J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd

J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd
Industry Organ builders
Founded London, UK, 1828
Founder Joseph William Walker
Headquarters Brandon and Devizes, England, UK
Number of locations
Area served
UK, Europe, USA, worldwide
Products Pipe organs
Website www.jwwalker.co.uk

J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd is a British firm of organ builders established in 1828 by Joseph William Walker in London. Walker organs were popular additions to churches during the Gothic Revival era of church building and restoration in Victorian Britain, and instruments built by Walker are found in many churches around the UK and internationally. The firm continues to build organs today.


Joseph William Walker

The firm was founded by Joseph William Walker (1802–1870), an apprentice to George Pike England. Walker established his own organ-building business in Soho, London in 1828, and moved later to Francis Street off Tottenham Court Road.[1]

Notable initially for pleasing small church and barrel organs, Walker achieved a breakthrough with the order for a large three-manual instrument at Romsey Abbey in 1858, including a thirty-two foot Pedal Open Wood, an instrument still (2007) in substantially its original state, a recent renovation confirming its outstanding musical qualities.

Joseph William Walker died in 1870, and his youngest and only surviving son, James John Walker, took over the organ firm.

James John Walker

Arguably, the heyday of the company occurred towards the end of the nineteenth century under the leadership of James John Walker (1846–1922), the youngest and only surviving son of Joseph William. The company developed a reputation in the 1890s for excellence in massive diapason voicing using scales and pressures for flue work greater than those used by Hill or Willis. The effect was rolling and magnificent. Notable instruments included London instruments at Holy Trinity Sloane Street and St Margaret's Westminster; cathedrals at York, Rochester and Bristol, and the organs at St Mary's, Portsea and St Matthew's Northampton. Walker also eventually rebuilt the Gray & Davison concert organ at the Crystal Palace, increasing its power to carry across the vast space of the central transept. The sequence of the church instruments continued into the twentieth century including the large instrument at the Roman Catholic church of The Sacred Heart, Wimbledon, built in 1912.

After James Walker's death, the reputation of the firm in the "first division" of British organ building lasted through the Second World War before the its star began to set somewhat. By the 1960s, British organ design had become not only eclectic but, to some ears, meekly derivative. The rebuild at Wimborne Minster in 1965 incorporated pipework from earlier periods beginning in 1664; the old material was made to sit with elements in vogue at the time of the Walker rebuild to create an organ whose character could be said to be either of all its history or properly representative of none of it, except perhaps 1965 itself. Later commentators have levelled harsh words at the 1960s "Jack-of-all-trades" British pipe organ without realizing that for the players of the day, such innovations drawn from European practice entirely outside the original scheme and character of the instruments, did at least open new avenues for players just getting used to attempt, for example, baroque performance practice.

Given enough money, the Walker firm could produce impressive, cogent and exciting new work, as at Liverpool's new Catholic cathedral (1967–68). The instrument could be seen as a response to the existing (and outstanding) instrument by Henry Willis III at the neighbouring Anglican cathedral, and recordings by several outstanding European players, including Jeanne Demessieux and Flor Peeters, were made there.

Robert Pennells and the move to Brandon

Eventually, a recognizable revival came to the Walker firm with its move, in stages, from west London to the small town of Brandon, on the Suffolk/Norfolk border, where the organ building firm and a parts supply business ("P & S") occupied modern workshops. In the 1980s, under the leadership of Robert Pennells, his German (Klais)-trained son Andrew, B. Q. S. F. Buchanan and head voicer Michael Butler, a number of new and prestigious instruments were made, including town hall organs at Bolton in 1985 (after a fire four years before which destroyed a famous 1874 Gray & Davison instrument) and, leading a group of instruments for export, at Adelaide (1989); at Lancing College Chapel in 1986-7 and several years later at London's St Martin-in-the-Fields. The visual effect of a number of the new instruments benefited considerably from the superb case-designs of David Graebe. Later organs included a Cavaillé-Coll-inspired instrument, built in 1995 at Exeter College, Oxford.

In 1999, Andrew Pennells died, drawing his father out of retirement. Today, the business has four distinct parts under the umbrella of "The Walker Group": restoration work operating from premises in the Wiltshire town of Devizes; tuning, supplies to the trade and a small new-organbuilding practice in Brandon, from which diversity a further substantial revival may flow.

In terms of its artistic achievement there have so far been three valuable, yet discretely differing phases in the history of the company:

List of works

This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.

Notes on Walker's work at Waltham Abbey

Maintenance of the organ at Waltham Abbey, installed in 1819 by Flight & Robson,[9] was taken over by J. W. Walker in 1850.[9] The company carried out a number of additions and reconstructions to it between then and 1953, including installing a new replacement in 1879.[9] In 1953 they "completely dismantled and rebuilt" it and resited the console[10] at a cost of "under £7,000."[11] Since 2003, this organ has been in the care of Harrison & Harrison of Durham.[9] An appeal is currently under way to raise £250,000 for a replacement organ.[12]

The organ removed in 1879 could be the "fine Walker organ" said to have come from Waltham Abbey and made "an absolutely splendid sound" which was installed at Little Clacton, Essex in 1939, and more recently sold on to Christ Church, Greenwich.[13][14]


  1. "Our History". J.W. Walker & Sons website. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
  2. Initially built in the north chancel aisle, subsequently removed to its present position in a gallery on the north side of the nave. Tyack, Geoffrey 2005. 'The abbey restored, c. 1800-1920.' IN Tiller, Kate (ed) Dorchester Abbey: Church and People 635-2005. The Dorchester Abbey Preservation Trust. page 58.
  3. "About the Church". St. Alben's Church. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
  4. "Cambridgeshire, Stretham St. James [N10223]". The British Institute of Organ Studies. 2005. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
  5. Atkinson, T.D.; Hampson, Ethel M.; Long, E.T.; Meekings, C.A.F.; Miller, Edward; Wells, H.B.; Woodgate, G.M.G. (1953). Pugh, R.B., ed. The Victoria History of the Counties of England: Cambridge and the isle of Ely. IV. Oxford University Press. p. 155.
  6. Consecrated to Prayer – A Centenary History of St Mary's, Portsea 1889–1989, Chapter 22. John Radford 1989
  7. Heron-Allen, Edward (1943). The Parish Church of St Peter on Selsey Bill Sussex 2nd Edition. Chichester: Moore and Tillyer. p.18. two-manual tracker action instrument with nine speaking stops, four couplers, full pedal board and balanced swell..
  8. City of London school. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  9. 1 2 3 4 "The history of the ancient parish of Waltham abbey, or Holy Cross : Winters, Williams, 1835?-1893 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". Archive.org. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  10. Waltham Abbey. Music. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  11. Plaque currently on the organ console, transcribed in The Memorial Inscriptions in the Parish Church of the Holy Cross and Saint Lawrence at Waltham Abbey, by the late Dr. K. N. Bascombe and G. Weltch, Waltham Abbey Historical Society Millennium Project No. 22, March 2009, pp.14–15
  12. Jensen, Isabel (23 February 2009). "WALTHAM ABBEY: Organ appeal hits £100,000 mark (From This Is Local London)". Thisislocallondon.co.uk. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  13. "St James Little Clacton Parish Church". Littleclactonparishchurch.co.uk. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  14. "Photograph of Little Clacton Parish Church Organ". Littleclactonparishchurch.co.uk. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
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