In the beginning
The firm of Henry Groves & Son was founded in 1957 by Alvin Henry Groves who had previously worked for the renowned firm of Henry Willis & Sons Ltd. During his time with Willis, Alvin worked on important organs such as Birmingham Town Hall, Blenheim Palace and All Saints, Northampton. A year later Alvin’s long-time friend and colleague at Willis’s, Arthur Bailey, joined the firm as a Partner. Arthur had previously worked for Roger Yates of Nottingham.
In 1969 the long-established (1894) Nottingham firm of E. Wragg & Son was purchased, comprising a large workshop, staff, and tuning round including the famous four-manual Binns organ at the Albert Hall, Nottingham. Arthur Bailey retired in 1979. At this time the firm moved to new premises, as the old workshop had to be demolished for a council road-widening scheme.
1979 to 1990
The new premises proved to be far more practical and many organs were built and restored. In 1984 a restored organ was exported to the Bahamas. Jonathan M Wallace, Alvin’s grandson, joined the firm in 1985, having left school at the age of 16. Alvin Groves retired from the firm in October 1990 after having spent 45 years in organ building.
1990 to 1994
Jonathan’s first task was to carry out the cleaning and overhaul of the Cousans organ at St Paul’s Catholic Church, Nottingham (1990). The work was carried out for Father John Berry, the Roman Catholic Organ Advisor for Nottingham, and from this came further contracts within the Nottingham Diocese. This included the overhaul and enlargement of Father Berry’s own organ at Our Lady of Good Counsel, Eastwood. In 1995 Jonathan was delighted to receive the order to overhaul the three-manual organ at St Barnabas Catholic Cathedral, Nottingham.
In 1991 Jonathan completed the installation of a one-manual organ at Owmby-by-Spital, Lincolnshire following recommendation from Laurence Elvin, Diocesan Organ Adviser for Lincolnshire. Further contracts were carried out within Lincolnshire for Mr Elvin.
Both Alvin Groves and Laurence Elvin had a big influence on Jonathan’s organ-building career and it was a great privilege to have a chapter (Youthful Enterprise) written about the then 22-year-old in Laurence Elvin’s final book, Pipes & Actions.
1994 to 1999
In 1994 The Johnson Organ Company of Derby was incorporated and its owner, Mr Paul Johnson, joined the team at Henry Groves & Son.
At this time Jonathan introduced the firm to Mr Rodney Tomkins, Diocesan Organ Adviser to Derbyshire, and since this time numerous contracts have been completed in Derbyshire including three new instruments. These were at St Peter’s, Calow, St Lawrence’s, Whitwell, and St Matthew’s, Darley Abbey.
We have been fortunate to have been kept busy over recent years and have been pleased to carry out recent contracts for Paul Hale, Diocesan Organ Adviser for Southwell and Lincolnshire. These include the rebuild and enlargement of the Forster & Andrews organ at All Hallows, Gedling, and a new organ to Mr Hale’s specification at Holy Cross, Epperstone.
2000 to 2005
The New Millennium heralded a new start for the firm. The premises at Carlton were sold and a new purpose-built workshop was occupied on July 13th 2001.
The move proved a great success and, within the first three years, six three-manual rebuilds were carried out including the 41 speaking stop Abbott & Smith organ at The Priory Church, Deeping St James.
2004 proved to be a year of restorations including the two fine instruments at All Saints, Matlock and St Peter & St Paul, Shelford.
2005 to 2011
We have specialised over the years in building new organs with direct electric action on modular soundboards. Following the success of the Epperstone installation in 1999, we built twelve further similar instruments, including St Michael’s, Linby (2005), All Saints, Wingerworth (2006), St Edmund’s, Mansfield Woodhouse (2008), and St Giles, Balderton (2010). In 2009 another organ with this design was built for St Michael’s, Halam to the specification of Paul Hale.
Two major rebuilds with complete re-ordering of the internal layouts were completed at St Mary’s, Bulwell (2006) (enlarged to 3 manuals) and St Bartholemew’s, Quorn (2007). The rebuild and enlargement of the 1858 Hill organ at St Oswald’s, Ashbourne was completed in 2011. The organ was re-dedicated on September 24th by the Most Revd & Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams Archbishop of Canterbury, with the opening recital given by Paul Hale, then Rector Chori of Southwell Minster, on October 30th.
2011 to 2016
We maintained a busy work schedule and completed some very interesting and rewarding projects. Our modular direct electric action organs have proved very popular and an ideal solution to retain the pipe organ even when space within the church is at a premium. Two projects replaced one-manual instruments with larger two-manual organs, in half the space, both creating new vestries below. These were at St Wilfrid’s, Calverton in 2012 and at St Mark’s, Newnham, Cambridge in 2015.
Two re-located organs were installed into two Derbyshire churches, replacing ailing poor quality instruments: English Martyrs Catholic Church, Alvaston in 2013, and St Bartholemew’s, Hognaston in 2015. This option often proves to be more cost-effective and more practical.
Rebuilds and restoration work have always been a mainstay of our business. Our last project of 2015 proved to be a challenging and most rewarding example. After water ingress some 25 years ago, the fine two-manual J J Binns organ of 1901 at St Michael’s, Averham had lain dormant. Following a generous donation from a private benefactor, the restoration work, begun in April 2015, was completed on time for its first service on December 27th 2015.
The organ is unique within an English rural church as it is powered by three sources: the original hand-blowing, the standard electric blower, and the more unusual water pump with its own separate bellows. The organ now sounds magnificent and must surely be one of the hidden gems of Nottinghamshire.
2017 to 2018
We remained busy and carried out three large contracts: restoration of the organ in Bishop Street Methodist Church, Leicester, the major rebuild of St Mary’s, Melton Mowbray, and the installation of a three-manual organ at St Mary’s, Maidenhead. This organ was rededicated on June 1st 2018 when the Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Theresa May, held the first note.
This was another exciting and busy year starting with the clean and overhaul of the Lloyd organ at All Saints, Kirk Hallam (5 minutes from the workshop) and ending with the re-leathering of the pneumatic actions of the Keates organ at St John’s, Ilkeston (5 minutes from the workshop in the other direction).
In between these two projects was the overhaul of the hand-blown organ at St Mary’s, Hawksworth, and two new installation projects on our direct-electric modules: St Martin’s, Barcheston and St John’s, Clarborough.
The three-manual Walker organ, at St Alkmund’s, Derby was removed in May, ready for its full rebuild and installation at St Mary’s, Potters Bar, due to be completed in 2020. In late October, the Great pipes from St Andrew’s, Shifnal were removed for cleaning and restoration, prior to its full rebuild in 2020.
Another busy year was planned, and we made a brisk start with St Andrew’s, Shifnal along with the part overhaul of the organ at St Peter’s, Cound. Early in March St Mary’s, Potters Bar was completed and the opening recital on the 14th, given by Paul Hale, the project’s consultant, to a large and enthusiastic audience, just beat the Covid-19 lockdown.
The Shifnal project was progressing well when, with the unknown threat and timescale of the lockdown, we made the decision to contact our next project at St Andrew’s, Chesterton, with a view to dropping everything and spending two days (March 17th & 18th) removing the pipes from the organ there. This proved a great move as we went into full lockdown by the end of that week. St Andrew’s, Shifnal was eventually finished in September, rather than the planned Easter. Having had to cancel the opening recital twice due to Covid-19 restrictions, we hope that the organ can be finally put through its paces in Spring 2021.
St Andrew’s, Chesterton was basically to be a new organ, on our direct-electric modules, using their original pipes plus additions. During the Covid-19 lockdown, I was able to scale all the pipes and thus make all the new chests, and fully wire these up. Paul was able to keep working his normal hours at the workshop, whilst I worked from home during the day, with visits to the workshop during the evenings and weekends, thus keeping us safely distanced.
We finished this project in time for Christmas. The new organ was heard for the first time during the wonderful virtual carol concert.
2021 started with the introduction of another COVID-19 lockdown. This lead to another busy and testing year trying to keep to schedules. Fortunately both projects due to start in January and April 2021 had already been dismantled in October 2020 in anticipation of such an occurrence. This actually meant we were able to start work on both St Margaret’s, Olton and St Margaret’s, Rochester early. The year started at Rochester with the restoration of the fine 1888 Forster & Andrews organ, planned for completion at Easter. All was on target until further government restrictions prevented us from travelling and staying away. The instrument was finally completed in early July.
The three manual rebuild of St. Margaret’s Olton, involved a full chamber re-ordering, with new direct electric soundboards for Great and Choir. The traditional Swell organ being turned through ninety degrees to improve tonal egress, and the sluggish electro-pneumatic action replaced with ‘Heuss’ direct pallet magnets. The organ was transformed and again after ongoing restrictions the organ was completed in September, with the opening recital by Paul Hale on October 2nd.
The final project of the year, at St. Michael’s, Little Coates saw the rebuild, re-ordering and enhancement of the fine 1936 Rushworth and Dreaper organ. After many long 13 hour day stints in the organ chamber the organ was completed, as promised, ahead of schedule (ok by only 2 hours) on December 17th in time for the carol service the following day. All went very well and so ended another rewarding, tiring year.
2022 was a busy year but slightly frustrating with Diocesan delays at Alveston and building work delays at Lower Broughton, meaning the projects had not been completed as planned. Lower Broughton was finally completed in March 2023 and Alveston later the same year. These delays allowed us to install a three unit organ we had for sale, at St. Swithun’s PC Kirklington to replace their woodworm infested instrument. It was used for the first time for their Carol Service.
Help and advice
We are always happy to quote for, and give our professional advice on, rebuilding, restoring, reconfiguring, or replacing an existing organ. If you would like to talk about a future project, please contact us.