Harrisons moved from Durham to their purpose-built workshop on the city boundary in 1996. It is built round a glazed courtyard which provides a source of natural light. The wood- and leather-working areas are on three sides, with adjoining sections for console and bellows work. On the fourth side is the building room, designed to allow space for working on two organs at once, with more than 10 metres of available height.The workshop was specifically designed with organ building in mind and includes an overhead crane for the building room.
The firm’s extensive records, which date back to the 19th century, are avalable for reference in the archive room, above which a glazed corridor allows the management and visitors to observe the organ builders in action.
Much of the work is done by hand, but the essential machines are within easy reach. The well-equipped machine shop runs the whole length of the workshop.
The two voicing rooms are kept at a strategic distance from one another, and the noises made by the voicers filter out on to the shop floor. The metal shop, where the pipes are made, is conveniently placed between them. It has an en-suite casting room equipped with a granite casting bench.
Organ building has been described as “engineering in wood”, requiring skill and artistry in equal measure. The organ is not only a mechanical marvel, but is first and foremost a musical instrument, and each organ is unique in sound, layout and size, depending on the acoustic, the position in the building, and what it will be used for. The specification is planned in accordance with the musical requirements; the voicer translates this into pipes a suitable size and scale, which are made in our own metalshop, and the designers develop a workable layout, with casework to compliment the buildings.
Organ builders are skilled craftsmen, working with wood, leather, glue, low-voltage electrics and metal for pipes. Larger organs have electronic interface at the console to assist the organist in selecting stops to create different colours of sound for the liturgy or for the concert repertoire. Components are made in the workshop, using hand-tools and wood-working machines, and each organ is assembled to ensure that it is working perfectly before being dismantled and transported to its destination. Finally,the voicers create the special musical architecture which will harmonise with that particular building.