Forster and Andrews - a brief history

The new catalogue of the Forster and Andrews Organ Builders collection is now available to view via our online catalogue! Although the catalogue previously existed it has been edited and revamped to make the collection as accessible as possible. The collection holds a wealth of information, giving insight into the work of Forster and Andrews, which built, maintained and repaired organs for customers locally, nationally and overseas.

Background to Forster and Andrews
Organ, Hull City Hall (Ref L DBFA/6/4/50) The business opened in 1843 in the old Mechanics Institute on Charlotte Street (now George Street) by James Alderson Forster and Joseph King Andrews, who had met whilst serving their apprenticeships with J. C. Bishop in London. They began by cleaning and repairing existing organs but were soon commissioned to start work building their first organ. Shortly after this they began to advertise in the local newspapers (see L DBFA/4/3), they exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and in 1853 James Forster gave a talk on 'The Improvements in Organ Machinery' at a meeting of the British Association for Advancement of Science in Hull. The publicity was great for the business and by the late 1850s it is estimated that the company was employing nearly 30 people and by the late 1860s were building more than 30 new organs each year.

Forster and Andrews’ market was not restricted solely to the UK; installing organs in Africa, Central America and Australia (see organ lists held at L DBFA/4/2). As with its UK customers each organ was built in Hull and tested before being carefully dismantled, shipped and re-built. The factory at Charlotte Street which had always attracted visitors quickly reached its capacity. The firm expanded into a second premises on Dock Street and two timber yards on Lime Street where the timber was seasoned before it was used.  the early 1880s James Forster Junior (1847-1925) began taking a more leading role in the business, working in each department of the company as his father settled in London. Following the death of his father in 1886 he took over the direction of the firm alongside Joseph Andrews. In 1896 Joseph Andrews died leaving the firm to be run by James Forster Junior and his two sons Cyril and Ernest, who had also worked in the business for years. The following year saw the appointment of Philip H. Selfe as manager though he soon became a full partner and then in 1904 sole owner when James Forster Junior retired.

Charlotte Street Workshop (Ref L DBFA/6/3/5)

In the early 1900s the firm was receiving considerable business from overseas, though important commissions in Hull at this time included Queen's Hall, alterations to Holy Trinity in 1907, King's Hall and City Hall in 1908. This last commission attracted so much controversy that a public enquiry was held regarding the suitability of the proposed organ for the City Hall. The enquiry eventually found in-favour of the proposed organ and it was installed in March 1911.

Although a few organs were installed during the First World War the majority of work was given to cleaning and restoration as demand for new organs fell heavily. In 1924 the business was purchased by John Christie and Philip Selfe joined Hill, Norman and Beard until he retired in 1938. The decline in business saw the vacation of the Dock Street premises in 1925 as they moved to smaller workshops on St. Luke Street. Work continued to decline and in 1941 the St. Luke Street workshop was destroyed, along with the loss of many of the firm’s historical records. After the war only two staff remained, Matthew Cooper and Mr. A. Ernst, who continued to clean and repair instruments until 1956 when they retired and the business closed.