George Maydwell Holdich was the fourth son of the Reverend Thomas Holdich and his second wife Elizabeth (nee Maydwell). He was born on the 14th August 1816 in Maidwell Hall, Maidwell, Northamptonshire. His father, Thomas, was rector of the parish church, St Mary the Virgin. George attended Uppingham School from February 1829 until December 1832 after which it is said he went to Cambridge, although there is no record of this at the University. It is understood that George was intended to pursue a career in medicine.
However, he became apprenticed to the organ builder James Chapman Bishop of Marylebone and in 1837 started up in business by himself. In 1842 he moved to share a factory with another organ builder, Henry Bevington at 12 Greek Street, Soho. Running off Greek Street is Manette Street, described in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities as “… where church organs claim to made…”
The earliest Holdich organ that we know of is that at Southwick Northamptonshire Redenhall is also an early example as is All Saints’ Laxton, Northamptonshire the organ dating from c1843 and having connections with the Holdich family. The organ at Sparham, Norfolk is another early organ likely to be by Holdich and it was originally in a former school in Laxton.
Between 1848 and 1851 a fire destroyed the Greek Street factory and George moved to 4 Judd Place East, New Road, King’s Cross, which was renumbered and renamed 42 Euston Road in 1858.
In 1851 George built an organ for The Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, now in Wiveton. 1861 saw George build his magnum opus for Lichfield Cathedral – an organ of 52 stops. This organ was quite radical for its time, including a comprehensive pedal division of which the cathedral organist, Samuel Spofforth, observed “You may put them there, but I shall never use them!” Sadly, little of this organ survives at Lichfield. A lot of one of George’s later organs, of 1882 with four manuals, remains at Christchurch St Leonards on Sea; 32 of 41 Holdich stops remain, mostly on their original upper boards.
George remained in the Euston Road factory until 1866 when the site was acquired by the Midland Railway Company, and so he moved to 24 Park Place West, Liverpool Road, again renumbered to become 261 Liverpool Road, Islington in 1869. It was from this factory that he built the Hinckley URC organ in 1867, although of course its original destination was much closer to home – Union Chapel, Islington. It was planned to move this organ to the new chapel, but George seems to have objected to the proposed site. George removed the organ and in 1878 installed it at the Borough Congregation Church, Hinckley.
George built well over 400 organs during his career, including one for the English Cathedral on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, as well as instruments for South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India and Mauritius. His organs were generally conservative, certainly from a tonal perspective, but as indicated by the Lichfield instrument, at times he could also be forward-looking – he introduced a type of octave-coupler called a Diaocton.
While not as famous as the likes of Hill or Willis, George nonetheless enjoys a reputation for building fine Victorian organs. Many of his smaller works survive, particularly in East Anglian rural churches. George retired on 10th January 1894 and his business was sold to the organ builder Eustace Ingram. The business traded from the same premises for a while under the name of Holdich & Ingram before being sold to Gray & Davison. On his retirement George lived in a nursing home at Forest Hill where he died on the 30th July 1896 aged 79. He never married. No records of his business have been found; his photograph, as shown above, Is the only known example.
Throughout his 57 years as an organ builder he occupied a succession of London addresses. Chronologically they were:
- Bishops Wall, Lambeth
- 12 Greek Street, Soho
- 4 Judd Place East, New Road (later renamed 42 Euston Road)
- 24 Park Place West (later renamed 361 Liverpool Road, Islington)
George was buried on the 1st August 1896 in Ladywell Cemetery, Lewisham, London.