Sound of Yorkshire wafts over Washington on inauguration day

The music that wafts above Washington on Wednesday as the new President takes the oath of office may have a distinctly Yorkshire ring to it.

George Fowler cutting pipes out from 50/50 tin and lead sheet spotted metal. Picture: Tony Johnson
George Fowler cutting pipes out from 50/50 tin and lead sheet spotted metal. Picture: Tony Johnson

For although it will be less than a footnote to the day’s events, it was made possible in part by a company at an old guttering factory in Leeds having literally pulled out the stops.

The inauguration on Capitol Hill will be the first since the installation of a vast new ecclesiastical organ there, within the so-called House Church next to the House of Representatives.

It was commissioned from an organ builder in Massachusetts, but for its voice the designers looked across the Atlantic.

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Terry Doyle at Shires Organ Pipes in Bramley, rounding out a 16ft reed pipe. Picture: Tony Johnson

At Spence Mills in Bramley, Terry Shires and his team of six turned out the 2,599 metal pipes by hand, using tradesmen’s tools almost as old as the Capitol itself. Some of the pipes are just as high as a pencil; others 18 feet tall.

Mr Shires, who missed the dedication service, will be keeping an ear to next week’s TV coverage.

“We were invited over to see it but we’d have had to finance it ourselves and we were way too busy,” he said.

His 22-year-old company is one of the few making reed pipes in the traditional fashion, from lead and tin alloy.

Its work can be heard in the restored organs at Westminster Abbey and Liverpool Cathedral, and in a new instrument at Worcester Cathedral.

“It’s quite fitting in a way, because when Spence Mills was built, they made guttering and roof flashing from lead. So we’re carrying on a tradition,” he said.

His firm got the contract for the organ at the House Church – officially the Roman Catholic parish of St Peter – through a contact in Massachusetts.

“Around half of our work now goes overseas, and most to the US and some to Japan, where they’re installed in churches for Western-style marriages,” he said. “In this case, the managing director at the main contractor used to work in London and he’d heard of us.

“There are quite a few pipe builders still in active in America but they like the quality we produce over here.”

The secret, he said, lies in having made no concessions to modernity.

“Everything from our workshop is hand made – there are no machines whatsoever. It’s all hand beaten and , hand soldered.”

The tools with which they are honed – long since out of production – have been passed down through the generations and still bear the names of their original owners.

“I love that there is a link to the pipe makers of long ago who stamped their names on our tools,” he said. “I feel almost as if I know them.”

He set up Shires Organ Pipes originally from his garage after leaving the old-established pipe making firm of FJ Rogers, also in Leeds. When they ceased trading, he took on their remaining staff. Seven years ago his son, Chris, joined the business and will one day take it over.

The Washington job represented six months of man hours, and once the pipes had been shipped across the Atlantic, it took craftsmen more than a month to install them.

The completed instrument weighs nearly 20,000lbs and contains about 5,000 moving parts. Unusually, it was required to be “earthquake proof”, as a result of its predecessor having borne the brunt of a falling plaster wall during the tremor that shook the city in 2001. That organ, which had been in place since 1940, began to rot from the inside following the damage.

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