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Glasgow: Evangelical Church, Cathedral Square

Forster & Andrews, 1887 — organ surveyed September 2021

Historical overview

The Church
Cathedral Square United Presbyterian Church was built in the period 1878-1880. Its designer was the distinguished John Honeyman (1831-1914), a sometime partner of Charles Rennie Macintosh. In contrast to the Medieval Gothic of the Cathedral and J.J. Burnet’s red sandstone Gothic Revival Barony Church (1889) to the West, Honeyman adopted an Italianate baroque style , replete with Corinthian columns, for his cream sandstone church. The interior, with its fine stained glass and gallery on three sides, retains the atmosphere of a traditional Protestant preaching house, with the organ located behind the pulpit. In 1929 the church was subsumed into the Church of Scotland as Barony North Church and, on its closure in 1978, was taken on by the Evangelical Assembly. 

Forster and Andrews
The partnership of James Forster and Joseph Andrews was established in 1843, both men having learned the craft in the London workshop of J.C. Bishop. The company was founded in Forster’s native Hull and within three years, they were able to boast of the “largest and most completely fitted up manufactory in the United Kingdom”. Setting up in the growing harbour city was a smart business move, allowing them to steal a march on their Metropolitan rivals at a time when church building (both Anglican and non-conformist), and concurrent demand for new organs, was exploding in the industrialised North.

In the early 1850s, both partners visited mainland Europe, laying contacts with various German organ builders and adopting a variety of, for England novel, flue stops. Their encounters with one German builder in particular, though, Edmund Schulze, were of particular significance in their tonal development. By the time of the Cathedral Square organ, the 1000th to leave the firm’s workshops, James Forster had recently died and the firm was in the hands of his son James Forster jnr, assisted by Joseph Andrews. Forster and Andrews’ operation during this period was on a significantly larger scale than their Leeds rivals Wordsworth and Maskell, builders of the organ at St Salvador’s Church in Dundee, featured elsewhere on this website. Their workforce had grown to around 120, the scale of the operation allowing multiple organs to be built simultaneously, taking advantage of standard (Töpfer) scalings and near-standard stoplists for small and medium-sized instruments. During this period, the German influence inherited from their contact with Schulze remained strong, even if the effect remained more sober. The Glasgow organ exhibits several obvious examples: the triangular Hohl Flute on the Great, the Flauto Traverso on the Choir and, above all, the bold and bright nature of the Great chorus, despite the absence of a Mixture. This tradition was also directly influenced by a number of German organ builders who worked for the firm. These included Albert Vogel, born in 1838 in Milbitz near Paulinzelle where Schulze had his workshop. Whilst working in England for Schulze, Vogel was reputedly responsible for the construction of the resonators of the 32’ reed of the 1862 organ at Doncaster Parish Church[i]. Here Forster and Andrews were frequent visitors during the organ’s construction and it was thanks to their contact with Schulze that they were able to land one of their first major Scottish contracts, that of the Kinnaird Hall in Dundee in 1864. The advisor was one Henry Nagel, founder of the Dundee Choral Union and a native of Danzig, then part of Prussia, later Gdansk in Poland. Nagel was keen for Schulze to build the organ but, according to Elvin, Schulze was laid low and instead recommended Forster and Andrews in forthright terms:

“Mr Forster of Hull visited me here on his journey to Dundee and informed me that he was going there on your organ business. I have known him and his partner, Mr Andrews, nearly from the commencement of my sojourn in England and they have often visited me at Doncaster. I have always found them very honourable men, at the same time such organ builders as strive to bring their instruments to perfection and produce organs acknowledged to be better than yours in England generally are…They are in a position to give you quite as good work as the best London organ builders…I can, therefore, with the greatest sincerity, recommend these people to you for organ building.”[ii]

The Dundee organ, opened to great acclaim by Lemmens, followed on the heels of their first civic organ north of the border, at Greenock Town Hall (1862). Further such organs would follow at the town halls of  Kilmarnock (1871), Arbroath (1874) and Alloa (1888). Tragically not a single representative of this oeuvre survives. 

In total around 150 organs were sent to Scotland, including more than 30 for Glasgow, of which Cathedral Square is now the only one to survive unaltered in its original location. The earliest was delivered as early as 1856 for Claremont Street United Presbyterian Street; a substantial three-manual instrument. A similar sized organ built five years after that at Cathedral Square for Hutchesontown Parish Church in the Gorbals area survives, restored as one of the main teaching instruments at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. Throughout the middle period of their output (until Philip Selfe succeeded the late Joseph Andrews in 1896) the company largely avoided the technical advances being employed elsewhere; following the death of James Forster snr a pneumatic lever might appear in a larger organ where the budget was sufficient but otherwise even substantial instruments remained all-mechanical. 

At Cathedral Square, Forster and Andrews stuck to their tried-and-trusted practices and, with the console in front of the pulpit and the lengthy horizontal tracker runs to the Swell at the back of the organ, the touch is extremely heavy, even by the standards of the day. Indeed with Harrison and Harrison and T.C. Lewis both offering two manual organs for the same price (£700), it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the authorities at Cathedral Square, seemingly unguided by any external advisor, weren’t ultimately wooed by Forster and Andrews’ ability to squeeze more from the budget available.  The console by this time employs angled jambs, rather than the sloping jambs found frequently on earlier instruments, the characteristic Collard keyboards (with rounded sharps), likewise used by Father Willis and Hele, and a radiating and concave pedalboard, a feature used less frequently but thought, in this case, to be original. A smaller organ, despatched in the same year to Sydney Congregational Church in Australia and surviving in Galston Uniting Church has a terraced console and a parallel pedalboard, and is listed on the New South Wales Heritage Register.[iii]

The organ was opened on Friday 2 December, 1887 by D.R. Munro, organist of Trinity Congregational Church, in a concert with the church choir which included, in the spirit of the times, transcriptions of works by Boyce and Haydn (the latter by W.T. Best) and Handel’s organ concerto, ‘The Cuckoo and the Nightingale’. The Evening News of the following Wednesday described the instrument as “undoubtedly first class…and should add to the attractions of the church”.[iv]

[i] Nicholas Thistlethwaite: The Making of the Victorian Organ, Cambridge University Press 1990, p 390. 

[ii] Laurence Elvin: Forster and Andrews Organ Builders 1843-1956, Elvin 1968, p 17


[iv] The Evening News and Star, Wednesday, 7 December 1887