Stephen Bicknell (1957 - 2007)

Stephen Bicknell at TwyfordStephen Bicknell will be remembered as one of the leading commentators and historians on organs of the late 20th Century.

Educated at Winchester College and St. Chad's College, Durham, he joined N.P.Mander organ builders, London, in 1979. He formed a close relationship with Michael Gillingham, with whom he lodged for a number of years. He left Manders in the 1980s for the drawing office at J.W.Walker and Sons, where he worked closely with Andrew Pennells designing their new organs. Stephen professed to learn much about organ design from Andrew and they formed a prolific relationship. New organs for St.Martin the Fields, Oriel College Oxford, Carlisle Cathedral and many others flowed from this relationship.

After an unsuccessful management buy-out of Walkers in the late 80s, Stephen returned to work at Manders. As head of the design office, he was responsible for the designs of new organs for Chelmsford Cathedral, St John's College Chapel, Cambridge and, most famously, the organ of St Ignatius, Loyola in Manhattan, US. This organ was the largest mechanical action organ ever built by a British builder and brought great international acclaim to the firm.

Due to a period of illness, Stephen left full-time employment in organ building and started a new life as a writer and organ consultant. His book "The History of the British Organ" won the Nicholas Bessaraboff Prize in the United States for the best publication on musical instruments in 1996-7. He contributed articles to the magazine "Choir and Organ" where, in a series of articles, he demanded improvements to building standards. He forthrightly explained why some instruments considered to be exemplars (including some of his own instruments) could have been made far better.

During this time, Stephen worked as consultant on a number of organ projects, including Ruthin, St Giles in the Fields, London and Twyford.

After a period of further illness, Stephen left organ-building completely, including retiring reluctantly from the Twyford Organ project in February 2005. He started a new career at the Academy of Accounting Technicians, where he discovered the solidity and reassurance of a normal office life. He continued his interest in music, collecting and editing the keyboard music of John Keble.

The Twyford Organ project was able to entice Stephen out of his self-enforced retirement at the AAT to report on the finished organ by Harrison and Harrison in the summer of 2006. He reported that the organ had "the most commandingly impressive musical result" and that "the musical simulacrum of genuine Walker tonality was quite uncanny and in every respect convincing". He described the Twyford organ project as the happiest he had worked on and the one with which he was most satisfied with the results.

Unfortunately, barely a year later, Stephen was found dead at his home.

Twyford Parish Church - The Organ as reconstructed 2005-6 - Report by Stephen Bicknell

The Times Obituary

The Telegraph Obituary

The Independant Obituary

Stephen Bicknell's website