Liverpool’s Blue Coat School secures Lottery cash towards organ restoration project

Rare ‘Father Willis’ organ was installed at the school’s original city centre site in 1874 before being moved to its current home in Wavertree. Eventual aim is to give public access to the school for concerts and events

Blue Coat School
Rare ‘Father Willis’ organ was installed at Blue Coat school’s original city centre site in 1874


The Liverpool Blue Coat School has secured a £17,800 Heritage Lottery Fund initial grant for a project which aims to restore its rare ‘Father Willis organ’ that dates back to 1874.

Called Blue Coat: For All, the project eventual aim is to give public access to the school for concerts and events. The grant will also pay for preserving the school’s archive and its public access. 

The Wavertree school must raise a further £25,000 itself towards the appeal through donations and direct fundraising.

The Father Willis organ will be the prominent centrepiece of a wider major restoration of the school’s 1906-built assembly hall, named Shirley Hall, after a former trustee and benefactor WH Shirley.      

The museum-quality organ was originally installed in the original Liverpool Blue Coat School building (now the Bluecoat Arts Centre) in Liverpool city centre, during 1874, and was moved to the school’s current Grade II-listed premises. 

The organ is a rare school chapel instrument, made even rarer by being in a state school (and would have been heard by John Lennon’s father Alfred, ex-pupil, 1921-4), but the restoration project is far more than simply preserving the past.

In a separate initiative to expand use of the restored Father Willis organ, the school proposes a Blue Coat Organ Scholarship for both pupils and external students using the school’s Willis organ and both Liverpool Cathedral and Liverpool RC Metropolitan organs.

This would offer an unsurpassed training at a national level and also help address the national shortage of organists plus boost the number of female players. The organ scholarship will reinforce the city’s premier place on the classical music map.

Blue Coat school
The Blue Coat Father Willis organ would have been in regular use back in the 19th century


Blue Coat, which is a non-fee paying state grammar school, will appoint 50 community volunteers, drawn from areas such as primary school staff, local community groups, local residents, students, former students and students’ parents, to fulfil the Heritage Lottery Funds community out-reach objectives.

In addition, five Blue Coat Ambassadors will be appointed to promote the Blue Coat: For All project within their own fields of professional expertise.  A new member of staff has been recruited for the project – Peter Elson, who has extensive experience working in the media, both nationally and locally.

Blue Coat headteacher Mike Pennington sad: “The project, thanks to the backing of the Heritage Lottery Fund, is one of the most exciting and dynamic we have launched in many years.

“We shall not only be able to restore the Father Willis organ, which is a rare instrument of museum quality, but also use it as a spring-board to expand into an entirely new public musical realm, by bringing in the community to enjoy concerts at the Blue Coat School.

To volunteer or for further information about the project, contact Peter Elson at or on 0151 733 1407 ext. 207.

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