News

£250k donation towards the restoration of Colston Hall’s unique organ

South West charitable organisation, the J & M Britton Charitable Trust, has announced a generous donation of £250,000 towards the restoration of Colston Hall’s historic organ, which is a key feature in the Hall’s ambitious transformation programme currently underway. This donation means that, from the re-opening of the concert venue, the organ will be called the Britton Organ.

The ‘late Romantic’ organ is a remarkable feat of engineering, taking five years to build more than sixty years ago. It is three storeys high, houses 5,372 pipes (ranging from tiny one-inch long ‘tin whistles’ to 32-foot pipes), 4,000 electromagnets (controlling the airflow) and 300 miles of wiring. The renowned Messrs Harrison and Harrison Ltd of Durham built it after the previous organ was tragically lost in a fire at the Hall in 1945 and it was officially unveiled with a grand ceremony in 1956.

The organ has remained largely untouched since it was constructed and requires a major restoration, costed at just over £1 million. Bristol Music Trust is actively looking for additional support to complete the restoration of this extraordinary instrument.

As part of the redevelopment of Colston Hall, the organ was carefully dismantled from its home in the main auditorium and taken back to Durham in 2019 to go into storage, ready for major repair and restoration before coming back to the transformed Hall in time for its re-opening.

Another major part of the gift is the bi-annual organ scholarship, to be named the Britton Organ Scholarship for a talented young (school-aged) Bristol organist who will likely go on to further music studies. The scholarship will allow this student regular access to play the organ across their scholarship year and will also include a public concert performed by the student on the organ.

Louise Mitchell, chief executive of Colston Hall, said:

“We are incredibly grateful for this generous donation. It is a significant amount of money that really kick-starts the funding for the restoration of our amazing organ. We look forward to being able to reinstall it when we’ve completed our transformation, fully restored to its former glory and ready to fill the Hall with its wonderful sound once again.”

Robert Bernays, from the J & M Britton Charitable Trust, said:

“We are delighted to be able to provide this contribution to the restoration of Colston Hall’s organ and to be able to help restore an instrument that is so important to the artistic life of the city. For several generations, our family has been committed to supporting Bristol and its communities, and the founder of our Trust, Jack Britton, had a passion for organs and for music. It is fitting that we are able to follow in this tradition and help to protect and preserve this one-of-a-kind instrument so that it can continue to be enjoyed by future generations of Bristolians.”

The repair works are estimated to take approximately two years and include: extending the protective screen; installing adjustable reflectors; removing, cleaning and storing vulnerable pipework and other elements; cleaning and encasing the larger pipes; re-leathering the wind system; overhauling the console and mounting it on a mobile platform; removing and repairing the humidifier and checking and updating the electrics. On return to the new building, it will require reassembly and evaluation of the acoustics in the new space and tuning.

Anyone interested in supporting the future of this rare and magnificent instrument should get in touch with Rosa Corbishley, Development Director, Bristol Music Trust on tel. 0117 204 7176 or 07912 109 132, or email rosa.corbishley@colstonhall.org.