J. Hillier (1855-1909)

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James Hillier of London was an American organ and harmonium manufacturer. The firm was founded in London by James (b.1832) and his wife Eliza S. Hillier (b.1847) who lived in St. Pancras. It was continued by their sons James (b.1865) and John (b.1867) and daughter Eliza (b.1871).


The firm traded as James Hillier (1855-1877) at 13 Oxford Terrace, King's Road, St. Pancras, James Hillier and Co. (1878-1905) at 12-15 Kings Road, Camden Town, London and 228 York Road, N. London and then as Hillier Piano and Organ Co. c.1903. Some labels also show Hillier Piano Company, London. Several members of James' family worked for the firm, including his wife Eliza S., daughter Eliza and two sons. Their home was at 13 King's Road, off St. Pancras Road, London around 1871 and 288 York Road, Cattle Market, Islington in c.1855 and also number 290 in c.1882-91 as recorded in the census of those years. Some key dates are as follows:

1850 - Not listed in London directory.
1855 - firm established
1860 - James Hillier, piano maker, 13 Oxford Terrace, Kings Road, St.Pancras NW.
1870 - Kings Road, nos.12-15.
1878 - James Hillier, Camden Town, exhibited at the Paris Exposition.
1879 - James Hillier was selling Camden Steam Works, engine and all, moving to larger premises.
1880 - Not listed as piano maker, or 1886, 1892.
1892 - James Hillier, harmonium and organ builder, 288 and 290 York Road, N. (next to South West Gate entrance to Metropolitan Cattle Market.)
1899 - Not listed as piano maker.
1903 - E.S. Hillier, proprietor
1907 - 288 York Road
1911 - Not listed.

James Hillier was born in Camden Town and served his apprenticeship with the well known pianoforte maker Charles Cadby of Liquorpond Street, EC London who also made harmoniums, see Chapter 22.22. James started making pianos at King's Road, St. Pancras and the firm later expanded to become the London Piano and Organ Co. He built harmoniums from 1861 and American organs later. The business had expanded sufficiently by 1879 for him to be able to buy a large plot of land in the old York Road cattle market and build a five storey steam factory there. The following picture from Fritz Gellerman's database shows their smaller factory which is probably earlier in date.


Hilliers were agents for Hammond reeds in 1888.

By 1889, trade had expanded so much that the Hilliers were in new premises in York Road. Advertisements boasted them to be the largest manufacturers of reed organs in Europe, with 6,000 instruments always ready for sale. The cattle market area had a railway passing on the eastern side which would have been useful for all kinds of trade.

The Metropolitan Cattle Market is now Caledonian Park and the old York Road is now York Way. Only surrounding houses remain. For history of the area see

Hilliers had a high reputation and made some fine instruments of early date. He had two sons and one daughter, a small family for the time, but his father Joseph (aptly a carpenter) also lived with them, certainly still in 1871 when he was 80 years of age. James died aged 67 on 18/3/1899 and his business was continued by his two sons, James and John and daughter Eliza, managed by his widow Mrs. E.S. Hillier. Eliza S. was a sound business woman and continued the contract for a supply of harmoniums to the government secured in 1884.

In 1884, instruments by Hillier & Co. were advertised as follows at William Lea's Music Warehouse, 50-52 Church Street, Liverpool, at a considerable reduction on the so called manufacturer's price. These instruments were known as the New Model Early English Organ. They were compact instruments with dimensions 3'4''h x1'2''d x3'l.

Class 1A - 1 row and knee swell, £8 net
Class 1B - 1 row and knee swell, 3 stops, 2 Fortes and Vox Humana, £10 net
Class 2B - 1:2 rows and knee swell, 6 stops, 2 Fortes and Vox Humana, £14 net
Class 3B - 2 rows and knee swell, 7 stops, 2 Fortes and Vox Humana, £15 net

Later examples of Hillier models were the Crown, which had 2 full sets of reeds and the Chancel which had 4 sets and 16 stops. These were produced c.1903. Hillier showed an ``Orchestrophone'' at the 1878 Paris Universal Exhibition, Class 13 (musical instruments). This was a two manual instrument with 25 stops, one manual having reeds operating on pressure and the other on suction, it received an honourable mention. They were awarded a gold medal at the Antwerp International Exhibition of 1894 Class 13 (musical instruments) (London Gazette).

Some production dates and serial numbers have been recorded as follows.

Date Serial no. Keyboard no.
1880 5038  
11/12/1884 (on keys)   25072
4/5/1888 18609 16341
  21932 41941
1890 ? 37331  

Pressure organs (and harmoniums)

The large 2-manual instrument called the ``Orchestrophone'' was exhibited at the 1878 Paris International Exhibition in Class 13 (musical instruments) [253]. It was very ornate, as was the trend for exhibition instruments (see Kelly and Boosey, Chapter 4), and had 25 stops with 13 sets of reeds. One manual had reeds operating on pressure and the other on suction. The catalogue noted that this combined an organ and American harmonium, the advantage being to re-unite the two in a single instrument which could be made to sound separately using pedals.

An engraving of this instrument, which received an honorable mention, is shown as the frontispiece of Ord-Hume's book [140].


Note the characteristically shaped webbed plynth between the treadles and the sides and rather sturdy construction.

Hillier continued to exhibit, and won a Gold Medal at the Antwerp exhibition in Autumn 1894.

Despite their quality, surprisingly few of Hillier's instruments are known to survive.

Penguin Orchestra Hillier

This one owned by Arthur Jeffes is probably relatively early as it carries the name James Hillier. The specification is currently not recorded, but if probably similar to Mark Jefford's (below).


Brian Styles' 1M/4:5

Brian sent me the following information. ... another solid oak job (heavy) with Estève reeds and spoilt only by celluloid keys. Mine is a 4-1/2 row with a fantastic incisive 16' Musette in the treble which was originally off tuned to double as a Celeste, but it's hardly compatabile with the Clarinette and is so good on its own that it's now tuned level.

The pretty standard arrangement of stops is: Forte, Sourdine, Basson, Clairon, Bourdon, Cor Anglais, Expression, Flute, Clarinette, Fifre, Hautbois, Musette, Voix Celeste, Tremolo, Forte. There is a single Grand Jeu knee swell.


My Hillier 1M/4:5 serial number 18609


The second photo shows a very similar one which appeared on e-Bay in April 2008. I purchased it from the owner in Heaton Chapel at the start of May. It carries the serial number 18609 stamped into the wood in several places and also written in pencil under the board which has the sound apertures and music stand. Inside the valve chest is another pencilled signature ``Frank Swannick May 4th 1888''. This gives us an accurate date of manufacture. The case is mahogany veneer, but badly damaged as the following pictures will show, internally however the instrument has survived surprisingly well. The keyboard is by. H. Brooks and Co. and stamped with the number 16341.

I am not supersitious, but I picked up this instrument and got it home in a trailor on 2/5/2008. It was cleaned and repaired and I got the first sounds out of it on May 4th 2008, exactly 120 years since its completion by Hilliers. It has a beautiful sound and I now play it regularly, even Brian likes it.

Mark Jefford's 1M/2:3, serial number 21932

Mark posted a note in ROS Quarterly, issue 2 of 2007, about his Hillier harmonium which he had bought in April 1999. Although having been the home of several mice at one time (his article tells the full story), it is in fairly good condition. He notes that the reeds are by Mainguet of Paris. The keyboard is by Henry Brooks and Company Ltd. and stamped with the serial number 41941. The list of stops is as follows: Dolce, Forte, Bourdon, Cor Anglais, Expression, Flute, Vox Celeste, Clarionet, Forte, Tremolo. It has a single Grand Jeu knee lever.


Ex. Saltaire 1M

This appeared on e-Bay for sale on 10/12/2006 from a seller in Bingley, with the following description: This Hillier harmonium was in the collection of Phil and Pam Fluke at the Harmonium Museum in Saltaire and I bought it from them some years ago.

ROS database ROS-1436 1M/1

See ROS database number 1436 for a 1M 61 note instrument with range CC-c''' no stops listed. It is said to be serial number 37331 from 1890 and has an oak case.

ROS database RFG-58762 1M/1

This instrument dates from c.1880, one manual, No.5038, one row of reeds (8ft). Keyboard: 5 octaves, C compass. The keys of this instrument are unusual, being made of bone. Despite its small size, this harmonium has a good strident tone.

The organ plays well enough, but takes a bit of pedalling due to the odd bellows leak.

This is the same instrument as RFG-58762.


e-Bay *6122

This harmonium carries the shop label of Sewell & Sewell but the treadles are clearly marked ``Hillier Organ Co.'' It was for sale by G.H. Pianos the island of Anglesey during Mar'2018.


Suction organs

Jack Crawley's 1M

Natalie Aspell contacted me in Aug'2014 to say that her Jack Crawley had passed away at the age of 92. In his art studio was an early James Hillier reed organ. It carries the serial number 25072 and a pencilled date of 11/12/1884 on the keys, and has an embossed name of what appears to be A. Hurlock on the frame.


Thomas Clark's

Thomas Clark is a sound recordist working in Holland Park, West London.



The following instrument was advertised for sale by the Filey and Scarborough Trust for Recycling in May 2007. It is probably a small Chancel or Crown Organ and measures 42'' high x 40'' wide x 19'' deep.

hillier_chancel_front.jpg hillier_chancel_treadles.jpg More pictures.

ROS database has entries numbers 1682 and 1846 which are both parlour style organs and FFF-f'' key range.

ROS-1682 is said to be serial number 34443 and the 7 stops are: Bass Coupler, Diapason, Melodia, Vox Celeste, Dolce, Dulciana, Treble Coupler.

ROS-1846 has 14 stops Melodia, Diapason, Sub Bass, Diapason Forte, Piano, Bass Coupler, Vox Celeste, Vox Humana, Treble Coupler, Echo, Flute Forte, Dolce, Dulciana, Flute. This is probably 3:3.

Claire Wren's 1M

A similar one, probably a Chancel Organ belongs to Claire Wren in Somerset. It carries the name of Moon of Plymouth who was probably the retailer.


An almost identical one appeared as e-Bay item *3524. A similar one with a high top was advertised as e-Bay item *1865 in Mar'2016 by a vendor in Diss.

Gavin King-Smith's 2M/6, e-Bay *3044

Gavin from Thornhill in Scotland, was selling his 2M Chancel Organ on e-Bay in July 2010. He had purchased it from a small terraced house in south London in the 1980s. This handsome looking suction instrument has the following specification.

2x 61 note manuals CC-c'''

Swell:                     Great:
Forte II                   Principal 4'
Swell to Great             Dulciana 8'
Viol d'Amour 8'            Diapason 8'
Dolce 8'                   (missing)
Celeste 8'                 Musette 16'
Viola 4'                   (missing)
Flute 4'                   Treble Coupler
Vox Humana                 Forte I

two knee levers

It measures 56-1/4''w x28-3/4''d x57''h.

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2M e-Bay *3374

Whilst we are still not certain of the origin of these 2M instruments it is worth noting that there were several produced. Another was seen on e-Bay from a seller in Southampton in Sept'2007. It is probably the same specification as above. At the time of sale the instrument had been dismantled and roughly re-assembled for the photo.


Jaako Järvelä's 1M

This small instrument is alive and kicking in Finland and used regularly in Finnish folk music concerts by Jaako Järveläof Kaustinen. He told me it was cut down to fit in an Opel Kadett car so that it can be moved easily. It has two complete ranks of reeds. It formerly had a decorative top, which was removed in the 1980s.


This link takes you to a Finnish YLE television programme which features the instrument with local players.

Areena YLE video.

Here is another picture of a small Hillier suction instrument advertised on e-Bay autumn 2009 number *4766.


Look at the diamond shaped feature on the front - this or something smilar seems to be a feature of many Hillier cases.

1M e-Bay *2149

An instrument was advertised for sale in early Nov'2011. I was given the following list of 12 stops by the vendor in London: Diapason, Melodia, Forte, Piano, Bass Coupler, Sub Bass, Vox Humana, Treble Coupler, Echo, Forte(?), Flute, Dulciana. It is probably 2:2 plus the Sub Bass.

This is similar to but slightly smaller than Claire Wren's instrument.

1M e-Bay *0837

This one was advertised in Witney, June 2013.


1M e-Bay *0970

This relatively large and ornate 1M instrument was advertised by Age UK in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, Dec'2013. It was said to have been stored in a garage for 30 years, but still in full working order - a tribute to the quality of manufacture. I asked the seller for more details, but it sold in the shop bbefore he replied.

The treadles have a cast surround which carry the name ``The Hillier Organ Company''. The organ itself has a Robert Stather shop label, see Chapter 19.


Brian Higgleton's 1M

Brian, from Folkestone, then contacted me in May 2015 to say that he needed to move house and therefore wished to dispose of his Hillier organ. His one is very similar to the above. The list of stops are Melodia, Diapason, Viola, Sub Bass, Forte, Piano, Bass Coupler, Vox Celeste, Vox Humana, Treble Coupler, Echo, Forte, Cello, Dulcet, Dulciana, Flute.


Hillier 2MP in Canada

I was made aware of this instrument by Rodney Jantzi in Dec'2021. It had been offered for his group's museum and has now been collected, but restoration work is required.

The instrument is said to have been made by Hillier and carries the firm's label. It has a very elaborate and heavy gothic style oak case which suggests possibly an exhibition model and seems to have at least 7-9 ranks of reeds. There is a built in blower with a switch on the console with UK style orientation.


2x 61-note manuals CC-c'''
concave radiating pedal board TBA

Swell bass:                Swell treble:     
Aeoline                    Cello             
Flugle Horn                Dulciana          
Saxaphone                  Echo Horn         
Gamba                      Flute             
Pedal:                     Couplers:         
Bourdon Pedal              Octave Coupler    
Bombardon Pedal            Manual Coupler    
Pedal Coupler              Vox Humana        
Octave Coupler             Forte             
Great bass:                Great treble:     
Viola                      Diapason treble   
Principal Bass             Bourdon treble    
Bourdon Bass               Principal treble  
Diapason Bass              Melodia



We have photographs of a number of other instruments by Hillier. These include a 1M reed organ with 9 stops (*e3930), a 1M high top reed organ with 14 stops (*e1865), a 1M Chancel Organ with 14 stops (*e4848), a 1M reed organ with 10 stops (*e4710), a 1M reed organ (*e9255), a 1M reed organ with 3 stops (*e2262), a 1M harmonium sold by E.A. Marriott of Exeter (*e4826), a 1M harmonium (*e8233), a 1M harmonium in polished oak case (*e4047), a 1M reed organ with 14 stops (*e5253),

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Rob Allan