The Glory of the Temple Church Choir


The Organ

‘The Most Beautiful Organ in the World’

George Thalben-Ball seated at the Rothwell organ in Temple Church.

The legendary organ of the Temple Church was destroyed during the Blitz on the night of 10th May 1941. At that time, the organ incorporated a substantial amount of pipework by Father Smith, whose original instrument, dating from 1683, won the celebrated ‘Battle of the Organs’.

Over the years the organ underwent a succession of reconstructions, becoming a four-manual instrument in 1878. Its last major rebuild, carried out in 1910 for Walford Davies, was by Frederick Rothwell (1853-1944), whom Davies had known since his days as a pupil-assistant to Walter Parratt at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor.

Not long after Davies was appointed Organist of the Temple Church in 1898, Rothwell was entrusted with the care of the organ. The rebuild of the Temple organ of 1910, with a total of sixty speaking stops, included a good deal of new pipework by Frederick Rothwell, which now sinstituted by far the largest proportion in the instrument by any individual builder. The console featured Rothwell’s patented stop-key contril, whereby stop-keys placed above each of the manuals enabled the player, in the words of Walford Davies, ‘to glide from stop-key to stop-key while still playing, without the slightest break in the musical thought and without the slightest turn of the head or any irrelevant musical effort.’ Another feature of the patent console greatly valued by Walford Davies and Thalben-Ball was the wide range of stop combinations available by means of Rothwell’s system of stop-keys used in conjunction with combination pedals. Of this facility Thalben-Ball wrote to Rothwell: ‘People who have heard the Temple organ often wonder how such gradation of tone is made possible, but cast off their wonderment when they are shown the control.’

Frederick Rothwell, known as ‘Daddy’ Rothwell, worked on the organ together with his three sons, George, Frederick Jnr and Dudley. After the death of George Rothwell, G.T.B. worte to Dudley, in 1961: ‘I will cherish the memory of George and ‘Daddy’ and also their masterpiece – the Temple organ. So often when I go to the Temple I expect to see and play that lovely instrument. Things never seem quite the same but everything gradually changes, and we must accept with resignation sad happenings and be grateful for the great happiness they have given us. Those ‘moments’ will find an honoured place in the Temple Church and for me will always be a treasured memory of the grand Rothwell family and the most beautiful organ in the world.’

Copyright 2001 Stephen Keeble

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This page was last modified on 01 September 2004