The organ of St Mary’s Church in Portsea was built by the London firm of J.W. Walker & Sons for the new church in 1889, and proved to be the first of a series of major contracts in what became a golden period for the Walker firm. Some stops were left prepared for and were added by the original builders three years later in 1892. Much of the funding for the church and organ had been given by WH Smith (1825–1891), son of the founder of the newsagent chain.
The tonal character of the Portsea organ is distinctive, and represents a unique Romantic interpretation of the formative earlier English influences on the Walker firm. With a presence and authority matched only by the scale of the building, this organ was designed to impress and to command its space.
The organ was altered by the Walker firm in 1965: although the stoplist remained unchanged, many of the reeds were revoiced. The original key action (tracker to Choir, Barker Lever to Great and Swell, and a mixture of charge pneumatic and Barker Lever on the Pedal) was replaced with a simple two-stage electro-pneumatic action. The console was replaced with one of modern design. Further work was undertaken in 1981 by George Martin & Partner of Portsmouth; this included lowering the pitch of the organ to nearer standard pitch.
The 2020–2022 project was the first comprehensive restoration in the organ’s life. Alongside the obvious goal of returning the entire instrument to first-class condition, the principal objective was to conserve and restore the Victorian heritage of this instrument. The pipework was returned to its original pitch, scaling, pressures and voicing. The wind system and all soundboards and chests were all thoroughly restored, with new three-stage electro-pneumatic key actions of traditional design being provided throughout. The 1965 console was replaced with a new console designed in the style of Walker consoles of the 1880s.
The consultant for the work was Dr William McVicker.