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Liverpool Picturebook

St Georges Hall

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The site of the hall was formerly occupied by the first Liverpool Infirmary from 1749 to 1824. Triennial music festivals were held in the city but there was no suitable hall to accommodate them. Following a public meeting in 1836 a company was formed to raise subscriptions for a hall in Liverpool to be used for the festivals, and for meetings, dinners and concerts. Shares were made available at £25 each and by January 1837 £23,350 (£1,760,060 as of 2012)] had been raised. In 1838 the foundation stone was laid to commemorate the coronation of Queen Victoria . A competition in 1839 to design the hall was won by Harvey Lonsdale Elmes, a London architect aged 25 years. There was a need for assize courts in the city and a competition to design these was also won by Elmes. The original plan was to have separate buildings but in 1840 Elmes suggested that both functions could be combined in one building on a scale which would surpass most of the other public buildings in the country at the time. Construction started in 1841, the building opened in 1854 (with the small concert room opening two years later). Elmes died in 1847 and the work was continued by John Weightman, Corporation Surveyor, and Robert Rawlinson, structural engineer, until in 1851 Sir Charles Cockerel was appointed architect. Cockerell was largely responsible for the decoration of the interiors During the 2000s a major restoration of the hall took place costing £23m and it was officially reopened on 23 April 2007 by HRH Prince of Wales.

A rare aerial shot of the pre blitzed St Georges Hall in Feb 1941 it was damaged in an air raid just 12 weeks later (Photograph courtesy of Ged Fagan)

Organ and Organists

The organ was built by Henry Willis and completed in 1855 with 100 speaking stops across four manual divisions (of non-standard compass, 63 notes GG to a) and pedals (30 notes). It comprised a total of 119 ranks of pipes, plus 10 couplers, 10 composition pedals, and 36 pistons to set combinations of stops. It was initially tuned to meantone temperament to the specification of S. S. Wesley but in 1867 W. T. Best, city organist, retuned it to equal temperament. The organ was rebuilt in 1896 when the key action was changed from the Willis-Barker lever assisted tracker (i.e. pneumatic assisted mechanical) action to pneumatic action. Also the manual compass was changed to the now standard CC to c, 61 notes, making the bottom 5 pipes on every manual stop redundant. In 1931 it was reconstructed by Henry Willis III when the number of stops was increased to 120 and electro-pneumatic action introduced for the combination systems and some of the key action. Its power source was still the Rockingham electric blowing plant which had replaced the two steam engines (one of 1855 and a second which had been added in about 1877 to run the increased pressure required since 1867 for some reed stops. In the interim this higher pressure had been hand blown!) The 1924 electric blowers remained in use until 2000 when the present new low and high pressure blowers were fitted by David Wells.

St. George's Organ.

In 1979 it was given a general clean and overhaul by Henry Willis IV. The total number of registers, including 24 couplers, is 144. With 7,737 pipes, it was the largest organ in the country until a larger one was built at the Royal Albert Hall in 1871, after which an organ even larger than the one at the Royal Albert Hall was constructed at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, using over 10,000 pipes As part of the 2000–2007 restoration of the hall repairs were made to the organ, including replacement of the bellows leather. The organ is maintained by David Wells, Organ Builders.
The first organist was W. T. Best (1826–97) who was appointed in 1855 and served until 1894. He was succeeded in 1896 by Dr Albert Lister Peace (1844–1912) who continued in the post until the year of his death. In 1913 Herbert Frederick Ellingford (1876–1966) was appointed organist. On 21 December 1940 the hall and its organ were damaged in an air-raid. It was not possible to obtain sufficient money to rebuild the organ until the 1950s. In 1954 Henry Willis & Sons were asked to undertake this project and Dr Caleb E. Jarvis (1903–80) was its consultant. Dr Jarvis was appointed organist in 1957 and on his death in 1980 he was succeeded by Noel Rawsthorne (born 1929), who had just retired as organist to the Anglican Cathedral. Noel Rawsthorne served as organist to the hall for four years. Following his retirement in 1984, Professor Ian Tracey, who is also Organist Titulaire of the Anglican Cathedral, was appointed to the post.

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