Thomas Christopher Lewis

T.C. Lewis

T.C. Lewis

T C Lewis was one of the most important and prolific organ builders working in England in the second half of the nineteenth century.  It is estimated that he produced around 600 instruments.  A well-connected Victorian entrepreneur, Lewis described himself, variously, as an architect, bell-founder, pianoforte maker and organ builder.

Lewis’s father, Thomas Archdeacon Lewis, was secretary to the Bishop of London, Charles Blomfield, whose nephew was the famous architect Arthur Blomfield.  There is some evidence to suggest that T C Lewis worked in Blomfield’s practice and it can be no coincidence that Blomfield later designed the organ case for Southwark Cathedral in 1897.

Lewis began trading as an organ builder around 1860.  In 1862 he visited the Inventions Exhibition, saw and liked the work of the architect John Francis Bentley (1839-1902) and the two struck up a friendship.  They collaborated over organ design (Bentley provided case designs for approximately forty Lewis organs), and probably also designed houses together.  We can confidently say that Lewis was the epitome of a Victorian entrepreneur with a keen eye for niche opportunities. It is almost certain that he opened offices as an architect in 1863 and it would appear that he divided his time between providing organs and undertaking architectural design work at what was a time of massive growth in the house building market.

Having inherited a large sum after his father’s death in 1862, Lewis set about developing his organ building business, moving to Shepherd’s Lane, Brixton in 1866, by which time he was trading as Thomas C Lewis & Co.  In 1876 his friend Bentley added an extension to the factory, and it was shortly after, in 1878 that Lewis began his work as a bell-founder.  The combination of his interests in architecture, bells, pianos and organs reflects Lewis’s identification of the opening up of new markets for artisan products during the second half of the nineteenth century.

One could not know Lewis all at once.  He was a big, heavy man, slow in movement and speech.  He had a lethargic and melancholy way of speaking, but when he was annoyed – and in spite of his slowness he was easily roused – he could be terrifying to nanyone who had angered him

From the 1870s Lewis’s organ building career took off, perhaps his first ambitious instrument was for St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Newcastle in 1869.  Large commissions followed: St Peter’s Eaton Square (1874), Glasgow Public Hall (1877), Ripon Cathedral (1878). The final decade of T C Lewis’s organ building work was perhaps some of his most important and that some of his finest instruments were produced including Southwark Cathedral (1897) and Kelvingrove Art Gallery (1901-2).

Source:  William McVicker