Past organs

The church has had an organ since 1819, though we know little for certain about the details of these earlier instruments.

The first organ

The York Chronicle and Daily Advertiser for 25 February 1819 reported that St Helen's had recently purchased an organ built by Ward of York. This will have been John Ward who lived close by in Little Stonegate and had a workshop in College Street.

 

The 1838 rebuild

Yorkshire Gazette 18 August 1838
On Sunday morning last the organ in the church of St Helen's Stonegate, in this city, was opened by Mr TH Tomlinson, when an impressive sermon was preached by the Rev C Hawkins, from Luke 14th chap. 9th verse, to a highly respectable congregation. Mr TH Tomlinson displayed in a masterly manner the various stops in the organ, which reflect credit to our citizen Mr Ward, the builder. In the evening a sermon was preached by the Rev T Myers, from Rev. 21st chap 22nd verse. Mr Tomlinson again presided at the organ. The 100th Psalm was very well sung in the morning: as was Luther's hymn in the evening, part of the Minster choir being present, and great justice was done to the composition. A collection after each service amounted to £10 1s 6d toward defraying the expense of rebuilding the organ.

Creditable as the organ may have been, it was not conveniently located, since it blocked the west window in a church with poor natural light.

 

The 1860 Jones organ

The 1857 restoration plan was to move the Ward organ to the east end of the south aisle, next to the door of the new vestry, but it proved to be dilapidated and unplayable.

Yorkshire Gazette 18 August 1860
ST. HELEN'S CHURCH, YORK. - This church, which was so satisfactorily enlarged and restored two years ago, has, since its re-opening for divine worship, been without an organ to assist the congregation in singing praises to Almighty God. We have pleasure in stating that the want of an organ is about to be supplied, instructions having already been given for the erection of ample power for the dimensions of the sacred edifice. Mr P. Jones, from the establishment of Messrs. Hill and Son, London, has been engaged to build the organ. He came to York last year, when he was in the service of Hill and Son, and was employed by the firm in re-building the Cathedral organ. When this gigantic undertaking was finished, Mr Jones was engaged by the Dean and Chapter to attend to the Minster organ, and to keep the instrument in good playing condition, and in perfect tune. He now resides in York, and we have no doubt he will complete the organ for St. Helen's Church in a superior style.

The National Register of Organ Builders lists no other organs built by Mr P Jones. It was placed at the east end of the north aisle, further west than the present organ.

The church was unused for a period after 1910, and the organ was reported in 1921 to be unplayable. Some restoration and repair was evidently undertaken, therefore, to enable it to be used by the time the church returned to full use by the beginning of 1923. In the 1950s the organ was in a very poor state and so the decision was made to ask J W Walker and Son to remedy matters.  As well asnthe above notes there is an interesting article about the organs at St Helen's Church in the York & District Organists' Association magazine "Pipeline".  It can be read here.

The present organ »

An unsolved mystery

No specification of the 19th century organs survives in the church records, and it is difficult to reconcile the contemporary newspaper reports with the three different descriptions of pre 1959 organs found in the National Pipe Organ Register. The description of the organ as having been built in 1830 by Postill (record N03917 from a 1939 source) can be discounted, but there are sufficient discrepancies in the descriptions of the organ in the other two records also, (A01118 and A03916) to raise questions about accuracy. It may well be that churches have been confused at some time. There is a reference in A01118 to work undertaken in about 1940, but it seems unlikely given the condition of the organ in the 1950s that this could have been extensive enough to explain the differences in specification.