Hillbark Organ – Foster & Andrews 1893
The Hillbark Hotel & Spa features a built-in Forster and Andrews organ dated 1893 and was installed in Bidston Court when the house was built. At the time, Forster and Andrews were the most renowned organ builders in the country, and their company was based in Hull. Basically, if you wanted the very best organ, you purchased a Forster and Andrews. The majority of their organs went to churches across the UK and also around the world, so it is quite unusual to find such a magnificent organ in a private setting.
The ‘Forster and Andrews’ organ-building company was formed in 1843 by James Alderson Forster (1818–1886) and Joseph King Andrews (1820–1896) who had previously served their apprenticeships together under the London organ-builder J. C. Bishop. The business opened in the old Mechanics Institute on Charlotte Street (now George Street) where they began by cleaning and repairing existing organs but were soon commissioned to start work on their first newly-built organ. As the business grew, they advertised in local newspapers and exhibited an instrument at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851. In 1853, James Forster gave a talk on ‘The Improvements in Organ Machinery’ to a meeting of the British Association for Advancement of Science in Hull.
By 1861 the company was employing 30 men and boys who were turning out more than 30 new organs each year across the United Kingdom and in Africa, Central America and Australia. The factory at Charlotte Street quickly reached its capacity and so the firm expanded into second premises on Dock Street with two timber yards on Lime Street where the timber was seasoned before it was used. In the early 1880s, James Forster Junior (1847-1925) began taking a more prominent role in the business at Hull whilst his father established a London office. Following the death of his father in 1886, James Forster Junior took over the direction of the firm at first alongside Joseph Andrews until his death in 1896 and then with his two sons, Cyril and Ernest. In 1897 Philip H. Selfe was appointed manager at Hull; he soon became a full partner of the firm and then sole owner when James Forster Junior retired in 1904. By this time the firm was receiving considerable business from overseas, in addition to important major local commissions in the Hull area such as the new organ for the Queen’s Hall and the City Hall. During the First World War the majority of work was in cleaning and restoration as demand for new organs fell heavily. In 1924, the business was purchased by John Christie and brought into the Hill, Norman & Beard conglomerate. Philip Selfe joined Hill Norman & Beard as Chief Draughtsman, designing organ cases such as St James, Riddlesdown, (1932) and the interior of the monumental four-manual instrument in Royal Holbrook School Chapel (1933)* before he retired in 1938. The decline in business saw the vacation of the Dock Street premises in 1925 as they moved to smaller workshops on St Luke Street. Work continued to decline and, in 1941, the St Luke Street
workshop was destroyed by bombing, with the loss of many of the firm’s historical records. At the end of the war only two staff remained, Matthew Cooper and Mr A. Ernst, who continued to clean and repair instruments until 1956 when they retired and the business closed.