Nicholas Thistlethwaite

M.A. and Ph.D. (Cantab);   M.A. (Oxon);  FSA;  Hon. RCO


Nicholas Thistlethwaite is an independent organ consultant with more than thirty-five years’ experience of advising clients on their musical needs. He has given professional advice on the building, repair and reconstruction of pipe organs of all sizes and has also been consultant for a number of landmark restorations.

Nicholas has been an accredited member of the Association of Independent Organ Advisers since 1997.

Well-known as a writer and lecturer, Nicholas is author of many publications about the construction, use and history of the organ. He has written extensively about the work of the leading Victorian organ-builders, and has contributed articles on a range of topics to standard reference works and journals in this country and abroad.

In 2015, Nicholas was awarded the Medal of the Royal College of Organists for his outstanding contribution to organ scholarship.

Throughout his life, Nicholas has been involved with church music. Having served as a parish priest, college chaplain and cathedral precentor he has a wide understanding of the role of music and the organ in liturgy.

Nicholas lives near Cambridge and is happy to undertake projects in all parts of the country. Current projects include Norwich Cathedral and Peterhouse, Cambridge.

Featured Portfolio

I am pleased to offer you a visual selection of projects I have consulted on at varying levels of involvement and collaboration.

St Mary Tottenham

St Mary's Church, Tottenham

2010 : Restoration of the Hill & Son organ (1889) with Barker lever, tracker and tubular-pneumatic actions (3 manuals, 28 stops).

St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Suffolk

2011 : Comprehensive reconstruction with new console, cases, soundboards and actions, and extensive revision of the tonal scheme (4 manuals, 58 stops).

St Anne's Limehouse

2006 : Restoration of the 1851 Gray & Davison organ from the Great Exhibition (3 manuals, 33 stops).

St Alban's Church, Copenhagen

2003 : New 2-manual organ with mechanical key action, electro-pneumatic stop action, and 21 stops, including the case front and some pipework from the previous instrument.

Birmingham Town Hall

Birmingham Town Hall

1984 : (Joint consultancy) Comprehensive reconstruction of this landmark concert organ of 1834 to restore original features lost in subsequent alterations whilst extending the technical specification to meet contemporary needs (5 manuals, 88 stops).

Great St Mary's Church, Cambridge

1995 : Renovation of the Smith (1698), Hill (1870) and Hill, Norman & Beard (1964) organ, with some tonal revisions (3 manuals, 33 stops).

Holy Trinity, Milhouses, Sheffield

1991 : New 2-manual organ with mechanical action and 13 stops.

Christ Church, Spitalfields (lead consultant)

2015 : Reconstruction and restoration of the 1736 Richard Bridge organ, retaining all the surviving eighteenth-century pipework, soundboards and action parts, and restoring the original decorative treatment of the case (3 manuals, 37 stops).

Thaxted Parish Church

Thaxted Parish Church

2014 : Restoration of the 1821 H.C. Lincoln organ (3 manuals, 22 stops).

St John the Baptist, Cardiff

2006 : Restoration of the Henry Willis & Sons organ of 1894, including the Vincent Willis patent pneumatic action (3 manuals, 38 stops).

St Oswald's, Durham

1988 : New 3-manual organ with mechanical action and 29 stops housed in a double case designed by Henry Moss in the English mannerist style located on a new west gallery.

St James, Garlickhythe, London

2007 : Restoration of the Knoppell (1719), Gray & Davison (1867) and Hill (1888) organ (3 manuals, 26 stops).

About Nicholas


Nicholas Thistlethwaite is one of this country's most experienced organ consultants. As well as cathedrals and parish churches, his clients have included concert halls, schools and university colleges, with projects encompassing new organs, reconstructions, tonal enhancement, repairs and historical restorations. A brief selection of projects can be seen in his online portfolio above. In addition to acting as an independent adviser, he has worked extensively within the Church of England’s statutory system as a member of two diocesan advisory committees, supporting Parochial Church Councils and organ committees as they have developed proposals to be submitted for faculty approval. He also served for ten years on the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England as its specialist organ adviser. Nicholas is currently a member of advisory bodies at Westminster Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral and Norwich Cathedral. He has acted as adviser to a number of grant-awarding bodies including the Heritage Lottery Fund, whose financial support for the restoration of historic organs has been so significant over the last twenty-five years.

Nicholas's publications include more than a hundred books, monographs, reviews and articles concerned with the history, technology and use of the organ. They are listed below. His Cambridge Ph.D. on the evolution of the English organ in the nineteenth century broke new ground, and in its published form (The making of the Victorian organ, Cambridge University Press, 1990) is recognised as the standard work on its subject. The Cambridge Companion to the organ (1998) – co-edited with Geoffrey Webber – is an introduction to the instrument and its repertoire for students. In 2020, Organ Building in Georgian and Victorian England: the work of Gray & Davidson, 1772–1890 was published by the Boydell Press. As well as many articles in organ and church music journals, conference proceedings and collaborative studies, he has published a number of monographs on historic organs and their restoration.

In 2017, Nicholas was elected Honorary President of the British Institute of Organ Studies.

As an ordained priest of the Church of England, Nicholas has practical experience of a wide variety of styles of music and worship. He has an extensive knowledge of the Anglican choral repertoire, and as a practical musician, he understands the role of the organ in different liturgical contexts. He is acutely aware of the challenges for parishes which may only have to tackle organ projects once in a generation and have many other calls on their resources.

His aim is to provide a comprehensive and appropriate service for all clients, whether cathedrals or country churches, concert halls, schools or private individuals. Nicholas is always happy to have an informal conversation with potential clients to discuss their project and how he might be able to provide professional assistance. He can most easily be contacted in the first instance using the contact form below - please do include your phone number.

Why Retain a Consultant?

Organs are complex machines requiring regular maintenance and occasional repair if they are to function reliably and fulfil their role as liturgical accompaniment, teaching instrument or concert performer. Every so often (perhaps once in a generation depending on frequency of use, form of mechanism, and environmental conditions) a pipe organ will require more major attention to set it up for another extended period of service. This may amount to no more than cleaning, replacement of worn components, and comprehensive regulation of pipes and mechanisms. Alternatively, it may involve the modernisation of the existing actions and significant modifications to the tonal scheme to increase the organ’s effectiveness. Just occasionally, the recommendation will be replacement with a new instrument.

Before spending money on an organ it is important to ask other questions. Is it in the best place acoustically in the building? Could its appearance be improved? Does it work well with the singers or music group? Is it able to provide the congregation with adequate accompaniment on all occasions? Is it an instrument of historic importance needing particularly careful consideration before any work is commissioned?

Further questions apply to concert or teaching organs. Is this an instrument which is going to be attractive to young players and help them to lay the foundations of a good technique? Does the tonal scheme enable a broad repertoire of solo organ music to be explored? Will it support choral societies and orchestras?

Faced with these questions, many owners and custodians of pipe organs find it helpful to seek advice from an independent consultant. The form this consultancy takes varies depending on the scope of the project. It always begins with a meeting to establish the client’s aspirations and needs. Following a survey to evaluate the instrument and assess its condition, a preliminary report is submitted to the client setting out options for discussion and giving advice on potential contractors and costings. Thereafter, the consultant’s work can include any or all the following:

  • • Preparation of a brief to be sent to potential contractors inviting them to tender
  • • Review of the tenders once received
  • • Advising the client on similar projects to be visited for information
  • • Negotiations on the client’s behalf with the selected contractor about the contract, payments regime, insurances, timetable, access and related issues
  • • Contact with the church architect as appropriate, for example, if any repairs to the fabric are needed while the organ is dismantled
  • • Preparation of applications to the relevant denominational or listed buildings authority for advice and permission to proceed with the work
  • • Preparation of statements of need and historic significance to accompany submissions
  • • Advice on applications to grant-awarding bodies including the Heritage Lottery Fund
  • • Regular contact with contractors to monitor progress and report back to the client, including site visits when appropriate
  • • Inspection of the organ when completed, and alerting the client and the contractor to any outstanding items
  • • Giving written notice to the client when the contractor has fulfilled his contractual obligations.

Throughout the project, the consultant will ensure that there is good communication between the relevant parties, and will act in all respects first and foremost as the client’s representative and in their interests.

Select List of Publications and Lectures

  • 1974 : ‘The organ in the Marienkirche, Hamburg’, in, Organ, vol. 53: 38-42
  • 1975 : ‘The organ of Jesus College, Cambridge’, in, Organ, vol. 54: 1-17
  • 1976 : ‘”E pur si muove” – English organ-building 1820-1851’, in, Organ Yearbook, vol. 7: 101-115
  • 1977 : ‘Source materials for the early nineteenth century’, in, BIOS Journal, vol. 1: 75-100
  • ‘A Victorian organ loft: Dr Mann and the choir of King’s College, Cambridge’, in, Organists’ Review, vol. 62: 11-16
  • 1978 : ‘Organo Pneumatico: the construction and design of Bernard Smith’s organ for the University Church, Cambridge, 1698’, BIOS Journal, vol. 2: 31-62
  • 1981 : ‘Notes relating to the organisation of organ-building in England, to 1740’, in, BIOS Journal, vol. 5: 46-51
  • 1982 : ‘The instrument described’, in, The Organ in Reading Town Hall: a symposium, ed. Peter Marr (Reading): 25-37 [reissued 2000]
  • 1983 : The organs of Cambridge (Positif Press, Oxford)
  • 1983 : ‘Bach, Mendelssohn, and the English organ: 1810-45’, in, BIOS Journal, vol. 7: 34-49
  • 1984 : Birmingham Town Hall organ (Birmingham City Council)
  • 1985 : New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (London) – various contributions relating to the organ and organ-building
  • 1987 : Organs at Eton (Provost and Fellows of Eton College)
  • 1990 : The making of the Victorian organ (Cambridge University Press)
  • 1980 : ‘The new organ in St Andrew’s, Holborn’, in, BIOS Journal, vol. 14: 86-9
  • 1992 : ‘The Hill-Gauntlett Revolution: an epitaph?’, in, BIOS Journal, vol. 16: 50-59
  • ‘The new organ in the Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street, London’: ibid. 112-115
  • 1994 ‘Music and worship, 1660-1980’, in, A History of Lincoln Minster, ed. D.M. Owen (Cambridge University Press): 77-111
  • 1995 ‘Carrying on ancient traditions: the work of Thomas Hill, 1870-1893’, BIOS Journal, vol. 19: 98-122
  • ‘The new organs at Chelmsford Cathedral’, in, Choir & Organ, vol. 2: 27-30
  • 1996 : Fanfare for an organ-builder: essays presented to Noel Mander, (Positif Press, Oxford), editor and contributor: ‘Things new and old: the work of N.P. Mander Ltd, 1945-83’: 41-89
  • 1999 : The Cambridge Companion to the Organ (Cambridge University Press), joint editor with Geoffrey Webber, and contributor: ‘The origin and development of the organ’: 1-17
  • ‘A History of the firm of Hill, Norman & Beard’, in, Organists’ Review, vol. 85: 10-14, 116-121, 214-219, 310-315
  • 2000 : ‘The English cathedral organ in the twentieth century’, in, IAO Millennium Book: 37-50
  • ‘The conservation of concert organs’, in, Towards the Conservation and Restoration of Historic Organs – A record of the Liverpool Conference, 23-26 August 1999, ed. J. Berrow (London, Church House Publishing): 110-114.
  • New Grove Dictionary of Music (revised edition) – various contributions on organs and organ-building
  • 2001 : ‘The early career of J.C. Bishop, Organ-Builder, 1807-29’, in, BIOS Journal, vol. 25: 6-29
  • 2003 : ‘Music and worship, 1660-1830’, and, ‘The musical foundation, 1830-1980’, in, A History of Ely Cathedral, ed. Peter Meadows and Nigel Ramsey, (Boydell Press): 245-58, 333-47
  • 2005 : ‘Organs and Arminians in seventeenth-century Cambridge’, in, Litterae Organi: Essays in Honor of Barbara Owen, ed. John Ogasapian et al, (OHS Press, Richmond, Virginia): 27-50
  • 2005 : ‘Dr Mann and the organ of King’s College, Cambridge, 1859-1934’, in, BIOS Journal, vol. 29: 19-44
  • 2005 : ‘Noel Mander’ (obituary), in, The Times, 3 October: 56
  • 2006 The Organ: an Encyclopaedia, ed. Douglas Bush and Richard Kassel (Routledge, Taylor & Francis – New York and London) – various entries on organ-builders and a major article on the English organ, 175-81
  • 2006 : ‘“A very superb organ” – The H.C. Lincoln organ in the Grand Ballroom, Buckingham Palace’, in, BIOS Journal, vol. 30, 4-29
  • ‘The Organ’, in, Manchester Town Hall Conservation Plan (Manchester City Council) vol. 3: 7-9
  • 2007 ‘The organ in England’, in, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegegwart, (Bärenreiter-Verlag)
  • The organ of St James Garlickhythe in the City of London, with some notes on the organists, 1719-2007 (Positif Press, Oxford)
  • 2007 : ‘Mendelssohn and the English organ’ – a lecture delivered at the Internationale Festivalkonferenz (Die Orgel im Zeitalter der Romantik), Leipzig, October [see 2011]
  • 2007 : ‘Boris Ord and the reconstruction of the organ in King’s College, Cambridge: 1932-4’, in, BIOS Journal, vol. 31, 6-39
  • 2008 The organ of St Giles-in-the-Fields, London (Positif Press, Oxford)
  • The organs of Cambridge, 2nd edition (Positif Press, Oxford)
  • 2008 : ‘The organ of King’s College, Cambridge, 1605-1802’ in, BIOS Journal, vol. 32, 4-42
  • 2008 : ‘Restoration at St Giles-in-the-Fields, London’, in, Organ Building, vol. 8, 27-9
  • 2008 : ‘Davison and Gray – questions about a nineteenth-century organ builder’, a lecture delivered at the BIOS conference in St Giles-in-the-Fields, London, 29 November
  • 2009 : ‘“He ought to have a statue” – Mendelssohn, Gauntlett, and the English organ reform’, a lecture delivered at the EROI Festival, Rochester, New York State, U.S.A., 31 October [see also 2014]
  • 2010 : ‘The Victorian legacy’, a lecture delivered at the London Organ Day in St Anne, Limehouse on 6 March 2010
  • 2010 : ‘Peterhouse – the organ in the new chapel, 1635-44’, paper delivered at Peterhouse, Cambridge at the Peterhouse Music Manuscripts Conference, September
  • 2010 : Andrew Shenton (ed.), Messaien the theologian (Ashgate, 2010), review in BIOS Journal, vol. 34, 192-4.
  • 2010 : ‘Reforming organists: the Cooper family of St Sepulchre’s, Holborn’, in BIOS Journal, 34, 82-115.
  • 2010 : ‘Organs and choirs in the English Cathedral’, in, Cathedral Music, 2/2010, 32-7
  • 2011 : ‘The nineteenth-century organ and the culture of Victorian England’, lecture delivered at the Göteborg Organ Academy, Sweden, September 2011
  • 2011 : ‘Mendelssohn und die englische Orgel’, in, Anselm Hartinger, Christoph Wolff and Peter Wollny, “Diess herrliche, imponirende Instrument” – Die Orgel im Zeitalter Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdys, (Wiesbaden, Breitkopf & Härtel), 175-86
  • 2011 : ‘St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Suffolk’, in, Organ Building, vol. 11, 12-16
  • 2012 : Gordon Curtis, A provincial organ builder in Victorian England: William Sweetland of Bath (Ashgate, 2011), review in, Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society
  • 2012 : Martin V. Clarke (ed.), Music and theology in nineteenth-century Britain, (Ashgate, 2012), review in, BIOS Journal, 36, 166-8
  • 2013 : ‘The restoration of the Richard Bridge organ in Christ Church, Spitalfields’, lecture at BIOS Conference, Grosvenor Chapel, London, 20 April
  • 2013 : ‘Robert and William Gray, organ-builders (1772-96)’, lecture at BIOS Conference, St Swithun, Worcester, 11 May
  • 2014 : ‘Re-imagining the Georgian organ: the work of Robert, William and John Gray, 1772-1840’, Organ Yearbook, 43 (2014), 77-96.
  • 2014 : William Drake, obituary: Times online, 4 March
  • 2014 : ‘“Good reasons for bad organs”: musical headlines of 1864’, lecture at RCO Anniversary Conference, Somerville College, Oxford, 12 April; later published, Journal of the Royal College of Organists, 8, 64-71.
  • 2014 : ‘Cantantibus et organis, or, How did the organ become an accompanimental instrument?’, lecture at IAO Congress, St Chad’s College, Durham, 1 August
  • 2014 : The H.C. Lincoln organ in Thaxted Parish Church, Essex (Positif Press, Oxford).
  • 2014 : ‘“He ought to have a statue”: Mendelssohn, Gauntlett, and the English organ reform’, in, Jürgen Thym, Mendelssohn, the organ, and the music of the past: constructing historical legacies (Rochester USA, University of Rochester Press), 122-40.
  • 2015 : Russell Stinson, J.S. Bach at his royal instrument: essays on his organ works, review in BIOS Journal 39, 189-90.
  • 2015 : ‘The tone is pronounced to be unexcelled’ – The 1735 Richard Bridge organ in Christ Church Spitalfields (London, Friends of Christ Church Spitalfields)
  • 2015 : ‘Re-making the English organ: musical and liturgical contexts, 1830-70’, Nineteenth-Century Music Review, 12 (June), 71-93.
  • 2016 : ‘Preservation and restoration, 1976-2016’, BIOS Journal, 40, 27-55
  • 2016 : Martin Thomas, English cathedral music and liturgy in the twentieth century; Paul Hale, The organs of New College, Oxford and Roger Judd, The organs in Windsor Castle, their history and development, reviews in BIOS Journal, 40, 200-206
  • 2016 : ‘Cambridge, BIOS, and the making of history’, inaugural address to the Fortieth Anniversary BIOS Conference at Magdalene College, Cambridge
  • 2016 : ‘The British organ, 1600-2015: conservatism and innovation, insularity and eclecticism’, lecture to the International Society of Organ Builders’ Congress at the Royal Festival Hall, London (4 July)
  • 2017 : ‘Gentlemen and players: the changing role of the organ adviser’, opening address at the annual Diocesan Organ Advisers’ Conference in Cambridge
  • 2018 : ‘The English organ - an overview', and 'Organ music and liturgy from 1800', Iain Quinn (editor), 'Studies in English organ music' (London and New York, Routledge, Taylor & Francis)
  • 2019 : ‘Choirs, congregations and organs: the Victorian reform of parochial worship', lecture given at the annual conference of the Cambridgeshire Historic Churches Trust
  • 2020 : ‘Organ-building in Georgian and Victorian England: the work of Gray & Davison, 1772-1890' (Woodbridge, Boydell Press)

Forthcoming Publications

  • 'A history of the organs in York Minster' (2021)
  • 'Trinity College, Cambridge: chapel music 1660-1780' - contribution to a new multi-volume history of the College.
Contact Me

For further details or to arrange an informal discussion about a possible project, please use the contact form below. I aim to respond to all enquiries promptly - please do include a telephone number if that would be more convenient. Thank You.

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Terms and Conditions of Engagement

These Terms and Conditions are subject to negotiation at the outset of a project to accomodate any individual circumstances or needs.

For example, the client may wish to retain the consultant’s services for the complete project, including advice, supervision, and certification that the organ-builder has fulfilled the terms of the contract. Alternatively, the consultant may be retained for specific and discrete areas of work as the project proceeds, or may (in the case of a major project) work in collaboration with the project manager or architect as part of a team.

The consultant will undertake at all times to use his best endeavours to act in the interests of the client and will attend promptly to requests for information, advice and assistance in delivering the agreed project. He will consult fully with the client’s nominated representatives who, in the case of a church, should include the organist.

The consultant will have no commercial interest in any contractor or sub-contractor employed on the project.

The consultant will advise the client on the merits of the tenders received for the project but the final decision on the choice of contractor rests with the client.

In the interests of transparency, fees will normally be charged at an hourly rate to include site visits, meetings, office work, and any research specifically required by the project (e.g. in the case of an historic restoration). Rates will be agreed at the commencement of the project and will normally be subject to an annual increase in line with inflation. Reimbursement of expenses (e.g. travel expenses) will be in addition.

If requested, a fixed fee for a discrete piece of work (e.g. writing a statement of need or significance, undertaking historical research, advising on a grant application, or preparing a condition report) can be negotiated.

The consultant will carry insurance covering public liability and professional indemnity.

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