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St Theresa’s Church Organ

Wayne Robertson Builders were project managers/carpenters for the installation of this beautiful organ for St Theresa’s Church.

St Theresa's Church Organ
St Theresa's Church organ installed by Wayne Robertson Builders

Wayne Robertson Builders were proudly the project managers/carpenters for the installation of the beautiful, historic church organ for St Theresa’s.

The organ was made in 1946 by Henry Willis & Sons Ltd from pipes retrieved from bomb-destroyed buildings in England during World War II.


The Blitz organ, as it has become known as, has a fascinating history.   

The story begins in Liverpool, England in 1899.

The Wallasey Town Hall instrument was originally built by Henry Willis and Sons in 1899 for the Royal Dublin Society’s Lecture Theatre and Concert Hall at Leinster House. It was built as a twin organ to the organ of Hove Town Hall (which is now in a private school).

In 1924 the organ was removed, as Leinster House was requisitioned by the government, and a new hall built. The architects wrote to Henry Willis in 1924 to ask for details regarding fitting the organ into the new building. However, that was after the hall was built and the space prepared was grossly inadequate for the organ which was then sold back to Henry Willis & Sons.

On the 19th of March 1926 a contract was signed to install the instrument in the Wallasey Town Hall, and there it remained until an air-raid bombing on 31 August 1940 ruined the hall and organ. The remains of the instrument were removed by Henry Willis & Sons and purchased for £25.

Wayne Robertson Building, Invercargill

Post-war in 1946, the Choir soundboard from the Wallasey organ was used as the basis of the instrument that came to be known as ‘The Blitz’. At that time there was an embargo on using new materials, so the instrument was constructed out of salvaged materials. The soundboard was divided into two sections to provide for the second manual and the key-action was changed from pneumatic to mechanical. It seems that the soundboard was put onto another building frame and action, with a very irregular and flimsy pedalboard. The 12 centre front pipes are shams. The 482 speaking pipes have been salvaged from organs by different makers and only two ranks have been positively identified as Willis pipework.

In 1950, David Glass an organist from Te Awamutu was visiting his brother in Liverpool and made contact with the Liverpool office of Henry Willis & Co about purchasing a pipe organ for the Te Awamutu Methodist Church.

The organ was imported into New Zealand but was held up by waterfront strikes both in England and New Zealand. It was erected by Mr G.S. Osborne of Auckland and was officially commissioned on June 25, 1951 in the Te Awamutu Methodist Church.

In 1981 the church voted to purchase a digital Allen organ, and in 1984 the pipe organ was sold to the South Island Organ Company.

Wayne Robertson Building, Invercargill

After sitting in storage for some years the organ was repaired and erected in the South Island Company factory in time for the 2010 NZ Organists’ Association Congress of that year.

In 2011 the organ was loaned to the church of St. Michael and All Angels in Christchurch as a stand-in instrument while their three manual organ was being repaired and restored after earthquake damage.

A group of interested organ music enthusiasts from the Invercargill area formed a committee in 2014 and raised enough funds to purchase the organ from the South Island Organ Company, with the intention of installing it in the choir loft of St Mary’s Basilica.    We acknowledge the generous support from the ILT Foundation and Community Trust South as well as many private donors, for this project.

Upon its return from St Michael and All Angels Church, the Blitz organ was rebuilt with a new pedalboard and casework designed by Zack Bennett.    Decorative elements from the Wallasey Hall were incorporated into the new casework design.

Due to the size of the organ, the only suitable location in St Mary’s Basilica was the choir loft.    However, the installation was deferred because earthquake strengthening rules were now more stringent and the cost of strengthening the choir loft had escalated.    As well as this issue, the main fund-raising channels had been affected by COVID-19 and were no longer available. Putting the project on hold permanently was not an option, so it was agreed to install the Blitz organ in this church – St Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church.   

Wayne Robertson Building, Invercargill