THE HARRISON STORY
Thomas Hugh Harrison was born in 1839, the second son of Thomas William Harrison of St Pancras, London, whose firm made parts for the organ-building trade. At the age of twelve he was apprenticed to the organ builder Henry Willis, a fact of which he remained proud throughout his career. Some time after completing his seven-year apprenticeship with Willis, he joined the Bristol firm of William Allen as manager. A forceful and even combative personality, he was clearly ambitious on his own account, and in 1861 he took the bold step of moving to Rochdale to set up his own firm.
The business was conducted energetically from the start, and Thomas was soon attracting favourable notice from influential people in the musical world, such as Sir Frederick Gore Ouseley, Sir John Stainer and John Bacchus Dykes, Precentor of Durham Cathedral and subsequently Vicar of St Oswald’s Church. By 1870, however, the firm had overstretched itself financially, and in 1872, probably encouraged by Dykes, Thomas made a fresh start in the city of Durham. In this new venture he was supported by his father in London, and the name Harrison & Harrison dates from this time. He purchased an old paper mill in Cross Street (today’s Hawthorn Terrace), which was enlarged in 1890 and served the firm well until 1996.
The firm advanced steadily. An important early contract was the three-manual organ built for the Chapel of Castle Howard in 1875, which still survives in virtually its original form. Within twenty-five years Harrison & Harrison had built more than three hundred organs, predominantly in north-east England and Scotland, but also in Yorkshire and Lancashire, with rarer examples further south and five overseas. Surviving organs from this period show sturdy workmanship and a colourful musical quality. During these years the firm established a reputation that was to provide a good basis for greater things.