A history of the Temple Church organs

November 1, 2019

Roger Sayer, a former organ student at St Paul’s Cathedral, was prizewinner at the 1989 St Albans International Organ Competition and won all the organ prizes at the Royal College of Music. His recent and upcoming highlights include recitals in Italy, Germany, Holland, and Denmark, a tour of Australia, a live recital at Temple Church broadcast on BBC Radio 3, and opening the 2018 Summer Organ Festival at Westminster Abbey. Sayer’s work as organist extends into the film world, with his most recent performance as organ soloist for Hans Zimmer’s Oscar nominated score for the motion picture Interstellar.

His latest recording, The Grand Organ of Temple Church (Orchid Classics), showcases the Harrison & Harrison Organ at Temple Church in London, UK.

The Temple Church, London, built by the Knights Templar in the late twelfth century, is set in the heart of the Inner and Middle Temple Inns of Court between Fleet Street and Embankment. The building itself comprises two distinct sections: the Round Church—a replica of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which, according to tradition, was built over two of Christianity’s holiest places: Calvary and the empty tomb—and a rectangular church, built half a century later, which now acts as the chancel and sanctuary.

Throughout its history, the church has been home to outstanding music and musicians including organists John Stanley, Henry Walford Davies, and George Thalben-Ball. Indeed, Thalben-Ball was the first English pianist to perform Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, and famously recorded Mendelssohn’s beautiful Hear My Prayer with treble Ernest Lough in 1927, launching the church and its choir to worldwide fame. More recently, the church and its organ have been used to record the score for the 2014 science fiction film, Interstellar. The current organ is a four-manual Harrison & Harrison instrument, originally built in 1924 as a ballroom organ for Glen Tanar Castle in Scotland and installed in the church in 1954. Records show, however, that there has been an organ at the church since at least 1307. The Glen Tanar Harrison is just one of a number of fine instruments to have graced the north wall of the chancel.

Unusually for the time, the 1307 record of the Temple Church organ is quite detailed. It appears in an inventory made by the Sheriffs of London and states that “In the Great Church [are] two pairs of organs and in the quire a book for the organs and two cushions for the chanters chairs.” Ordinarily, twelfth- to fourteenth-century church accounts only record the presence of an organ, with the result that little is known about its construction beyond what can be gathered from contemporary art in manuscript illuminations and stained glass. The instruments at Temple were most likely positive organs: small, one-manual instruments with two to three stops (usually flutes at 8′, 4′, and 2′), with bellows operated either by the organist himself or by a bellows boy.

The next reference to a major organ at Temple occurs in 1683 when the treasurers of both Inner and Middle Temple commissioned a new organ from Bernhard Smith and Renatus Harris, at the time the two leading English organbuilders. On discovering that he was in fact competing for the commission and had not already obtained the contract, Smith wrote to the two Inns of Court to request that he be allowed to build his instrument in the church, rather than in Middle and Inner Halls, as planned. His request was granted but, shortly after, Harris obtained the same permission, and each organ was built on the north and south sides of the church.1 Both builders went to enormous expense to showcase their instruments, pushing the organ further than any other instrument before (Smith’s organ was the first three-manual instrument in the country) and employing highly accomplished organists to demonstrate their capabilities.

The competition drew to a close in 1688, and rumor has it that Smith and Harris both sabotaged each other’s instruments the night before the Inns’ final decision, including tampering with the reed stops and cutting the supply from the bellows to the organ. Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys made the final decision in favor of Bernhard Smith, and the organ was installed in the summer of 1688 for the sum of £1,000, an extraordinary figure for a relatively small organ. It was tuned to meantone temperament and featured a 6′ “Sadt of mettle,” thought to be a type of gemshorn and the only example of the stop in the world. A number of pipes from this organ survive in displays in the choir vestry and at the bottom of the organ loft staircase.

1685 “Father” Smith (61 notes on manuals)2


Gedackt wainescott 12

Hohlflute of mettle 6

A Sadt of mettle 6

Spitts flute of mettle 3

Violl and Violin 12

Voice humaine of mettle 12


Prestand 12

Hohlflute wood & mettle 12

Principall of mettle 6

Quinta of mettle 4

Super Octavo 3

Cornett of mettle 2

Sesquialtera of mettle 3

Gedackt of wainescott 6

Mixture of mettle 3

Trumpette of mettle 12

ECCHOS [sic]

Gedackt of wood 6

Sup. Octavo of mettle 3

Gedackt of wood 12 (from c1)

Flute of mettle 6 (from c1)

Cornett of mettle III ranks (from c1)

Sesquialtera III ranks

Trumpett 12 (from c1)

Under the direction of E. J. Hopkins, organist at Temple Church from 1843 to 1897, the organ underwent a number of changes, including the addition of thirteen stops by Edmund Schulze between 1857 and 1862, and the introduction of a hydraulic engine to power the bellows. Hopkins’s successor, Walford Davies, oversaw the organ’s renovation by Frederic Rothwell in 1910, where a substantial amount of new pipework was added to the original Bernhard Smith instrument, and the console received a complete rebuild to accommodate Rothwell’s stop-key control system.3 This organ survived just thirty-one years. On May 10, 1941, an incendiary bomb fell on the Round Church during an air raid. The fire spread from the Round to the chancel, completely destroying the organ and gutting the church, with the result that it would be thirteen years before another instrument took its place.

1896 Schulze, and Norman and Beard organ4

GREAT (56 notes)

16′ Double Open Diapason

8′ Large Open Diapason

8′ Small Open Diapason

8′ Stopped Diapason

8′ Hohl Flute

8′ Viol di Gamba

4′ Principal

4′ Octave

4′ Nason Flute

22⁄3′ Twelfth

2′ Fifteenth

III Full Mixture

V Sharp Mixture

8′ Large Trumpet

8′ Small Trumpet

4′ Clarion

SWELL (56 notes, enclosed)

16′ Bourdon

8′ Open Diapason

8′ Rohr Gedact

8′ Violin

8′ Salicional

8′ Voix Celestes

4′ Principal

4′ Rohr Flute

4′ Gambette

II Twelfth and Fifteenth

IV Mixture

16′ Double Bassoon

8′ Horn

8′ Oboe

8′ Vox Humana

4′ Clarion


CHOIR (56 notes)

16′ Lieblich Bourdon

8′ Violin Diapason

8′ Lieblich Gedact

8′ Spitz Flute

8′ Dulciana

4′ Gemshorn

4′ Lieblich Flote

4′ Flauto Traverso

4′ Violine

III Mixture

8′ Corno di Bassetto

SOLO (56 notes)

8′ Flute Harmonique

4′ Flute Octaviante

2′ Piccolo Harmonique

8′ Tuba Mirabilis (heavy wind)

8′ Clarinette

4′ Orchestral Oboe

PEDAL (30 notes)

32′ Sub Bass

16′ Major Bass (wood)

16′ Open Bass (metal)

16′ Violone (wood)

16′ Stopped Bass (wood)

102⁄3′ Quint (wood)

8′ Principal (metal)

8′ Violoncello (wood)

4′ Tenor Solo (metal)

2′ Treble Solo (metal)

16′ Trombone (metal)


Great to Pedal

Swell to Pedal

Choir to Pedal

Solo to Pedal

Pedal Octave

Swell to Great

Solo to Great

Choir Sub Octave to Great

Swell to Choir

The Glen Tanar Harrison & Harrison organ arrived by rail from Scotland in 1953. It had been built for the ballroom in 1927—its inaugural recital was given by Marcel Dupré—but after years of neglect, was gifted by Lord Glentanar to George Thalben-Ball, organist at Temple from 1923–1982. Thalben-Ball had frequently travelled to Scotland to give recitals and had admired the instrument for its power and wonderful blend of sounds, and intended the organ to retain these qualities in its new home on the north wall of the church. Due to the vast difference in acoustic—the ballroom at Glen Tanar is a magnificent but rather squat space with a wooden ceiling decorated with hundreds of antlers—a number of pipes needed revoicing to better suit the church.

The installation was completed in 1954, and services began again after the chancel’s rededication shortly afterwards. (The Round Church was rededicated in 1958.) Since then, the organ has received expert attention from Harrison & Harrison, from removing the shutters on the Pedal reeds and Solo tuba, to modernizing the action in 1976, to installing a modern piston system in 2000. The organ underwent a complete overhaul between 2012 and 2013. Most of the instrument was dismantled and taken to the Harrison & Harrison workshop in Durham, and it now accompanies services and concerts throughout the year. Despite many alterations, the organ has retained its Romantic power and color, and perfectly complements the vibrant and expressive sound of the Temple Church Choir.

2013 Harrison & Harrison organ5

GREAT (61 notes)

16′ Double Geigen

16′ Bourdon (Gt 2nd Division)

8′ Large Open Diapason

8′ Small Open Diapason

8′ Geigen (Gt 2nd Division)

8′ Hohl Flute

8′ Stopped Diapason (Gt 2nd Division)

4′ Octave

4′ Principal (Gt 2nd Division)

4′ Wald Flute (Gt 2nd Division)

22⁄3′ Octave Quint (Gt 2nd Division)

2′ Super Octave

2′ Fifteenth (Gt 2nd Division)

13⁄5′ Seventeenth (Gt 2nd Division)

IV Mixture (19–22–26–29)

III Mixture (12–19–22, Gt 2nd Division)

8′ Tromba

4′ Octave Tromba

SWELL (61 notes, enclosed)

16′ Quintatön

8′ Open Diapason

8′ Stopped Diapason

8′ Echo Salicional

8′ Vox Angelica (from FF)

4′ Principal

2′ Fifteenth

V Mixture (12–19–22–26–29)

8′ Oboe


16′ Double Trumpet

8′ Trumpet

4′ Clarion

CHOIR (61 notes, enclosed)

16′ Contra Dulciana

8′ Claribel Flute

8′ Lieblich Gedeckt

8′ Dulciana

4′ Salicet

4′ Flauto Traverso

2′ Harmonic Piccolo

III Dulciana Mixture (15–19–22)

16′ Cor Anglais (extra octave of pipes at top)

8′ Clarinet

8′ Tuba

SOLO (61 notes, enclosed)

16′ Contra Viola

8′ Viole d’Orchestre

8′ Viole Céleste (tuned sharp)

8′ Harmonic Flute

4′ Concert Flute

8′ Orchestral Hautboy


16′ Orchestral Trumpet (extra octave of pipes at top)

8′ Horn

8′ Tuba (not affected by octave couplers)

PEDAL (32 notes)

32′ Double Open Wood

32′ Sub Bourdon

16′ Open Wood

16′ Open Diapason

16′ Geigen

16′ Bourdon

16′ Violone

16′ Dulciana

8′ Octave Wood

8′ Flute

4′ Octave Flute

32′ Double Ophicleide

16′ Ophicleide

16′ Orchestral Trumpet

16′ Bassoon

8′ Posaune


Great to Pedal

Swell to Pedal

Choir to Pedal

Solo to Pedal

Swell to Great

Choir to Great

Solo to Great

Choir Suboctave

Choir Unison Off

Choir Octave

Swell to Choir

Solo to Choir

Great 2nd Division on Choir

Great Reeds on Choir

Swell Sub Octave

Swell Unison Off

Swell Octave

Choir on Swell

Solo to Swell

Solo Sub Octave

Solo Unison Off

Solo Octave

Great Reeds on Solo


8 General pistons

8 Great pistons

8 Swell pistons (thumb and toe)

8 Choir pistons

8 Solo pistons

8 Pedal pistons

General Cancel

2 Coupler pistons

Sequencer, operating general pistons

Great to Pedal reversible (thumb and toe)

Swell to Pedal reversible

Choir to Pedal reversible

Solo to Pedal reversible

Swell to Great reversible (thumb and toe)

Choir to Great reversible

Solo to Great reversible

Swell to Choir reversible

Solo to Choir reversible

Swell to Solo reversible

32′ Ophicleide reversible

Combination couplers

Great to Pedal pistons

Pedal to Great pistons

Pedal to Swell pistons

Generals on Swell foot pistons

256 general and 16 divisional memories

Balanced Choir expression shoe

Balanced Swell expression shoe

Balanced Solo expression shoe


1. www.templechurch.com/music/the-organ/the-battle-of-the-organs/.

2. http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=C00923.

3. www.templechurch.com/music/the-organ/the-rothwell-harrison-organs/.

4. http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N17808.

5. http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=E02047.

Organists of the Temple Church:

Francis Pigott 1688–1704

John Pigott 1704–1737 (from 1729 for Middle Temple only)

From 1729 to 1814, the Inner Temple:

Obadiah Shuttleworth 1729–1734

John Stanley 1734–1786

Robert John Samuel Stevens 1786–1810

George Price 1810–1814

From 1729 to 1814, the Middle Temple:

John Pigott 1729–1737

James Vincent 1737–1749

John Jones 1749–1796

Emily Dowding 1796–1814

From 1814, both Inner and Middle Temple:

George Price 1814–1826

George Warne 1826–1843

Dr. Edward John Hopkins 1843–1897

Sir Henry Walford Davies 1897–1923

Sir George Thalben-Ball 1923–1982

Dr. John Birch 1982–1997

Stephen Layton 1997–2006

James Vivian 2006–2013

Roger Sayer 2014–present

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Church

Photo: Roger Sayer at the Temple Church organ (photo credit: Chris Christodoulou)