Refurbished Grand Temple pipe organ wins silver industry award

Hayles and Howe are very proud to be able to showcase and highlight their involvement in the installation of a new organ case in the Grand Temple of the Grade II * listed Art Deco, Freemasons' Hall in London

'The organ case takes pride of place and is very well executed,' said the judges. 'One might suggest the enriched mouldings – made of composite resin – is not a plastering award entry, but the skills used in taking copies of existing enrichments and adapting them to make new ones certainly are plastering skills.'

The commission was to create a new organ case in composite resin replicating the detailed enrichments of the two original organ cases situated on the side walls of the temple. The new organ casing though wider and projecting further forward than the originals successfully fulfilled this brief creating a focal point in the Grand Temple. 

The Hayles and Howe team took great care in taking over 12 thixotropic moulds from the enrichments on one of the original organ cases. The Bristol workshop replicated the detailing in plaster, remodeling ornament to create master moulds prior to casting all the required positives in composite resin.

The Hayles and Howe project manager and site foreman liaised closely with Laurence Beckford, Carver, Howard Bros Joiners and Adam Architecture to ensure the project was completed on time and within budget. 

Charles Grace, the client’s representative said: 'We are very glad to have had the expertise of Hayles and Howe on this important project. I have been most impressed with the skill these craftsmen showed in taking moulds of very intricate and delicate decorations, and we are all delighted with the end result.' 

Henry Willis and Sons built the original organ casings in 1933. The new section supplements and greatly improves the sound of the refurbished main organ, thanks to the skills of the organ builders, Harrison and Harrison of Durham.

Notice of the silver award was given in the Magazine of the Finishes and Interiors Sector

Published in More News

Striking  the right chord

Freemasonry Today caught up with renowned musician Thomas Trotter as he practised on the Grand Temple’s newly refurbished pipe organ for its inaugural concert

The pipes of the Grand Temple organ positively gleam as Thomas Trotter runs through the programme for a special concert to be held in the Temple the next day. The organ’s restoration has used enough gold leaf to cover the surface of a tennis court and introduced a new organ chamber in the centre of the Temple’s east wall. As he practises, Trotter’s hands dance over the three manuals while his feet expertly work the pedals beneath to create an epic sound from Bach’s Toccata in F.

The concert will not only be the culmination of the organ’s refurbishment but also the first of many celebratory events linked to the 2017 Tercentenary. One of Britain’s most widely admired musicians, Trotter is looking forward to playing to a full house: ‘The Grand Temple is a unique space, it’s incredibly plush and sumptuous. The carpets dampen the sound quite a lot so I’m going to have to work hard.’

A grand history

The organ was built by Freemason Henry Willis III for the inauguration of
the Grand Temple in 1933. 

It included numerous state-of-the-art developments that Willis had adopted following visits to the US, many of which were designed to help the instrument cope with its setting: a modern, efficiently heated building. Some 80 years of accumulated wear, however, threatened to irreparably damage the tonal accuracy of its pipes.

Thanks to funding from the Supreme Grand Chapter’s reserves, organ builders Harrison & Harrison of Durham have been able to restore the instrument to its former glory, retaining its console, mechanism and pipework. The projection and presence of the sound has been markedly improved by giving a greater degree of opening to the expressive swell enclosures, within which much of the pipework is situated, and also by removing heavy fabric hangings from the east wall. 

‘The curtaining would have soaked up the sound like a sponge. Now with the marble walls exposed, the sound is reflected off into the hall. It’s like having your windows cleaned – before it would have been a bit musty and unfocused,’ says Trotter. ‘I’m thrilled that people are still spending money on their instruments and buying new ones. There are far fewer organ builders than there were 50 years ago, but the standard is as high as it’s ever been.’

‘All the comments I have received show that the audience really liked being able to see Thomas’s remarkable dexterity, as well as hear the beauty of his playing.’ Charles Grace

Past in tune with present

The refurbishment has seen the addition of a new case on the east wall, clad to match the original design. It contains a chorus of five stops, balanced to augment rather than dominate the Willis sound, and a solo stop for special occasions – the Grand Tuba. ‘In the recital I’m going to use some of the old pipes and compare it with the new stops, which have made a big difference and are quite striking.’ 

The Grand Temple is in good company, with the organs at Westminster Cathedral and Liverpool Cathedral also built by Henry Willis III. ‘Every organ is different, but there are certain characteristics that follow through all the Henry Willis III organs and I can hear them here,’ says Trotter. ‘There’s a certain brightness about some of the stops that are representative of what Willis was doing in the 1930s.’

As the audience take their seats in the Grand Temple the next day, there is an almost palpable sense of expectation about how the organ will sound. With Trotter hidden behind the organ, a camera positioned behind his shoulder will stream his performance onto the wall of the Temple for the audience to see. He does not disappoint. 

‘I was very pleased with the way the concert was received,’ says Charles Grace, Project Manager
for the Grand Temple organ restoration. ‘All the comments I have received show that the audience really liked being able to see Thomas’s remarkable dexterity, as well as hear the beauty of his playing.’

In addition to performing pieces by Bach and masonic composers Mozart and Liszt, Trotter plays Reginald Goss-Custard’s Chelsea Fayre. It’s a fitting nod to the instrument’s proud history, with Goss-Custard’s brother Harry the recitalist at the opening of the Temple organ in 1933.

Note perfect

Thomas Trotter has performed as 
a soloist with conductors Sir Simon
 Rattle, Bernard Haitink and the late Sir Charles 
Mackerras, among many others. He
 regularly gives recitals in venues such as 
the Berlin Philharmonie; Leipzig’s Gewandhaus; the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam; the Musikverein and the Konzerthaus in Vienna; and London’s Royal Festival and Royal Albert Halls. In 2012 he was named International Performer of the Year by the New York Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

Letters to the Editor - No. 33 Spring 2016

Concerted interest


Among your readers there may be many who enjoyed the inaugural organ concert given by Thomas Trotter last September.

This year, again as part of the UGLE Tercentenary celebrations, there will be two further hour-long concerts. 

The first will take place at 5pm on Wednesday, 8 June, featuring Ian Tracey, organist at Liverpool Cathedral, in a wide-ranging programme.

As before, you will be able to see what the organist is doing, with a filmed display on the walls of the Grand Temple. Tickets (for which there is no charge) can be booked at, and I do hope that many will take advantage of what should be another great occasion.

Charles Grace, Project Manager for the Grand Temple Organ, Freemasons’ Hall, London

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Notes from history

The Grand Temple organ has finally returned to Freemasons’ Hall for reassembly. Ian Bell, consultant to the restoration project, traces its origins to discover a proud dynasty of organ builders

When the components of the Grand Temple organ were packed off to Durham for a year of restorative therapy, it was the first time they had left Great Queen Street since their installation. More than eighty years of wear had taken its toll on the complex mechanism of an instrument that proved to be a feat of technical engineering when it was installed in 1933.

The Grand Temple organ was by far the largest of the three fitted by organ builders Henry Willis & Sons at Freemasons’ Hall. The others, in what became Lodge Rooms 1 and 10, have long since fallen into disuse. However, their sister in the Grand Temple has continued to serve with character and distinction, only beginning to show her age comparatively recently – and only when viewed at close quarters.

The Willis dynasty had been major participants in the world of organ building since the company’s founder, Henry Willis, produced a startlingly bold and groundbreaking instrument for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park. Considerable success followed and the baton of team leader was in due course handed to successive generations of the family, each named Henry, who modestly numbered themselves in the manner of royalty. The man in charge of the installations at Freemasons’ Hall was Henry Willis III.

Though relatively young, Willis III had just overseen the installation of a grand new organ in Westminster Cathedral before coming to Freemasons’ Hall. Prior to that, he had installed the largest church organ in the country at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. The organist at Liverpool was Henry Goss Custard, whose brother Reginald was Grand Organist. As such, Reginald presided over the Grand Temple organ at the opening ceremonies in July 1933, and had approved the designs that Willis, himself a Freemason, had put forward.

It is clear from his writings that Willis was very proud of the opportunity offered to him, but the project was not without its difficulties. Money did not seem to have been in short supply, but space certainly was. The awkward and irregularly shaped spaces left for the organ meant that it had to be packed in very tightly. Standing uncomfortably inside it today, one might imagine that the brief to Willis would have been something like: ‘Here are two remaining spaces we are able to offer you – pack as much organ into them as you can.’ 

Muted roar

The organ’s 2,200 pipes are ingeniously crowded into two very narrow spaces, each triangular in floor area and tapering from the widest end next to the balconies, down to virtually nothing at the eastern end where the openings into the Grand Temple are located. So although the pipes are shouting very loudly, they are unavoidably shouting in the wrong direction, away from the listeners, and their output is being squeezed down until the point where, like toothpaste bursting from a tube, it can eventually escape sideways into the room. 

To the organist against the east wall, and indeed to those seated on the dais below it, the organ clearly has considerable power; to those in the body of the Grand Temple, however, it has instead a somewhat muted roar.

To add to the difficulties, the acoustics were extensively treated with absorbent material to minimise reverberation and clarify speech. This was anathema to what an organ builder dreams of: the sound of pipes speaking without restriction or obstruction, creating a flattering and reverberant cathedral acoustic, inappropriate though such an acoustic might have been here. Willis’s pleasure at the chance of making his mark in the heart of the masonic peace memorial was therefore unavoidably dampened by the hazards thrown into his path. Writing in his house magazine in September 1933 he says:

‘I was clearly given to understand from the very start that the acoustical properties of the Temple would be such that the requirements of speech would be considered first, last, and all of the time; and that it would not be possible to modify this requirement to suit the needs of the organ in any way. It was under these onerous conditions of restricted space and an almost non-existent reverberation period that I had to make my plans.’

One can sense a heavy heart going about the making of those plans. But whatever his misgivings, Willis succeeded in putting up a good fight. By the end of the same article he cannot resist quoting a letter of congratulation from Goss Custard: ‘Everyone is more than delighted with the Temple organ and I must say that personally I consider it one of the most beautiful that you have ever made. Considering the difficulties that you have had to overcome with the site, the effect is nothing short of marvellous.’ 

And, not unusually, it has to be admitted, Willis felt moved to pat himself on the back too: ‘If I may say so, a noble organ in a noble edifice. Only the best has been good enough for the masonic peace memorial in every part of its structure and furnishing. The Temple organ is worthy, in every way, of its superb setting.’

Cleverly planned, beautifully built, and packed with cutting-edge technical innovations designed to cope with all that a modern, centrally heated environment could throw at it, the organ was to be one of the last entirely new instruments that Willis III was to build on such a scale. 

The organ remains not only a worthy tribute to a proud Freemason, but one where the daring technicalities proved well-chosen. The new addition of a separate section that is able to speak without restriction along the Grand Temple, providing the clarity that has been elusive for eighty years, has allowed the organ to be restored without alteration. As Willis would surely have wished.

‘Only the best has been good enough for the masonic peace memorial… The Temple organ is worthy, in every way, of its superb setting.’ Henry Willis III

Published in More News
Thursday, 15 March 2012 00:00

pulling out all the stops

While organ music has become part of the rich fabric of masonic meetings around the country, Naunton Liles wonders whether lodges should seek to preserve these historic but expensive instruments

Look at any masonic music books in use today and you’ll find that the music you sing in your lodge would be familiar to your grandfather and those before him. Many lodges have a reluctant organist who has been persuaded to play a little and is unlikely to introduce fresh ideas while the senior grandees keep reminding everyone ‘that’s not how we used to do it’. So we sing music that is well known and well proven – we all enjoy singing familiar tunes.

Outside Freemasonry, the organ has been constrained in its development by cost. No church council or town hall likes spending money on organs when other priorities seem more worthy. It is the same within Freemasonry. If a masonic hall committee has to choose between a stairlift and a new organ, mandatory legislation and similar pressures push the organ aside.

So why do we continue to have music in masonic ceremonies? Most people agree music enhances the occasion and a private lodge meeting without music can be a bit dull. Our annual assemblies of Grand Lodge and of Provincial Grand Lodge and in all masonic orders need to be occasions of great dignity and splendour, and to give pleasure to those present.

Usually a venue is chosen with an organ suitable for playing processional music, fanfares for the high spots and background music to maintain a suitable atmosphere. For our big showcase events in London, the Grand Temples at Freemasons’ Hall and Mark Masons Hall are best. The history and costs of the instruments found in these buildings demonstrate two very different approaches to organ music.

In 1933, organ builder Henry Willis & Sons was commissioned to construct an instrument fitting for the new art deco building in Covent Garden. It was agreed the instrument would be heard but not seen, so it was placed behind grills. This concentrates the sound at one end and when accompanying 1,500 people, it can be a bit deafening for those occupying the tiered seats in the east of the temple. Another feature was to conceal the console so the organist was not higher than the Grand Master. There is many a non-conformist chapel where the organ occupies a prominent place and a flamboyant organist can outshine the preacher. Not so in Freemasonry.

The downside at the Grand Temple in Freemasons’ Hall is that the organist has no line of sight. Forty years later, CCTV was installed, with one camera and one screen. The organists could then see the assembled brethren, but not much of the west door where processions enter, so you will always see a second organist alongside advising the player what is going on. The 1970s equipment has been replaced by a flatscreen colour monitor, but still there is only one camera. By contrast, cathedrals have a split-screen system whereby the organist can see four views as the ceremony unfolds – but this costs money.

In 1933, organ builders were much exercised by the demands of the cinema, theatre and town hall clients. The thinking of the time was that you could produce a huge sound with fewer pipes by doubling up their use in an ingenious manner. The proposal for Freemasons’ Hall included this kind of scheme and the organ has a lot of sound in a compact space.

digital alternative

We live in a time when many people think any object worthy of its period – Willis’s design is an excellent example of mid-1930s workmanship – should not be altered or improved. Indeed, grant funds usually insist this is so. But few would disagree that a change that enabled the pipework to speak out more clearly, and enabled some additional resources, would be sensible if we are to serve the next generations well.

The Grand Temple is quite different at Mark Masons Hall. A long auditorium that seats four hundred, it has a relatively low ceiling, lots of carpet and a propensity to attract men in heavy suits. The acoustic is dead by comparison with any church. As a Grade II-listed building of great beauty, we are not permitted to alter the appearance by installing a pipe organ. An electronic organ was in use for around twenty-five years and in February this year it was replaced by the very latest digital organ.

Good digital technology has now been with us for a decade or more and a market has emerged far removed from the disco and home organ. It is said you can blindfold the experts in the back of a church, play them a pipe organ and a new digital organ, and they’d be hard-pressed to pick the imposter.

The process of acquiring a new organ for Mark Masons Hall was lengthy. Many orders, Provinces, lodges and individual brethren gave generously to raise the necessary funds. Three leading makers then submitted proposals for a digital organ and the contract was awarded to Wyvern, which builds its organs in the UK using mainly British components.

Digital organs now use a sampling technique. For this they record each individual note from the pipework of an organ of merit. During installation and commissioning much time was spent at night, when the surroundings were quiet, to voice each stop. It is this that makes the organ so much better than a standard one. Care was also taken to position the speakers to best effect.

Not every masonic temple can afford a custom-built organ and the story so far has described those used for important Grand Lodge ceremonies. Back at home, you may find a more modest instrument, but even these can be entirely suitable for our purposes. So, should we preserve and repair the old pipe organ or buy an electronic one? My guess is there are but a dozen pipe organs in masonic premises that are worth the cost of rebuilding, especially now that such good results can be achieved with digital equipment.

Within Freemasonry there is a shortage of funds, so it is prudent to go for the best sound per pound, and there is a compelling argument in favour of digital instruments for masonic purposes.

Independent advice is available at no cost from Naunton Liles at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

blow by blow: HISTORY OF THE PIPES

The origins of the organ can be traced back to the third century BC, when an octave of pipes was first strung together and attached to some fireside bellows. However, it took until the twelfth century AD to refine the organ into something workable that would become the ‘must-have’ accessory for every monastery. By the seventeenth century complex instruments were in use that would be broadly familiar to us today. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a religious revival and increased wealth led to the building of new churches. At the same time, Freemasonry expanded rapidly and organs were installed in every temple that was built.

By the end of the century there were many lodges and plenty of organists. Many people had a piano at home and a generation of Freemasons was born who were not bashful about singing. Small pipe organs appeared everywhere and survived because of their relative simplicity, and several masonic temples continue to use them a hundred years later.

Letters to the Editor - FreemasonryToday No.18 - SUMMER 2012


I was interested to read Naunton Liles’ article on the Grand Temple organ and the new one in Mark Masons’ Hall. I am an organist based in the London area and play at both these venues and others. Most of the readers of Freemasonry Today will not know the history of the Grand Temple organ, but Henry Willis was probably the builder of the organ equivalent of a Rolls-Royce. It is of historical significance, as the author says, but would be extremely expensive to restore.


To the great majority of brethren, the difference in the tone of a pipe organ and the modern digital ones would certainly be unnoticeable, and for myself I look forward to being able to use the new one at Mark Masons’ Hall.


Anthony Perch
Fortitude Lodge No. 6503
Kenton, Middlesex


Published in Features

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