Restoration of the 1913 Norman & Beard Organ

The organ was a three manual and pedal, 29 stop 1913 Norman & Beard instrument that has since been converted to electro-pneumatic action with a movable console and had been tonally altered.

The Nelson Centre of Musical Arts

The Challenge

The concert hall where the instrument was located was to undergo earthquake strengthening and there was to be an upgrade and rebuild of facilities around the school. As part of the upgrade there was to be a passage built at stage floor level behind the tiered stage, which meant that the floor under the back half of the pipe organ would be raised 400mm.

The organ was to be removed, restored and reinstalled in the hall in time for the hall opening. The organ consultant Douglas Mews recommended a heritage restoration of the instrument, which was in unison with the wishes of the Board. (The option of adding a Great and Pedal Trumpet/Trombone rank in screened cabinets either side of the organ was declined on aesthetic ground by the Heritage Architect.)

The project contained several challenges:
* Removing the instrument and safely transporting it to and from the workshop in Timaru;
* Assessing the space requirements for both the instrument, and the space requirements for the under stage passageway required careful measuring and rerouting of winding systems and blower location, and consultation with the architects, especially as the largest pipes were located along the side of the instrument and reached ceiling height;
* Reconstructing an in-built console and laying out the requirements for a digital transmission system with modern playing aids;
* Reconstructing the original tonal scheme (including the three additions saved from the 1974 rebuild);
* Re-erecting the instrument while the hall and other buildings were still a building site.


The instrument was built by the London firm of Norman & Beard, and financed largely by a £2,000 donation of local philanthropist Thomas Cawthron. Installed in 1913, it was a three manual and  pedal, pneumatic action instrument of 29 stops. Alterations over the years had included adding an electric blower to the winding system, converting the action to electro-pneumatic from pneumatic, a movable detached console in place of the inbuilt console, and tonal alterations where some pipes were altered and moved in the instrument and others removed and different pipes added.

Since the 1974 tonal alterations had been done by SIOC, there was enough documentation in the company archives to identify the original tonal scheme and with the assistance of the British Organ Archives, some original drawings were sourced which showed enough detail to reconstruct the layout of the console. The new console made use some of the previous high quality fittings such as the ivory keyboards and original pedalboard.

With the organ dismantled and in the factory, a mock-up of the new stage floor was constructed so that the instrument could be erected and the modifications and alterations fitted. The many hours of Computer Aided Drafting in designing the alterations and new console enabled the individual parts to be worked on and assembled in sequence.

With the tonal reconstruction, some of the removed ranks of pipes had over the years been sold or recycled into other instruments. Some of the sold pipework had been resold to SIOC and other pipework had been retained in stock. Where original pipes had been cut down they were lengthened and reconstructed. When the original pipes were not available, similar pipes from a salvaged 1908 Norman and Beard instrument were used, so that all but one rank are Norman & Beard pipes.

The casework was totally stripped down, stained, and polished with shellac, and the front pipes were gilded with silver leaf. All the chests and reservoirs were cleaned, re-leathered and re-finished. Any splits on any surface of the organ were carefully repaired. The mechanism of the mechanical action of the Swell shutters was breathed a new life  into and restored to the highest possible degree. The previously removed Choir shutters and mechanical linkage were reconstructed.

After the organ had been tested in the factory environment, it was dismantled, wrapped, and packed into shipping containers and freighted to Nelson where it was unloaded into the hall. Reinstallation of the organ was commenced on 19th February 2018 and practically completed on 29 March, while voicing and tuning continued on to 20th April. For most of this period the auditorium was still a building site, which added considerably to the challenge of the installation by reason of dust, noise and space restriction.

The restored organ’s first outing in the refurbished auditorium was to accompany two performances of Handel’s Messiah on 25th and 26th May with the combined Nelson Civic and Chroma choirs, orchestra and organist Alan Gray, directed by Peter Rainey and with soloists Rebecca Ryan (soprano), Oliver Sewell (tenor), Claire Barton (alto), William King (bass).

Ruth Allison reviewing the concert for the Nelson Mail reported “At the centre of the strong performance was the beautifully restored organ and in the capable hands of Alan Gray it drew together the choir, the soloists and the orchestra”.

At the Gala opening Concert on 9 June the organ featured again in an accompanying role for a repeat performance of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” by the combined choirs and orchestra.

The organ is being featured in a series of lunch hour recitals, the first of which was given by resident organist Alan Gray on 28 June. Eugene Lavery returns to Nelson to give the second concert on 26 July. Eugene, a former Nelson College pupil, graduate of Auckland and Juilliard Schools of Music, is now a professional church organist at St Albans Episcopal church Waco, Texas.

So, begins a new century chapter in the life of this remarkable organ and venue that enriches the cultural life of Nelson and New Zealand. We at South Island Organ Co are proud to add it to our long list of achievements, preserving and creating heritage organs.

Key Stats

Great Organ (compass CC to C, 61 notes): Wind Pressure 4"w.g.

Open Diapason (large): 8 original (top 5 replacements)

Open Diapason (small): 8 original

Claribel Flute: 8 original

Corno Flute: 8 x First Church DN (reconstucted)

Octave: 4 original

Harmonis Flute: 4 original (reconstructed)

Twelfth: 2 2/3 x First Church DN

Fifteenth: 2 x First Church DN

Great Octave: original

Swell Organ (compass CC to C, 61 notes): Wind Pressure 4" w.g.

Lieblichbordun: 16 original

Open Diapason: 8 original

Rohr Flute: 8 original

Salicional: 8 original

Voix Celeste: 8 original

Gemshorn: 4 original

Lieblich Flute: 4 original

Mixture (15.19.22): 3 ranks original & x HNB Trinity Chch

Cornopean: 8 original

Oboe: 8 original (replacement shallots in top octave)

Vox Humana: 8 second-hand

Swell Tremulant: original

Swell Octave: original

Swell Unison Off: original

Swell Sub Octave: original

Choir Organ (compass CC to C, 61 notes): Wind Pressure 3 1/2" w.g.

Dulciana: 8 original

Lieblich Gedeckt: 8 original

Viol d'Orchestre: 8 original

Flauto Traverso: 4 original (reconstructed)

Harmonic Piccolo: 2 original (reconstructed)

Orchestral Clarinet: 8 x First Church, DN

Orchestral Oboe: 8 original

Choir Tremulant: original

Choir Octave: original

Choir Unison Off: original

Choir Sub Octave: original

Pedal Organ (compass CCC to G, 32 notes): Wind Pressure 4" w.g.

Resulant Bass: 16 (1963 addition - Lee)

Open Diapason : 16 original

Bordun: 16 original

Echo Bass: 16 original

Bass Flute: 8 original

Principal: 8 original

Octave Flute: 4 top octave 1974 addition - Willis

Intermanual Couplers (intramanual couplers read through)

Swell to Great: original

Choir to Great: original

Swell to Choir: original

Great to Pedal: original

Swell to Pedal: original

Choir to Pedal: original


Peterson 256 level piston capture system: new

Piston sequencer (Optional European Stepper or American Sequencer): new

MIDI performance recording/playback system: new

5 divisional thumb pistons to each manual: new

5 divisional toe pistons to Swell (duplicates) & 5 to Pedal: new

10 general thumb pistons: new

6 reversible thumb pistons: Swell to Pedal, Choir to Pedal, Choir to Great, Swell to Choir, Great to Pedal, Swell to Great: new

2 reversible toe pistons: Swell to Great, Great to Pedal: new

"General Cancel" thumb piston: new

"Set" thumb piston: new

Great to Pedal piston coupler: new

Generals on toe piston coupler: new

Duplicate thumb pistons for sequencer "Next", "Restore", "Last" functions: new

Toe pistons for "Next" function: new

Transposer - 6 semi-tones up or down: new


Balanced mechanical expression pedal to Swell organ: new

Balanced mechanical expression pedal to Choir Organ: new