J.W. Sawyer (1885-1952)

John William Sawyer of 21 Barton View, in the Beeston district of Leeds (1898-99) built a number of large and impressive instruments, several 3MP and at least one very large 4MP reed organ in 1902 (Phil Fluke has a photograph). The Sawyer firm is said to have started as reed organ builders in 1885 (but see below) and continued until around 1947 or slightly later. Founded by John Sawyer, the firm was known firstly as J.W. Sawyer from 1898-1910 [but died in 1907, see below], then as William Sawyer from 1911-27 (e.g. listed as William John Saywer in Kelly's Leeds Directory of 1916), as John William Sawyer from 1929-36 and finally as Percy Alfred Sawyer from 1938-47. It is possible that the firm was run by William Sawyer, John's father, from c.1911-38 (also see below). They worked initially at Barton View where John lived with his brother Percy and parents, then at Beeston Organ Works opposite Beeston GNR railway station in Town Street, Leeds from 1901-11. John built himself a house, Hampden House, at 141 Town Street in front of the works and his family lived there from 1904-31. He however died in 1907 at the age of only 38 and the firm was continued by his brother Percy until he in turn died in 1952 at the age of 76.

In 1900, Sawyers advertised reed organs of between 1 and 4 manuals plus pedals using suction wind. They also advertised that self playing and automatic organs with a combination of pipes and reeds could be specialy designed and built to order.

It is possible that they ceased producing reed organs around 1931, but continued producing pipe organs or components, probably doing work previously undertaken by J.J. Binns, a Leeds builder very well known at the time having built some famous concert instruments, but who ceased to trade in 1929. Binns were also in Town Street for a while and the Sawyers probably produced bellows for them. Earlier adverts [163] show Sawyer as a pipe and reed organ builder who undertook care of pipe organs including cleaning and tuning.


I believed the organ works building would have been long gone by 2011, but in fact it is still there down a lane behind 141 Town Street and visible from both Redhall Crescent and St. Anthony's Road. You can still see it on Google Earth from June 2015. Its current use is not known.

John William was born in Kirkstall, Leeds on 28/3/1869 and died at 116 Burlington Parade, High Street, Chiselhurst in the district of Bromley, Kent on 21/7/1907, possibly as the result of an accident. His effects, worth £1,071-13/s were left to his father William Sawyer.

Phil and Pam Fluke have carried out extensive research into the Sawyer business, and according to their detailed article in ROS Bulletin [71] his cause of death is still unclear. John's father William had married his mother Emma Skelton on 4/9/1865, they were both born in Hull and later lived near the Beeston district in Leeds. JW's brother Percy Alfred was born on 29/6/1876. According to the Flukes, the business was actually run by William senior, a cabinet maker by trade, from 1907 until 1920 when he died in Holbeck on 10/11/1920 after which it was continued by Percy until his death in Leeds on 13/3/1952. All four family members are buried in Holbeck Cemetry in Leeds, which is very close to Barton View. It seems that neither John nor Percy married, and John did not make a will which may be why his estate reverted to his father.

William had continued to live at Hampden House until his death in 1920. His effects, worth £1,052-3/s were left to is son Percy Sawyer, who was a plumber.

Emma died on 28/8/1926 at the age of 83, so presumably Percy lived and traded mostly alone since that date. Her effects worth £443-7/s were also left to Percy who himself died on 13/3/1952.

This is where the track ends. Percy's effects were left in administration in London on 3/7/1952 to one Ethel May Singleton, wife of Arthur Thrumand Singleton. Worth £1,091-6/s a former grant is mentioned of 18/4/1952 [this is not understood].

John Whitaker contacted me in June 2020 with additions to the information as above. He lives at 143 Town Street, so next door to where the Sawyer's had lived. He has been trying to trace 116 Burlington Parade, but so far with no success.

Interestingly, he has discovered that J.W. Sawyer is listed in the 1891 census as a Grocer and Draper living with his parents and brother at a Grocer's Shop and Drapers in Cambrian Road, Holbeck. Since he was only 22 at this point and his father William was head of the household, the implication is that the finance came from William. The 1894 White's Directory for Leeds has John Wm. Sawyer of 21 Barton View, Beeston Hill trading as Sawyer & Pick, Accountants and Insurance Agents, from 22 Bond Street, Leeds. The 1901 Census shows him as an organ builder at 21 Barton View, Holbeck, Leeds at the age of 32. The dwelling house (Hampden House - now no.141A Town Street) built in front of the works on Town Street appears to date from 1905, since it appears on the OS map revision of that date, but not on the electoral roll until 1907.


John Sawyer is reputed to have been among the best English experts at tuning and voicing free reeds, although he probably bought standard and large scale reeds from the USA through the usual suppliers such as Goddards, see Chapter 32. He built all his organs to order and kept the largest instrument in his own house to demonstrate the many possible sounds to potential customers. This is considered to be by far the largest reed organ ever built, and was extensively modified over a long period having at one stage five divisions. It firstly had around 75 stops and 3,805 reeds (around 65 ranks), see specification below, but this went up to 92 stops and 5,090 reeds (around 85 ranks). This was a (mostly) suction powered instrument and is to be compared to an average large reed organ with around 700 reeds. It was advertised for sale in 1925.

Peter Jeffers told me Sawyer organs had wonderful reeds. They sounded just as one would expect from a pipe organ. The 16' on the pedals was just like a 16' Bourdon.

The Sawyer firm was unique in the history of reed organ building because of the quality and scope of the instruments and the approach to their construction. The company originally worked with pipe as well as reed organs, pipe organ work mainly being the supply of components. The influence of pipe organ construction could easily be seen. Different divisions could have a different wind pressure and great care was taken in voicing the reeds which mostly ran through 5 octaves without borrowing. Standard reeds and reed boards were used, but over size reeds were sometimes used. Standard voicing techniques involved bending, twisting and crimping the reed tongue in a subtle way, but a wide tonal variety was obtained by additional means which included varying the spacing between reeds and the size or the reed cell, different scale of reeds, pressure in addition to suction wind, and sometimes multiple reeds per note. Qualifying tubes and resonating chambers of various sizes can also be found.

Bellows of Sawyer reed organs are similar to those used in pipe organs and in the larger instruments were separate and actuated by a water motor as commonly found in churches at that time. They utilised 7/8'' pine boards for the upper, lower, middle and feeders. Ribs between these boards used 3/8'' pine double leathered and fitted with leather gussets and valves. It was claimed that six skins of leather costing between 3s and 6s per skin were required for a small instrument plus 33 square feet of yellow pine. Instruments were mostly built to commission and to the buyer's specification after they had listened to the large instrument in Sawyer's house.

After the death of Percy Alfred Sawyer in 1952 the house and workshop passed to a surviving cousin, John James Sawyer who was a tailor. It had been believed that he simply sold everything. However in Nov'2021 John Whitaker discovered more details of the family and tells the story as follows. John William died without leaving a will in 1907, his father inherited as next of kin. This seems to have spurred William into action, and both he and Emma promptly made their own wills on 28/9/1907 leaving their estates in entirety to Percy Alfred. Percy, however, didn't bother, and had left no will when he died in 1952. John James Sawyer, tailor and full cousin to Percy, was granted letters of administration of his estate on the 18/4/1952. Unfortunately John James died less than 3 weeks later on the 5/5/1952, and a further probate ruling was given to Ethel May Singleton (another cousin, living in Adel, Leeds) on the 3/7/1952. Ethel May was the daughter of George William Sawyer, who was one of Percy's full cousins. She died in 2008.

It had been believed that the organ was broken up as it could not be removed from the house, but the brochure of which I have a copy [163] notes Sold. This was probably an earlier instrument as an advert from 1903 notes ``for sale to make room for an even larger instrument''. The gentleman who eventually purchased the house noted that one could still see the outline of this amazing instrument on the wall. This was 30 years later in 1982 and the house was still standing in 2011.

Phil Fluke met a former employee of J.W. Sawyer, Frank Sykes when he was 89 years old (he died at the age of 92). Frank did a lot of the joinery in these organs.

Sawyer himself had noted: many influences combine to affect the quality of any one stop... different conditions of space, bellows pressure, resonance, casework, situation, etc... the varied tones [are] obtained by difference in the size, the scale and the bend or voicing of the reed. These again are subject to variations of wind pressure and suction... again affected by the combination of two or more tongues [per note].

Sawyer's instruments are the only reed organs that we know of which had multiple wind pressures, just like many large pipe organs but using suction instead of pressure wind (usually). There were some by other makers which had both pressure and suction wind, but these seem to have been for experimental or exhibition purposes only.

An advert appeared c.1919 for a 4-manual instrument with around 86 stops and 4,444 reeds (around 70 ranks), see specification below. This may have actually had 3 manuals with the Echo department played from the Choir. Note that J.W. Saywer had died in 1907, so this may have been built earlier as the firm's exhibition instrument. Others had pipes, chime bars, carillon and drums. Phil Fluke has a photograph of a 4MP Sawyer console with around 40 stops; possibly around 30 ranks of reeds (see below). Some of these very large instruments had pneumatic Barker lever action and several different wind presures. In my opinion, this was the pinnacle of the British reed organ.

In 1905, Sawyer advertised as follows.

 The Ideal Organ: Have you seen or heard one of these beautiful
 instruments? If not, in order to save yourself lasting
 disappointment, you should enquire, and do so if you have any
 intention of purchasing an Organ. They are built on the model of an
 up-to-date Pipe Organ; are so far away in advance of any Reed Organ
 ever made in solid organ-like tone, thoroughness of workmanship
 throughout, usefulness and real practicability. The tone and variety
 of the larger instruments are astonishing, and the likeness to Pipe
 Organ effects simply startling.

An advertisement by Sawyer is shown in Gellerman's Atlas [80] p207. This notes that they made:

 The ``Ideal'' 1, 2, 3, and 4 Manual and Pedal Organ for the
 organist's home, chapels, mission, halls, schools lodges, etc. High
 class instruments built to customers' own specifications. ... 

 Specialities: real organ tone, proper organ positions, enlarged scale
 reeds on the manuals, reversible combination pedals, pistons and all
 pipe organ appointments, extra large scale reeds on the pedals,
 specially designed cases with acoustical compartments and vibrating
 sound boards on an entirely new principle.

Despite this enterprise the organ works had no electricity, so 6'' saws and drills were operated by treadles. All preparatory work to timber had to be done at the mill, which included sawing to size and planing with final joinery done at the works. The workshop was, even in those days, a ``time warp''. The three floors were accessible only by Jacob's vertical ladders but each floor had carefully laid out benches and tools. Large items were moved between floors through trap doors using block and tackle. Joinery was done on the upper floors, and assembly on the ground floor. The finished organs (some without cases as the new owners would make their own) were crated up and shipped to the nearby station on a horse drawn cart. All work was essentially done by hand and every person on the premises was clearly dedicated to the enterprise.

It is likely that Sawyer built very few instruments and, other than limited information from the Fluke collection, it is very hard to find out more about them. It is quite probable that, like the Hill Vocalion, they were actually more expensive to produce than an equivalent pipe organ - but would of course (mostly) fit into a much smaller space. Sawyer claimed however that a rank of pipes cost 6x that of a rank of reeds. By all accounts the instruments were all made to order and were all different.

Despite the exceptional character of Sawyer's instruments, an unfortunate accident of history may mean that most of these very large reed organs have been destroyed thoughtlessly as fashions changed. The same is true of many of Holt's major works, it was thought that there was only one important exception, but actually it is now known that three or four 3MP instruments still survive. Reed organs have been largely surplanted by electronic instruments in situations where a small classically styled pipe organ would be too expensive or impossible to site. Linked with this change in favour, there would simply have been no-one with the expertise to maintain and keep such large instruments in tune and in top condition, as the builders no longer existed and amateurs had nowhere to conserve and study them. The same fate befell the Cinema and Theatre organs and again only a few important specimens have been saved in the UK by the Cinema Organ Trust and its sister organisations.

Sawyer is said to have made 1MP, 2MP and 3MP reed organs (some of the latter with pneumatic action) and also pipe organs. The firm also may have built self playing and automatic organs with combined reeds and pipes. They had orders from New Zealand, Falkland Islands, Africa, Fiji, West Indies among other places. Where are these instruments now?

Saltaire Museum - ROS database entry 390 - 2MP/15

There was a relatively large 2MP suction operated reed organ by Sawyer in the Saltaire museum of Phil and Pam Fluke. It was originally installed in Ross Street Methodist Church in Oldham, and became redundant when the church closed. It is said to have 822 reeds - 12 manual ranks plus 3 pedal ranks with no derived stops. It is noted as serial number 7 and registered in the ROS database (entry 390) dated as c.1910 and has the following stop list, which is unusual in that it features an independent 8' pedal stop. Its a pity more reed organs didn't have one. It is possible that this was built before 1907.

2x 61 note manuals
30 note straight concave pedalboard

Swell:                        Great:
Tremulant                     Soft Flute 4'
Clarion 4'                    Principal 4'
Clarionet 8'                  Hohl Flute 8'
Oboe 8'                       Dulciana 8'
Clarabella 8'                 Open Diapason 8'
Horn Diapason 8'              Double Open Diapason 16'
Bourdon 16'                    
Couplers:                     Violoncello 8'
Swell-Great                   Pedal Bourdon 16'
Swell-Pedal                   Posaune 16'

Angled stop jambs.
swell pedals: 
Great swell on; Great swell off; Swell swell on; Swell swell off;
Pedal swell (latch)

This one also features as entry 2953 in Robert Gellerman's photo database and entry 390 in the ROS database. I never got to play this rare example as it was not functional when I visited and it was sold by Phil Fluke in early 2005.


According to the Fluke's ROS Bulletin article [71] the organ's soundboards are placed vertically above the manuals, Great at the front and enclosed Swell at the rear. The Great has standard cavity boards, but the Swell has special wide ones. The pedal reeds are in the bottom of the organ and the reservoirs and exhausters at the top. The pedal reeds have a separate reservoir.

Sawyer 4MP

The following notes are based on a photograph in the Saltaire Museum. This large organ had four manuals and an unknown number of reed ranks (probably around 30 to 33). The size of the console and what seems to be an attached blower indicate that it was certainly a very large instrument and built late in the history of these instruments. The console layout is very impressive and clearly follows the RCO recommendations of the time. Phil told me that he has no further information, but he believes it may have originally been a 3MP which was enlarged over time. Whilst the names of the stops are unknown, the layout from the photo is as follows:

Four manuals, each CC-c''', 43 stops.
30 note RCO-style pedalboard.

Left jamb outer top:        Right jamb outer:
7 stops                     10 stops

Left jamb outer bottom:
5 stops

Left jamb inner top:        Right jamb inner:
8 stops                     11 stops

Left jamb inner bottom:
2 stops

Angled stop jambs
5 combination pedals on left.
5 combination pedals on right.
Three balanced swell pedals.

Pedal boards differ slightly in width, but given the length of a standard English five octave keyboard being 32-3/4'' we can judge that the overall console was 75-3/4'' wide and 59'' high. Depth of course cannot be ascertained from the photograph. This may have been just a console attached to the main organ by pneumatic action.

The following photograph is © Fluke Collection.



The specification of another 4MP Sawyer probably quite similar to the above was noted by Phil and Pam Fluke in the ROS Bulletin of August 1983. This was said to have had 47 ranks of reeds (2,571 in total) and pneumatic action. It was built 1902-3.

Swell:                                Great:
Bourdon 16'                           Barytone 32' (top 49 notes)
Open Diapason 8'                      Double Open Diapason 16'
Lieblich Gedacht 8'                   Bourdon 16'
Dulciana 8'                           Open Diapason 8'
Lieblich Flute 4'                     Gamba 8'
Concert Flute 4'                      Clarabella 8'
Flautina 2'                           Trumpet 8'
Piccolo 2'                            Principal 4'
Cornopean 8'                          Clarion 4'
Bassoon 8'                            Octave Bassoon 4'
Octave Gamba 4'
Choir:                                Double Bassoon 16'
Lieblich Bourdon 16' (top 49 notes)   Clarinet 16'
Bourdon 16'                           Violin Diapason 8'
Double Oboe 16' (top 49 notes)        Harmonic Flute 8'
Keraulophon 8'                        Voix Celeste 8' (top 49 notes)
Clarabella 8'                         Flute Celeste 4'
Viola 4'                              Wald Flute 4'
Gemshorn 4'                           Oboe 8'
Harmonic Flute 4'                     Orchestral Oboe 8'
Harmonic Flute 2'                     Tremulant
Couplers:                             Double Open Bass 32'
Swell-Great                           Contra Trombone 32'
Choir-Great                           Double Open Diapason 16'
Solo-Great                            Bourdon 16'
Great-Pedal                           Stopped Bass 16'
Swell-Pedal                           Violone 16'
Choir-Pedal                           Violoncello 8'
Solo-Pedal                            Trumpet 8'

2x pedal ventil pedals
2x composition pedals each for Great, Swell and Solo
3x swell pedals
pneumatic action

The Largest Reed Organ in the World 3MP/85

This was Sawyer's demonstration instrument installed in his residence at 141 Town Street, Leeds, in front of the organ works.

It was said to be 12' high and occupied floor space of 7' by 7'. John Whitaker notes that original plans for the building show ammendments to indicate that the ceilings were actually 11'6'' high on the lower floor. It appears that the house was designed specifically to accommodate the organ.

The organ had at one time 4 manuals and 60 stops [maybe not the same one?], but reached the size of 85 stops, being continually updated. It was winded by a water motor with exhausters and reservoirs located in the cellar, although there are hand written notes to say it later was fitted with two pressure electric blower.

The following photograph from an original brochure shows this organ as a 3MP when it had around 79 stops. It was said to have had up to 3,805 reeds at some time. The specification is taken from the same brochure.


3 manuals CC-c'''
30 note straight concave pedalboard

Swell:                        Great:
Bourdon 16'                   Open Diapason 16'
Open Diapason 8'              Open Diapason 8'
Stopped Diapason 8'           Horn Diapason 8'
Dulciana 8'                   Violin Diapason 8'
Echo Gamba 8'                 Clarabella 8'
Cornopean 8'                  Violoncello 8'
Wald Flute 4'                 Dulcet 8'
Viola 4'                      Tuba Sonora 8'
Orchestral Oboe 8'            Gamba 8'
Voix Seraphique 8'            Dulciana 8'
Roman Pipe 8'                 Open Flute 8'
Violoncello 8'                Hautbois 8'
Cornet 4'                     Musette 8'
Flautina 4'                   Contra Gamba 16'
Contra Fagotto 16'            Contra Bourdon 32'
Double Trumpet 16'            Principal 4'
Double Musette 16'            Clarion 4'
Trumpet 8'                    Clarionet 4'
???                           Gemshorn 4'
???                           Oboe Flute 4'
                              Trumpet 8'
                              Swell to Great

Choir:                        Pedal:
Double Diapason 16'           Bourdon 16'
Open Diapason 8'              Double Diapason 16'
Stopped Diapason 8'           Stopped Diapason 16'
Viol d'Amour 8'               Gedacht 16'
Vox Angelica 8'               Clarabella 8'
Viol Etheria 8'               Principal 8'
Flauto Traverso 4'            Bass Flute 8'
Flautina 2'                   Sub Bourdon 32'
Gemshorn 4'                   Contra Trombone 32'
Harmonic Flute 8'             Violoncello 8'
Salicional 8'                 Tromba 8'
Hohl Flute 8'                 Trombone 16'
Harmonic Trumpet 8'           Bassoon 16'
Vox Celeste 8'                Trumpet 8'
Double Oboe 16'               Double Trumpet 16'
Bassoon 8'                    Swell to Pedal
Swell to Choir                Great to Pedal
???                           Choir to Pedal

Angled stop jambs
Latch-down "crescendo" swell pedal
Tracker action
Pneumatic Barker lever action to Swell and Great.

Couplers included: Swell-Great, Swell-Choir, Great-Pedal, Choir-Pedal and Swell-Pedal plus three more, but it is not clear how they were layed out above.

An undated brochure [163], from which the photo is taken, offers the following description.

 The Royal College of Organists measurements, positions etc., are
 carried throughout. Stop jambs at an angle of 45 degrees substantial
 Polished Walnut Case. Organ Bench and Pedal Board with open decorated
 pipe front and sides, to resonate and amplify the tone, which is the
 finest quality of ``pipe organ tone'' ever heard in any Reed Organ,
 in fact the instrument was built for demonstrating purposes, with
 Special Scale Reeds and Soundboards which can now hardly be
 reproduced at any cost.

 The Key-boards are covered with ``Ivory'' centre hung and shaped
 fronts. Stop Knobs of ``Ebony'' and ``Ivory'' faces, each stop
 drawing on its own complete row of 61 reeds on the Manuals and 30
 Reeds each, on the Pedal Organ.

 The action work is of standard quality, usually known as Tracker
 Action with Pneumatic Levers to Great and Swell, and giving an
 instantaneous repetition.

 All the Swell Organ Reeds are built up on a properly constructed
 ``Swell Box'' operated by Foot Pedal and is quite effective as any
 Pipe Organ.

 The whole organ is very compact occupying approximate floor space of
 7ft. by 7ft. The Bellows portion together with an Hydraulic Engine to
 Blow being situated in the basement. Present day cost to build a
 similar instrument would well exceed £1,500, and as we must
 sell to make room for our latest Two Manual Instruments - an offer
 of about half that sum will be considered.

A hand written note on the brochure says that the organ was sold and that a 2-pressure electric blower had been fitted. We believe this organ sadly no longer exists, as noted above.

It is quite possible that the specification was changed from time to time, and may have been used to test parts as well as demonstrating new sounds to customers. The list of stops is very unusual. At another time it was reported to have 4,444 reeds divided as follows [163].

Swell (1,098 reeds):          Great (1,464 reeds):
Bourdon 16'                   Large Open Diapason 16'
Open Diapason 8'              Large Open Diapason 8'
Stopped Diapason 8'           Open Diapason 8'
Lieblich Gedacht 8'           Clarabella 8'
Dulciana 8'                   Horn Diapason 8'
Flute 8'                      Violin Diapason 8'
Wald Flute 4'                 Open Flute 8'
Viola 4'                      Hohl Flute 8'
Voix Celeste 8'               Gedacht 8'
Viol d'Orchestre 8'           Dulciana 8'
Violoncello 8'                Diapason 4'
Contra Fagotto 16'            Principal 4'
Double Trumpet 16'            Harmonic Flute 4'
Orchestral Oboe 8'            Harmonic Piccolo 2'
Cornet 4'                     Gemshorn 4'
Salicional 8'                 Violone 16'
Echo Gambe 8'                 Contra Gamba 16'
Trumpet 8'                    Viol de Gamba 8'
Tremulant                     Clarionet 8'
???                           Contra Bourdon 32'
                              Cornopean 8'
                              Trumpet 8'
                              Swell to Great
                              Choir to Great

Choir (976 reeds):            Pedal (540 reeds):
Double Dulciana 16'           Open Diapason 16'
Open Diapason 8'              Stopped Diapason 16'
Stopped Diapason 8'           Bourdon 16'
Dulciana 8'                   Gedacht 16'
Viol d'Amour 8'               Principal 8'
Vox Angelica 8'               Bass Flute 8'
Viol Etherea 8'               Clarabella 8'
Flauto Traverso 4'            Flautina 4'
Flautina 2'                   Wood Flute 16'
Gemshorn 4'                   Wood Flute 8'
Clear Flute 8'                Sub Bourdon 32'
Oboe Flute 4'                 Contra Trombone 32'
Double Oboe 16'               Trombone 16'
Gamba 8'                      Bassoon 16'
Bassoon 8'                    Double Trumpet 16'
Harmonic Trumpet 8'           Tromba 8'
Tremulant                     Violoncello 8'
Swell to Choir                Trumpet 8'
???                           Swell to Pedal
                              Great to Pedal
                              Choir to Pedal

Echo (366 reeds, played from Choir manual):
Double Musette 16'
Musette 8'
Dulcet 8'
Voix Seraphique 8'

Crescendo pedals to Swell, Choir and Echo
Ventils and pneumatic composition pedals control each
 department. Pneumatic lever action to Great, tracker actino to other

"Ideal" hydraulic motor driving bellows beneath the organ.
Wind pressures from 2-1/2'' to 15''

Couplers include Swell-Great, Swell-Pedal, Great-Pedal, Swell-Choir, Choir-Great and Choir-Pedal.

This brochure [163] also notes Sold leading us to suspect that it was most probably the same instrument.

Sawyer 5MP?

I saw this message from Rev. Tony Newnham, 2012: A correspondent (and Harmonium "expert") in Holland informs me that Sawyer made a 90 stop, 5 manual reed organ - but it was never sold, only a demo for custom build clients to hear the various sounds that they had available. I reckon that probably takes the crown.

Its almost certainly the same instrument as above. Probably five divisions rather than manuals.

Mr. Percy Moore's Ideal Organ

Although little is known about it, reference was made a number of times to this instrument in The Organist and Choirmaster Jan-Feb'1902.

The Ideal Organ seems to have been situated near to London, possibly Wimbledon. Indeed J.W. Sawyer himself says, I am exceedingly grateful for all Mr. Percy Moore's kindness, and the great trouble he has been at, in allowing so great publicity of trial of his instrument, which being the nearest "Ideal" to London, has come in for such a large share of notoriety.

Among others, it had two 16' pedal ranks and at least one 2' manual stop.

Mr. Hayes' Ideal Organ

Mr. Hayes, New Zealand, shipped Aug'1901.

J. Herbert Sutcliffe's Organ

J. Herbert Sutcliffe of Bexley Heath is noted to have considered ordering a Sawyer organ. It is not known if this happened.

2MP, Skibbereen Methodist Church, Co. Cork, Ireland

This church was formerly in the building now known as The Church Restaurant in Bridge Street, Skibbereen. It was in active use from 1833 until 2003, but was totally destroyed by fire in 2006 after its use changed to a restaurant. It has since been restored and re-opened, see

It is recorded in The Musical Herald of 1907 that a 2MP reed organ by Sawyer was installed in this church at a cost of £ 160. David Butler told me that there were many wealthy Methodist merchants in the town up to WWII.

Shortly after adding this instrument to the list at the end of 2011, I was contacted in Jan'2012 by Peter T. Jeffers who confirmed the rest of the story. The large instrument had been in a bad state and un-used for around 10 years when he purchased it for £5 in 1956 at the age of 20. Unable to afford the cost of restoration, it lay dismantled above a shop in Bandon for many years until eventually disposed of. This is another close call for me, as my Aunt Jane owns the Bandon Pottery.

Peter told me that the organist was for many years Mrs. Woulfe, wife of a local solicitor Jasper Travers Woulfe who was also Independent T.D. (M.P. in Ireland) for the West Cork constituency from 1922 to 1932. Peter is still an enthusiast of large reed organs and has subsequently owned Holts and Apollos. His business currently sells Allen Computer Organs. The specification of the Sawyer which he gave me is as follows.

The console had glass doors to front of keyboards and stops and decorated dummy pipes above. Height 9' xWidth 7' xDepth 4'.

2x 61 note manuals CC-c''' 35 stops
30 note RCO style pedal board

Swell:                      Great:
Open Diapason 8'            Double Open Diapason 16'
Dulciana 8'                 Open Diapason 8'
Gamba 8'                    Principal 4'
Flute 8'                    Contra Gamba 16'
Double Oboe 16'             Clarabella 8'
Orchestral Oboe 8'          Clarionette 8'
Viola 4'                    Trumpet 8'
Wald Flute 4'               Clarion 4'
Piccolo 2'                 
Tremulant                   Pedal:
                            Pedal Open 16'
Couplers:                   Bourdon 16'
Swell to Great              Trombone 16'
Swell to Pedal              Violoncello 8'
Great to Pedal
Great Octave (?)

hand or foot blown
4x composition pedals

St. Ninian's U.F. Church, Leith

It was reported in the Edinburgh Evening News, 9/11/1903 that Special services were held in St. Ninian's U.F. Church, Leith, yesterday, on the occasion of the introduction of an organ which was built by Mr. J.W. Sawyer, Leeds, and is the only one of its kind in Scotland.

No further information is known of this instrument.


This one appears in the database of the Netherlands Harmonium Vereniging entry 268. It is said to have been made c.1910 and is a suction instrument. The location is not given.

2 61 note manuals 
27 note straight pedalboard

Swell:                          Great:
Voix Celeste 8'                 Harmonic Flute 4'
Oboe 8'                         Principal 4'
Cornopean 8'                    Clarabella 8'
Flute 4'                        Open Diapason 8'
Open Diapason 8'                Dulciana 8'
Viole d'Orchestre 8'            Open Diapason 16'
Lieblich Bourdon 8'
Lieblich Gedackt 8'             Couplers:
                                Swell to Pedal
Pedal:                          Great to Pedal
Bourdon 16'                     Swell to Great
Double Open Diapason 16'        Great Octave (?)

angled stop jambs
6 combination pedals
latch down swell pedal

This instrument has an ornately carved case.


2MP Larnaca, Cyprus

Information was found on the Web site of the Terra Sancta Organ Festival:

In addition to a pipe organ, Our Lady of Graces Convent church in Larnaca, Cyprus houses two precious harmoniums of the 1800s: a French made Dumont and Lelièvre and another made by the English firm J.W. Sawyer - Beeston Organ Works of Leeds with 29 registers, two keyboards and pedal.

For general information see

This is all we currently know about it.

1M e-Bay *9610

This was for sale in July 2020 by Pausaune in Wick. He noted as follows.

This is a tiny portable reed organ possibly mid to late 19th century. It is though to be made in England and has a pencil marking inside ``Beeston Organ Works''. This would relate to J.W. Sawyer of Leeds who made mostly very large high quality reed organs to order. This could well have been one of his.

It has nice oak casework and is unusual as it has two full sets of reeds. There is an 8ft set enclosed in a swell which is always on and a divided 4ft set operated by the two drawstops Viola in the bass and what I think would have been called Flute in the treble. But the stop label was missing when the instrument came into my ownership the only label I could find to replace it which fitted is marked Octave Coupler. It is in excellent working order, bellows very good and its all in tune. 2'7'' wide x1'3'' deep x2'9'' high. Very light to carry and has handles at each end.


Register of known organs by Sawyer.

It should be noted that because of the importance of Sawyer's instruments and their diversity I am listing all known to have been designed or produced whether or not they still exist. There are not many, so every new piece of information could be significant.

Size Date Serial Number Comments
2MP/15 1910 7 Ross Street Methodist, Oldham; ROS-0390 Saltaire Museum, sold in 2005
4MP/30 ?     photo at Saltaire
4MP/47 1902-3    
4MP/70     advertised, but probably never built
3MP/85     organ from Barton View, destroyed as confirmed by Phil Fluke, but brochure says Sold
Ideal 1901-2   Mr. P.Moore, Wimbledon?
Ideal 1901-2   Mr. Hayes, New Zealand
? 1902-3   Mr. J.H.Sutcliffe, not known if built
  late 1903   St. Ninian's U.F. church, Leith, Edinburgh *
2MP/21 ? c.1907   Skibbereen Methodist Church, Co. Cork, Ireland; P.T.Jeffers, Kinsale, 1956; subsequently scrapped *
3MP/27     RFG-1731
2MP     RFG-1732
2MP     RFG-1733
2MP     RFG-1734
2MP/16 (?) c.1910   HVN-0268
2MP ?     Sherburn
2MP/11 29 stops     not known
1M     ROS-2802 Tempio del Sacro Cuore, Padova, Italy (probably German firm of Liebig, not Sawyer)
2MP     Our Lady of Graces, Larnaca, Cyprus
1M     for sale e-Bay 9610 in Wick July 2020

Styles and Specifications of Sawyer Organs

A brochure exists showing a number of typical models as advertised at the time [163].

The J.W. Sawyer ``Ideal'' Reed Organ

In addition to the ``largest reed organ in the world'', the Sawyer brochure shows other recommeded styles and specifications. Unfortunately prices have been scratched out from the copy of the brochure that I own, this will require some further detective work.

1M Organ nos.1 and 2

Suggested specification for the no.1 organ had 244 reeds (4 full 61-note ranks, FFF-f'' scale), two knee levers and treadles. It could be built in a highly finished walnut case. Stops are: Bourdon 16', Diapason 8', Dulciana 8', Flute 4', Bass Coupler, Vox Humana, Treble Coupler, Flute 4', Dulciana 8', Diapason 8', Bourdon 16'.

The no.2 organ had 366 reeds (6 ranks) as follows: Bourdon 16', Open Diapason 8', Gamba 8', Dulciana 8', Principal 4', Cornopean 8', Bass Coupler, Treble Coupler, Cornopean 8', Principal 4', Dulciana 8', Gamba 8', Open Diapason 8', Bourdon 16'.

This one was specially voiced to lead congregational singing. It was available in walnut or oak and measured 5'h x2'3''d x4'6''w. An effective Pedal Bass stop arrangement of 30 notes could be added at an extra cost of £3 and a decorated pipe top for £6.

3MP ''Ideal'' Organ nos. 2 and 4

No.2 specification, same as No.1 specification below with the addition of 2 extra stops in each division and the same improvements as 2MP no.3.

This may possibly have up to 27 ranks of reeds.

3x 61 note manuals CC-c''' 35 stops
36 note straight slightly-concave pedals (?)

Left hand jamb:           Right hand jamb:
Swell (?) 8 stops         Great (?) 14 stops

Choir (?) 9 stops         Pedal (?) 4 stops

Angled stop jambs
3 combination pedals


This photograph appears to show a 36 note pedals, which is extremely unusual.

No.4 specification not known.

3MP ''Ideal'' Organ no.1 and 2MP no.4

No.1 specification.

3x 61 note manuals, C-c''' 26 stops
30 note straight flat pedals

Swell:                      Great:
Hohl Flute 8'               Double Diapason 16'
Clarabella 8'               Open Diapason 8'
Gemshorn 4'                 Dulciana 8'
Oboe 8'                     Principal 4'

Choir:                      Pedal:
Stopped Diapason 8'         Bourdon 16'
Wald Flute 4'               Bass Flute 8'
Vox Angelica 8'
Clarionet 16'

Swell to Great
Swell to Pedal
Choir to Great
Choir to Pedal
Great to Pedal
Swell to Choir

Straight stop jambs


No.2 3MP specification had an extra 2 stops to each division and improvements as suggested for the 2MP No.3 specification.

No.4 2MP specification.

2 manuals 
30 note straight concave pedals

Swell:                      Great:
Contra Gamba 16'            Double Open Diapason 16'
Stopped Diapason 8'         Open Diapason 8'
Hohl Flute 8'               Clarabella 8'
Cornopean 8'                Principal 4'
Clarion 4'                  Fifteenth 2'
Clarionet 8'                Tremulant (optional)

Couplers:                   Pedal (large scale reeds):
Swell to Great              Sub Bourdon 32'
Swell to Pedal              Bourdon 16'
Great to Pedal

Straight stop jambs
double acting composition pedal to each division

2MP ''Ideal'' Organ no.5

2 manuals 
30 note straight concave pedals
enlarged, broad, medium and narrow reeds used.
Polished walnut case and bench

Swell (366 reeds):          Great (488 reeds):
Clarionet 16'               Bourdon 16'
Open Diapason 8'            Open Diapason 8'
Hohl Flute 8'               Stopped Diapason 8'
Gemshorn 4'                 Clarabella 8'
Wald Flute 4'               Principal 4'
Oboe (or Cornopean) 8'      Clarion 4'
Tremulant                   Fifteenth 2'
                            Trumpet 8'

Couplers:                   Pedal (180 reeds):
Swell to Great              Sub Bourdon 32'
Swell to Pedal              Open Diapason 16'
Great to Pedal              Bourdon 16'
                            Trombone 16'
                            Violoncello 8'
                            Bass Flute 8'

4 stops are above Swell keyboard
2 reversible composition each to Great, Swell and Pedal
latch-down (crescendo) swell pedal
hydraulic engine included in price

A hydraulic motor could be provided (made in Leeds to Sawyer's specifications). Motors were about £5 or £6 depending on size. The organ was finished with artificial pipes and walnut case.

Both standard and large scale reeds were suggested for this specification. The large scale ones included 4 Great ranks, and 2 Pedal ranks. The other ranks were a mixture of narrow, standard and broad reeds.


2MP ''Ideal'' Organ nos. 1, 2 and 3

No.1 specification.

2 manuals 
30 note straight concave pedals
Stained butternut case

Swell:                     Great:
Clarionet 8'               Open Diapason 8'
Gemshorn 4'                Dulciana 8'

Couplers                   Pedal:
Great to Pedal             Bourdon 16'
Swell to Great
Swell to Pedal

straight stop jambs
2 combination pedals
latch-down swell pedal

No.2 specification.

2 manuals 
30 note straight concave pedals

Swell:                     Great:
Stopped Diapason 8'        Open Diapason 8'
Lieblich Gedacht 8'        Clarabella 8'
Flute 4'                   Principal 4'
Clarionet 8'               Gamba 8'

Couplers                   Pedal:
Great to Pedal             Bourdon 16'
Swell to Great
Swell to Pedal

straight stop jambs
2 combination pedals
latch-down swell pedal


No.3 specification.

2 manuals 
30 note straight concave and radiating RCO or Willis pedals,
naturals in polished birch, sharps in solid walnut,
ivory keys and stop faces

Swell:                     Great:
Stopped Diapason 8'        Open Diapason 8'
Salicional 8'              Hohl Flute 8'
Clarionet 16'              Dulciana 8'
Clarion 4'                 Principal 4'

Couplers                   Pedal:
Great to Pedal             Bourdon 16'
Swell to Great             Posaune 16'
Swell to Pedal

straight stop jambs
double acting composition pedal to Great
crescendo swell pedal

Dimensions given for this one are 8'h x6'w x2'6''d. Weight 630lbs.

3MP ''Ideal'' Organ no.3

This specification was designed to meet the needs of a large church seating 700 people.

3 manuals 
30 note straight concave pedals

Swell:                      Great:
Open Diapason 8'            Double Open Diapason 16'
Hohl Flute 8'               Open Diapason 8'
Octave Flute 4'             Clarabella 8'
Viol d'Amour 8'             Gamba 8'
Contra Fagotto 16'          Violoncello 8'
Horn 8'                     Principal 4'
Clarionet 8'                Clarion 4'
Cornopean 8'                Trumpet 8'

Choir:                      Pedal:
Lieblich Bourdon 16'        Sub Bass 32'
Stopped Diapason 8'         Open Diapason 16'
Dulciana 8'                 Bourdon 16'
Clear Flute 4'              Trombone 16'
Oboe 8'                     Violoncello 8'
Bassoon 8'                  Bass Fluet 8'

Swell to Great
Swell to Pedal
Choir to Great
Choir to Pedal
Great to Pedal
Swell to Choir

one double acting composition pedal each to Swell, Choir and Pedal
crescendo swell pedal to Swell and Choir

A variant on Ideal No.3 2MP specification was published in Organist and Choirmaster Dec'1901 p182 as follows:

Swell:                     Great:           
Violin Diapason 8'         Open Diapason 8' 
Hohl Flote 8'              Clarabella 8'    
Flute 4'                   Principal 4'     
Clarinet 8'                Gamba 4'         
Couplers:                  Bourdon 16'      
Swell to Great             Posaune 16'      
Swell to Pedal
Great to Pedal

Tremulant, reversible composition acting on draw knobs, crescendo
swell pedal with swinging rod attachment, foot and hand blowers and
wind indicator.

Dimensions: height 6'6", width 5'8", depth 2'3". Suggested price: £60.

An Analysis of Stops in Sawyer Organs

The specifications and anecdotal evidence we have been given and collected allow a partial analysis of the stops with their diverse sounds and reeds which were developed by the Sawyer family.

The dates given are from the earliest specification that can be verified featuring this stop. Sawyer claimed to be able to voice 45 different free reed sounds, many of these are listed below. Customers could select from these stops for their individually-made organ.

Standard reeds and reed boards were used, although oversized reeds were also sometimes employed, most came from the USA. The standard methods of voicing, including twisting, bending and crimping of the reed tongues were applied with great subtlety. An extremely wide variety of tonal qualities could be achieved by this and other means, such as varying spacing between reeds of the rank, providing greater or less space into which the reed spoke, employment of reeds of various scales, the application of suction as well as pressure in the same instrument, and the use of two or more reed tongues per note. Qualifying tubes or resonating cavities of various sizes were also used. The bellows of Sawyer instruments were often patterned after that of the pipe organ and, in some larger ones, installations were placed remotely and blown by a water motor. Various wind pressures were used from 2-1/2'' WG to 15'' WG.

Stop name Year Description
Baryton 32' 1902 unusual 32' manual stop, top 49 notes
Contra Bourdon 32' '    
Double Open Diapason 16' 1902  
Bourdon 16' 1902  
Open Diapason 16' 1907  
Contra Gamba 16' 1907  
Contra Bourdon 16'    
Large Open Diapason 16'    
Violone 16'    
Open Diapason 8' 1902 with qualifying box
Large Open Diapason 8'    
Clarabella 8' 1902  
Clarionette 8' 1907  
Horn Diapason 8'    
Violin Diapason 8'    
Gamba 8' 1902  
Open Diapason 8' 1902  
Dulciana 8' 1910  
Hohl Flute 8' 1910  
Violoncello 8'    
Dulcit 8'    
Gedacht 8'    
Diapason 8'    
Open Flute 8'    
Principal 4' 1902 with qualifying box
Soft Flute 4' 1910  
Harmonic Flute 4' 1910?  
Gemshorn 4'    
Oboe Flute 4'    
Harmonic Piccolo 2'    
Fifteenth 2'    
Trumpet 8' 1902  
Hautbois 8'    
Musette 8'    
Clarion 4' 1902  
Octave Bassoon 4' 1902  
Bourdon 16' 1902  
Contra Gamba 16'    
Open Diapason 8' 1902  
Lieblich Gedacht 8' 1902  
Dulciana 8' 1902  
Gamba 8' 1907  
Flute 8' 1907  
Voix Celeste 8' 1910?  
Horn Diapason 8' 1910 wide cavities
Clarabella 8' 1910 wide cavities
Lieblich Bourdon 8' (?) 1910?  
Viole d'Orchestre 8' 1910?  
Stopped Diapason 8'    
Echo Gamba 8'    
Voix Seraphique 8'    
Roman Pipe 8'    
Violoncello 8'    
Hohl Flute 8'    
Lieblich Flute 4' 1902  
Concert Flute 4' 1902  
Octave Gamba 4' 1902  
Flute 4' 1910?  
Wald Flute 4' 1907  
Viola 4' 1907  
Flautina 4'    
Flautina 2' 1902  
Piccolo 2' 1902  
Contra Fagotto 16'    
Double Oboe 16' 1907  
Double Trumpet 16'    
Double Musette 16'    
Cornopean 8' 1902  
Bassoon 8' 1902  
Orchestral Oboe 8' 1907  
Oboe 8' 1910 wide cavities
Clarionet 8' 1910 wide cavities
Trumpet 8'    
Orchestral Oboe 8'    
Clarion 4' 1910 wide cavities
Cornet 4'    
Sub Bourdon 32'   large scale
Double Open Bass 32' 1902  
Double Open Diapason 16' 1902  
Bourdon 16' 1902 large scale
Stopped Bass 16' 1902  
Violone 16' 1902  
Pedal Open 16' 1907  
Double Diapason 16'    
Open Diapason 16'    
Stopped Diapason 16'    
Gedacht 16'    
Wood Flute 16'    
Violoncello 8' 1902  
Clarabella 8'    
Principal 8'    
Bass Flute 8'    
Violoncello 8' 1907  
Wood Flute 8'    
Flautina 4'    
Contra Trombone 32' 1902  
Posaune 16' 1910  
Trombone 16' 1907  
Bassoon 16'    
Double Trumpet 16'    
Trumpet 8' 1902  
Tromba 8'    
Double Diapason 16'    
Lieblich Bourdon 16' 1902 top 49 notes
Bourdon 16' 1902  
Double Dulciana 16'    
Keraulophon 8' 1902  
Clarabella 8' 1902  
Open Diapason 8'    
Stopped Diapason 8'    
Dulciana 8'    
Viol d'Amour 8'    
Vox Angelica 8'    
Vox Celeste 8'    
Viol Aetheria 8'    
Harmonic Flute 8'    
Salicional 8'    
Clear Flute 8'    
Viola 4' 1902  
Gemshorn 4' 1902  
Harmonic Flute 4' 1902  
Flauto Traverso 4'    
Gemshorn 4'    
Oboe Flute 4'    
Harmonic Flute 2' 1902  
Flautina 2'    
Double Oboe 16' 1902 top 49 notes
Bassoon 8'    
Harmonic Trumpet 8'    
Violin Diapason 8' 1902  
Harmonic Flute 8' 1902  
Voix Celeste 8' 1902 top 49 notes
Flute Celeste 4' 1902  
Wald Flute 4' 1902  
Double Bassoon 16' 1902  
Clarinet 16' 1902  
Oboe 8' 1902  
Orchestral Oboe 8' 1902  
Double Musette 16'    
Musette 8'    
Dulcet 8'    
Voix Seraphique 8'    

Rob Allan