Current Organ

The instrument was built in 1953 by J. W. Walker and Sons, using many pipes and materials from the previous instrument. A plaque attached to the side of the console describes the various work carried out by Walker since 1850.

The organ console is looking tired, despite a refurbishment by Harrison and Harrison after vandalism in 2003. Various piston numbers have accidentally broken off and the layout of the toe pistons for the pedals makes for tricky distinction and reach. The swell pedals are basic and unstylish. All divisional pistons will be increased to 8 pistons (from 6) to allow for more registration possibilities and a general sequencer added to maximise this possibilities – this will be very useful for the large amount of choral accompanying the organ is required to provide.

The organ facade was never completed. The grey dullness of the pipes await decorative painting that presumably awaited funds that were never forthcoming. This bland and slightly clumsy frontage will disappear with the rebuild, and a case-like structure with a new 16th foot diapason will adorn the West End, hiding the triforium scaffolding!


An interesting angle from the left hand side of the nave, looking up at the organ gallery from the floor. Access is via the staircase on the right (large pillar looking structure!). Whilst the depth of the gallery looks large, the pipes are surprisingly squashed in upstairs.


The blower is currently located in the bell ringers room in the tower (which is directly behind the back wall of the nave/organ chamber. Whilst this allows access for maintenance, the rather noisy electrical switch gear has caused alarm to any unaware members of the bell ringing committee!


Some photographs from inside the blower casing, showing the large 1953 blower and primary reservoir. A decision regarding replacement is still pending.

Up a further flight of stairs and we arrive at the highest level of the church, the triforium. The first picture shows the arches of the triforuim at the 3rd level of the church. Note that the Norman builders didn’t quite manage a straight line! Looking right from the same position is the precarious scaffolding that allows access to both the inside of the organ and the other triforium.

For those brave enough to walk the plank, the rewarding view is stunning: Looking down the Nave of Waltham Abbey Church (the three levels of arches become apparent).


(Left) From the scaffolding looking down along the back wall, the large 16 foot open wood pipes appear. (Right) Further along, he pipes are also hung upside down, to save space.

The far end of the upside-down pedal pipes, emerging from behind the choir box with the normal upstanding pipe heads just visible.


From the scaffolding, access can be achieved into the main part of the organ. (Left) pedal pipes intersect the scaffolding. (Right). The very dusty top of the swell box is made of an unsupported wooden sheet, slightly harder than plywood. This is currently accessed by climbing over the scaffolding, standing on an off-cut of wood (to spread the load) and then swinging down onto the ladder (the top of which can be seen). This basic lack of safety is not permissible and will be remedied in the rebuild.

A view from the top of the swell box before the precarious climb down the ladder. Some disparate pedal stops placed to the left of the ladder compete for space next to the Great pipes on the right (see photograph 2 also).IMG_0061img_0060.jpg

(left) The foot of the author standing on the wood offcut so as not to go crashing through the soft wooden roof of the choirbox. The steep ladder to access the chamber. (right) the bottom of the ladder and another ladder below to access the winding apparatus which lies underneath the pipes. Neither ladder is secured properly.

The swell box, behind the facade, A narrow corridor leads to the door for access to the swell box. (The swell box is on the left of the organ – from the photo above looking down from the ladder, it can just be seen).


A cameo appearance by the author demonstrating the lack of space. (below) Inside the swell box. Note how the larger 16 ft pipes disappear down the back as they are too tall for the box. See also the extension pipes for the top 3 keys of the organ (Bb, B, C), added by Walker in 1953.


The organ would originally have gone as far as top A, but by the 50s, a full 5 octaves of C – C was standard, so the missing pipes were simply added onto a separate chest. This however results in an unsatisfactory result as the physical removal of pipes from the normal style (as demonstrated in the foreground) doesn’t allow for as good a blend of sound. The extension pipes – there are three for every stop.

Space in the swell box is tight, making tuning and maintenance tricky.IMG_5273

The lack of resources in austerity ridden 1950’s Britain becomes apparent on close inspection. The soundboards (the wood on which the pipes are mounted) display a variety of eras, craftsmanship and adoption. Below left, three different types of wood show how soundboards from previous rebuilds were simply recycled, rather than remade. Below right, new pieces of wood were simply nailed onto old soundboards in an attempt to save money and resources.

Over time with heat and humidity constantly changing, the wood flexes to a point that air leaks out around the pipe, causing ‘running’ – that is to say, pipes sounding when you don’t want them to. All the soundboards are life expired and will be replaced for every stop in the rebuild.

Underneath the swell box, the bottom end of the 16ft pipes can be seen. This unsatisfactory arrangement makes maintenance and access more difficult.

Back inside the swell box, the lack of space is demonstrated (left) in this cramped collection of 16 foot reeds, making removing the pipes for general maintanance virtually impossible. On the right, damaged pipes from years of wear will be removed and either replaced or gently knocked back into shape. This sort of wear can destroy the purity of sound from the pipe. Note the way the pipes are tied to the wood, a common but cheap technique of preventing them falling over.

Coming out of the swell box (left), and turning right towards the Great and Choir pipes, an opportunity to grasp both the beautiful ceiling against the larger pipes of the facade.

The very precarious arrangement of ladders and planks for access to below the pipes (for the air reservoirs). The swell box is to the right of this photograph, with the east end behind. Pictured right, the springs for the pneumatically operated choir box, narrowly avoiding the unsecured ladder. The box shutters will be replaced with electric motor operated system that allows for far greater control of expression.

The Great division, tightly packed in at the front of the facade (which is beyond the light coloured mesh). Note both the layers of dust, and the strange layout of pipework: small to medium sized pipes going off to the right, then larger pipes restarting suddenly on the left. This layout is not optimal to a homogenised sound.


The right hand side of the Great division. On closer inspection, tuning ‘collars’ have fallen down some of the metal diapasons, and some of the tuning lips on the wooden flutes are in need of replacement.IMG_5287

To the right of the above photo (behind the Great if facing east), is the choir box and pipes. There is no direct access into this enclosed space, meaning that tuning and maintenance must be carried out by reaching through the thin slats that open and close on the front of the box. It also accounts for the lack of decent photographs.

The soundboards (on which the pipes sit) look newer here and a presumably date from the 1994 rebuild by Principal Pipe Organs of York. It gives a good idea for how pipes can be played out more evenly.


Update: the provenance of the 4’ Chimney Flute became clear during dismantling
– see ‘Autumn’ entry on the blog, added 26 March 2019.

Left: The same difficulty as explained above results in the extra three pipes on a separate chest at the back of the organ. Right: In the 1994 rebuild, two extra ‘mutation’ stops were added on the choir. To accommodate these, a new wind chest was built suspended above the choir pipes below. This photo offers an idea for the difficulties of access for tuning. Not only are the pipes crammed together, they are well above eye level. This is not a satisfactory set up and the intention is to rebuild the entire choir box so that all the pipes are on one level.

Continuing to the south extreme of the organ, yet again, the wind chest for the 3 note extension on the Great can be found hiding round the corner, separated from the other Great pipes by a rank of pedal pipes. Looking down, the solo Tromba rank can be seen. 1950s electrics dominate in large cabinets, taking up valuable space. All the electrics will be replaced in the rebuild, freeing up space for a more ergonomic layout.

For the final part of the tour, one has to climb back up to the top of the organ, go along the scaffolding, down the stairs one flight (back to the bell tower level) and enter the organ gallery from the north side. At this level, most the pipes we have just been looking at are around 2m above standing level. We are immediately greeted by some Pedal division pipes, secured wherever Walker could find space.


The end of the facade on the North side in the distance. To the fore, more pedal pipes and stop machines for the swell box. IMG_5230

Left: Some more pedal. Note the wasted floor space. Right: A desperate attempt to find space means five pedal pipes stand on their own away from the rest of the rank.

Lastly, heading towards the facade from this access point, an unsecured ladder offers limited access to the front of the swell box. This north gallery access also allows maintenance to the wind chests underneath the pipes. Certainly, nothing here is up to today’s Health and Safety Standards

We hope this tour has provided a good insight into the challenges the organ builders face with our rebuild. Space is limited; the entire instrument needs cleaning (all but the very largest pipes will be removed, taken to a workshop, cleaned and regulated); the choir and swell box need rebuilding for issues of space and better design. All the soundboards need replacing as they are life expired. The design of the pedal department needs reviewing so that each rank of pipes is a complete physical set, as close to each other as possible and not spread out all over the organ. Some pipes need replacing, from damage or poor craftsmanship. The winding system needs reviewing and overhauling – bellows mended or replaced where years of high pressure wind has caused leaks. The entire electrical system of the organ replaced from console to stop motors. New electronic playing aids added to the console and a new design of the pedal area to ensure the player has all he needs at the comfort of his disposal. Finally, a new facade so that the visual aspect of the organ matches the splendour of this 11th Century building.