Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: November 27, 2018
Webpage updated: November 27, 2018

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George Hele, the founder of Messrs Hele and Company Limited, organ builders, was born to Thomas Hele, a mason living in Dark Street Lane, Plympton Saint Mary, and his Irish wife, Honor.  George was baptised at Saint Mary's Church on September 11th 1836. By the time of the 1851 census, when the family were living in East Stonehouse, George had two younger brothers, John Hele and Thomas Hele, as well as two younger sisters, Mary Hele and Elizabeth Hele.

Nothing has been discovered about George's education but his first appointment as organist is said to have been in the early 1850s at the Anglican Church of Saint Aubyn, Devonport.  He married a Miss Mary Anne Calvert at the Anglican Church of Saint James the Great, Morice Town, Devonport, on June 12th 1859.

He was then appointed organist at the Anglican Church of Saint Paul, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, before returning to Devonport, where he became organist at the Anglican Church of Saint Michael, Stoke.  After that he was organist at the Anglican Church of Saint Mary, Plympton, and then at the Anglican Church of Saint Mary, Truro, in Cornwall, where he remained until 1870.  His business was in Saint Nicholas Street, Truro.

By 1867 he had opened a workshop at number 4 Saint Mary Street, East Stonehouse, but by 1870 had moved to number 5 Constantine Street, Plymouth, where 'a competent man was in charge', according to his advertising.  He had moved to Plymouth by 1872, where his daughters Edith Hele and Elise Hele were born.  In February 1874 his workshop was in Flora Street, Plymouth.  At the consecration of the Anglican Church of All Saints, Plymouth, in November 1874 the organist was his eldest son, 14-years-old Master George Hele.  In that same year Mr Hele senior was appointed organist at the Royal Dockyard Chapel, a post he was to hold for 45 years until his death.

In October 1875 the business was in the former Central Hall, on the Plymouth side of Manor Street.  It had moved from there to the former Workman's Hall at number 29 Wyndham Street East, near the Roman Catholic Cathedral, by December 1877.

At the time of the census in 1881 he and his family were living at 1 Westbury Terrace, North Road, Plymouth.  The family then consisted of 21-years-old George Hele, professor of music; 20-years-old John Calvert Hele, organ builder; daughters Margaret Hele, Lily Hele, Mary Hele; Edith Hele; Elise Hele and Rose Hele; and the youngest son, 5-years-old Charles Hele.

At the beginning of the 20th century, and certainly by 1905, the business finally settled into premises at Earl's Acre, Stoke, Devonport, and Mr Hele and his family moved in to number 4 Alma Villas, Stoke.

Mr George Hele senior, by now a widower, passed away at his home in Alma Villas on Sunday February 9th 1919.  The list of church organs his firm built, repaired, renovated or reconstructed reads like an ecclesiastical directory of the country.  Amongst them was a new organ for the Anglican Church of Saint Andrew, Plymouth, and the reconstruction of the organ for the Plymouth Guildhall.

Sadly, Mr Hele's eldest son, George Hele junior, was very ill at the time of his father's death and he only survived a further five weeks before he, too, passed away on March 18th 1919.  He was unmarried.

George Hele senior's second son, Mr John Calvert Hele, who had been born at Plympton Saint Mary in 1861, followed his older brother in to their father's business.  He married Miss Mary Annie Willing at the Anglican Church of Saint Michael the Archangel, Stoke, Devonport, on September 17th 1889.  He was  also followed in to the business by their two sons, John Kenneth Hele, born at 5 Mount Edgcumbe Terrace, Stoke, Devonport, on June 10th 1890 and baptised at Stoke Damerel Parish Church on July 6th 1890; and George Melvyn Hele, born at the same home on September 28th 1892 and baptised also at Stoke Damerel Parish Church on October 18th 1892.

The younger son married Miss Miss Elizabeth Jane Dunstan Richards on January 1923 at Stoke Damerel Parish Church.  The eldest son married Miss Maude Mary Rolf on October 11th 1928 at the Anglican Church of Emmanuel, Compton Gifford.

Mr John Kenneth Hele died first, in 1936, at the young age of 46 years.  He was followed in 1938 by Mr John Calvert Hele, and in 1953 by Mr George Melvyn Hele, who was 60 years of age.  Finally in 1959, at the grand age of 83 years, Mr George Hele senior's youngest son, Mr Charles Hele, passed away in Plymouth.

Although the Hele's workshop survived the Blitz, many of the Company's organs were lost when their churches were bombed.  After the War Messrs J W Walker and Sons Limited, organ builders, of London, took a controlling interest in Hele's in order to use the factory to boost their own production or organs.  This lasted for only a couple of years before they withdrew but one of their former employees, Mr Maurice Eglinton, took over and became General Manager.  Unfortunately thanks to declining business, in spite of its excellent reputation, the firm eventually had to sell the premises in Earl's Acre and move to a smaller site across the river at Saltash.  The market for large organs continued to decline and when Mr Eglinton retired in 2007 the business was taken over by The Midland Organ Company Limited, and currently trades as The Midland Organ, Hele and Company Limited, at Burton Lazard, in Leicestershire.

In concluding it should be mentioned that Mr George Hele's younger brother, John Hele (May 24th 1846-April 28th 1899), also an organ builder, became the Plymouth Borough Organist until his premature death.