 pipes.
The company has developed over the years many designs of which it is justifiably proud. Its wind systems are space saving and effective, with particularly musical tremulants. Its electro-pneumatic actions are fast, quiet and reliable, its mechanical actions are market leaders and it can produce striking casework. Nicholson & Co.’s tonal policy, led by Tonal Director, Guy Russell, remains rooted in the best English tradition, with bright but warm and characterful voicing.
An Organ Building Company Where Quality Prevails
In his 1990 book The Making of the Victorian Organ, the Reverend Dr. Nicholas Thistlethwaite describes the 1854 Worcester Music Hall organ an “extraordinary instrument … one of the most advanced organs of the day”. The Nicholson & Co. organs of today excite similar praise from those who play them, whether in cathedral or parish church, in the UK or around the world.
Nicholson & Co. looks forward eagerly to the future, assured that it will be as rewarding as the past 175 years of fine Nicholson & Co. organs.