Over 160 years ago, a grand debut took place in the presence of Queen Victoria, as the resplendent decorative pipes of Leeds Town Hall’s magnificent organ were unveiled. Today, these exquisite pipes are undergoing meticulous restoration as part of a unique and momentous renewal initiative.
Renowned specialists, Robert Woodland MBE and Debra Miller of The Upright Gilders, have taken on the painstaking task of resurrecting the awe-inspiring appearance that the organ pipes showcased when the iconic Victoria Hall within the building played host to Queen Victoria and other esteemed dignitaries on its opening night in 1858.
With great care, they have painstakingly removed layers of more recent paint, revealing original ornate designs that had been concealed for over a century. Employing delicate traditional stencil techniques reminiscent of Victorian artisans, they have painstakingly applied layers of beautiful gold leaf by hand to recreate the pipes’ vintage allure.
Robert, a master of marble painting and wood graining, has immersed himself in studying the hall’s original decorative artwork. He remarked, “The restored pipes look absolutely stunning, and it has been a true privilege to resurrect the original artistic vision conceived all those years ago.”
Debra added, “We’ve uncovered a treasure trove of golden ornamentation that lay hidden for a century beneath several layers of period embellishments, restoring it to the very scheme that Queen Victoria herself admired during the opening of Leeds Town Hall in the late summer of 1858.”
The restoration of the external pipes of the organ marks the most recent milestone in the ambitious heritage project aimed at rejuvenating one of the world’s largest instruments of its kind.
Elsewhere, engineers from Nicholson and Co. Ltd have been diligently working on the colossal 70-tonne organ’s 6,000 internal pipes, replacing much of the aging mechanism to enhance its sound for future performances.
Music enthusiasts are also given the unique opportunity to adopt one of the newly refurbished pipes of this historic organ. Their names will be forever inscribed in a special book housed within the instrument once the restoration is complete. The funds generated from this pipe adoption scheme will contribute to covering the costs of the organ’s refurbishment.
The organ project is an integral part of a broader endeavour to refurbish and restore Leeds Town Hall, preserving its Grade 1 listed status as a public asset. This will enable the venue to continue hosting large-scale events and concerts, generating substantial income for both the council and the city while engaging with a broader audience.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund has generously granted £249,810 towards the restoration of Victoria Hall and the organ, making this remarkable project possible.
Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s deputy leader and executive member for economy, culture and education, said: “Leeds Town Hall is one of the city’s most beloved heritage assets and has been an iconic part of Leeds’s urban landscape for more than 160 years. It’s crucial that we protect and preserve such an important aspect of our city’s identity and culture.
“This once-in-a-lifetime project is also about the building’s future and will create a 21st century performance venue that will welcome thousands of visitors every year and generate significant income and investment for the city as a whole.
“It’s exciting to see this landmark project progressing and to see the past, present and future of Leeds Town Hall coming together.”