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Which Are The Best Consoles?

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Having played quite a wide variety of consoles, I wonder if we could collectively identify the best we have come across, but from different aspects.

 

I would suggest three main categories as a starter, as follows:-

 

1) The best design

 

2) The most ergonomic

 

3) The most beautiful

 

 

However, we also need sub-categories, because there are obvious differences in actual layout.

 

For example, there are conventional draw-stop consoles, less conventional draw-stop consoles (such as those by Norman & Beard with push-buttons below each horizontally disposed stop for "on"), ampitheatre style (Cavaille-Coll etc), horseshoe style, central european left side only stops/tabs, stop-key consoles, illuminated stop type consoles etc etc.

 

With all the primary listing categories, and the sub-categories, we could end up with thousands of answers. Perhaps we should each restrict ourselves to a favourite five, and then categorise them accordingly.

 

This way, we should be able to build up a picture of what a majority would prefer in a console.

 

I'll hold back for the moment, but I do have my favourites.

 

MM

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Guest Cynic
Having played quite a wide variety of consoles, I wonder if we could collectively identify the best we have come across, but from different aspects.

 

I would suggest three main categories as a starter, as follows:-

 

1) The best design

 

2) The most ergonomic

 

3) The most beautiful

However, we also need sub-categories, because there are obvious differences in actual layout.

 

For example, there are conventional draw-stop consoles, less conventional draw-stop consoles (such as those by Norman & Beard with push-buttons below each horizontally disposed stop for "on"), ampitheatre style (Cavaille-Coll etc), horseshoe style, central european left side only stops/tabs, stop-key consoles, illuminated stop type consoles etc etc.

 

With all the primary listing categories, and the sub-categories, we could end up with thousands of answers. Perhaps we should each restrict ourselves to a favourite five, and then categorise them accordingly.

 

This way, we should be able to build up a picture of what a majority would prefer in a console.

 

I'll hold back for the moment, but I do have my favourites.

 

MM

 

 

Good question. I'm sorry that my response rambles horribly!

 

Most ergonomic - HN&B consoles built between 1950 or so and 1980. With the addition of stepper buttons (more recently adopted), these were exceptionally comfortable pieces of furniture IMHO. They are run a close second by Harry Harrison's consoles 1910 onwards - a design which H&H were foolish to stop making. I understand that their (more-or-less) new console at St.David's had to be recreated because 'they'd lost the measurements and it had to be made to special order because it had stopped being standard'. I couldn't put my finger exactly upon what at St.David's is different but it is - to its detriment.

 

Particular features of the HN&B standard console praised above: manuals slightly closer to the pedal, pedal frame minimalised and slightly lifted at the back (i.e. heel playing position a little closer). Clear typefaces on well-grouped stops. Always compact. Swell pedals clearly labelled on centre bar. Toe piston sweeps are always set out logically. I agree with some who have commented about the pain caused by square pistons occasionally catching one's knuckles, but once again they were extremely clear and perhaps one shouldn't have been playing quite so close to them anyway!

 

Visually I like Willis III consoles, but have always found the stop-tab arrangement for the couplers more confusing when practice time is short. I have a strong preference for couplers being grouped with the departments they augment and placed at the bottom of the jamb.

 

I personally loathe organs where an otherwise attractive console on an honest old instrument built entirely of solid wood features cheapo plastic stopknobs.

Fashionable it may be, but (being a heretic already I feel able to speak out) I find terraced stop jambs attractive but annoying. A glance to locate a stop is never as quick - this often becomes a crane of the head and potential forgetting of the score! I heartily dislike black pistons engraved in white, but they are not as bad as blank piston heads without numbers of any kind! Engraving is (and has always been) pretty cheap so any organbuilder who cannot afford this is working down to a price not building something to be of maximum use and convenience.

 

On either an original or new tracker, vertical stopjambs seem to make sense. For an instrument of more than about twenty stops, some form of piston system is highly desirable. I appreciate one reason for not providing electric stop controls is that the organ may be built in pure historic style or for extreme longevity - if this high standard has been achieved, I struggle to register complex works with a lot more patience. Even so, quite a few tracker jobs of the last thirty years that claimed to be built to last haven't!

 

Least comfortable console in the UK upon which to register:

My two nominations: Cavaille-Coll at The Parr Hall Warrington and St.Gregory's RC Church, Cheltenham (organ by Sebastian Blank). On the latter, the Great appears on the left, Choir and Pedal on the right. Stops are upside down too. Sadly, these instruments sound wonderful, but they're just swines to control!

 

Most comfortable consoles:

Ellesmere College Chapel (as an example of HN&B's height of comfort) Coventry Cathedral (as an example of H&H at the top of their game).

 

Best thought-out piston layout:

Southwell Minster (Nicholson organ on the Quire Screen) In an improvement to the original situation, I gather Paul Hale has recently had the original black pistons changed for white.

 

Wasted space on a console:

St.Mary's Warwick.

 

Poorest place to put a console:

Southwark Cathedral

Anyone not familiar with this instrument, the organist hears this (fabulous) organ worse than anyone else in the building. Oh, and late too!

 

Most traps for the unwary:

Chester Cathedral viz.Tremulants on illuminated buttons, at least one stop on the Great does nothing like it says on the knob, black pistons with engraving full of grime.

 

Objects of beauty:

Liverpool Cathedral nave/recital console (built by David Wells) - but note that the general pistons cannot be reached while playing. They are a 'hand off keys, away for at least a quaver, arm's reach jobs'. I have to assume that this design is deliberate, not unconnected with The Professor's habit of using at least one assistant. I love the look and feel of H&H's revised console at Lichfield Cathedral (even if there is still no cat-swinging space in that loft).

 

 

PS I like there to be a house style that a builder develops and then sticks to, with very slight modification. It is a pleasure to sit down at an unchanged instrument and an unchanged console adds to that pleasure. Maybe that's why I like the Harry Harrison style of console - I've met it so many times that I always feel 'at home'.

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I agree with Cynic's observations.

 

For the sake of interest, which stop is incorrect on the G.O. at Chester Cathedral - and to what is it connected? I recall that, when Roger Fisher was in charge, this organ seemed to endure regular alterations; the G.O. in particular sufffered frequent changes. I also dislike the new (well, 1991) piston layout. There are far more than are needed and they utterly spoil the look of this formerly elegant console. I believe that the draw-stop heads, with their reeded edges are unique in a British cathedral. Even Roger Fisher acknowledged that, with the advent of sequencers, much of the combination system and accessories at Chester are now redundant.

 

Whilst I do like the HN&B consoles (if they have circular piston-heads and only draw-stops), my absolute preference is for H&H consoles - the 'proper' vintage design; although I also like those with the curved stop jambs.

 

I always wondered why Downes (or HN&:rolleyes: felt that the stop layout on the RH jamb at Gloucester had to reflect the west - east layout of three of the departments. It is not difficult to remember where the Choir Organ or the West Positive (!) are situated and the present layout I find visually unsatisfactory, with the largest group of stops in the middle of the jamb, flanked by two rather smaller groups.

 

I further agree regarding the console at Saint Mary's, Warwick. I found this to be one of the most unfriendly consoles I have ever had to use. The daft wooden stop- and piston-heads, with a selection of cream, red and (I believe) even blue or green engraving are hard to read in bad light - or at a cursory glance.

 

I must admit that I do not like the positions of the General pistons on the organ consoles at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. I always prefer to take care of my own registrations if at all possible. One never quite knows what a registrant will do. I observed one recital at Liverpool in which Ian Wells accidentally advanced the sequencer through two settings near the start of Whitlock's Fanfare (whilst leaning forwards to turn a page for Prof. T.) - which resulted in a less-than-impressive first 'Tuba' passage being played on the Choir flutes....

 

Under the category of 'Wasted space on a console', I also nominate the Nicholson organ in Saint Edmundsbury Cathedral, Suffolk. This console has four divisional panels on each jamb; although with careful planning, three would have sufficed, without overcrowding.

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Come and play some old organs in Holland; then 'judge' again.

 

Try ie. playing a organ by Smits, where you can't move the bench backwards (because of the fake rugwerk) at my 1.92m length ...

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Come and play some old organs in Holland; then 'judge' again.

 

Try ie. playing a organ by Smits, where you can't move the bench backwards (because of the fake rugwerk) at my 1.92m length ...

 

Yes - I can imagine that this would be unhelpful. Still , it is a question of what one is used to.

 

How comfortable is the console at Sint Bavo, Haarlem? That on the restored organ in the Westerkerk, Amsterdam looks to be fairly user-friendly, with its shiny gold-brassy stop-heads.

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Guest Cynic
Yes - I can imagine that this would be unhelpful. Still , it is a question of what one is used to.

 

How comfortable is the console at Sint Bavo, Haarlem? That on the restored organ in the Westerkerk, Amsterdam looks to be fairly user-friendly, with its shiny gold-brassy stop-heads.

 

 

I remember both those Dutch organs to be perfectly comfortable, even to someone as nutritionally-gifted as myself - big works require assistants/assistance, of course, but there's no problem otherwise.

 

You have reminded me of the Gloucester console, an unwise move! Where has anyone, ever, seen a worse planning bodge than there? I refer to the double key cheeks at the treble end of each of the four manuals*. The only logical explanation I can think of is that HN&B were expecting to be putting in 61 note manuals and had to change after most of the console was made. Even then, it would have been much better to put a small filling piece either side of the 58-note manuals rather than a lump of nearly three inches extra on the right hand side. In my experience, HN&B only messed up this one console, whereas IMHO they messed up a long succession of organs internally (examples given upon request). I quite liked their 'new' organs, but that's a different thing entirely.

 

 

*yes folks, not even one wide key cheek as in grand pianos, but literally two cheeks at the treble end of each manual, side by side!

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Oh yes, I had forgotten this. It does look rather silly.

 

Every time I play this organ, I bang my right knee on some structural piece of wood below the key desk. Even DJB did it a few times. The problem is, at Gloucester, everyone can still hear the hissed violent exclamation of pain about eight seconds later.

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I agree with pcnd that Harrison consoles are by far the best. I have yet to play an uncomfortable one, modern or old. The very best in my view is St George's, Windsor, which is so ergonomically perfect that it is almost impossible to play a wrong note. It shares this characteristic with Coventry, of course, but where Windsor scores over its sister is in the arrangement of the stop knobs. These are laid out in such a way that virtually any two- or three-stop combination you might want can be pulled in a single draw, be it the Gt diaps 8', 4', 2' (based on no.2), the Gt flutes 8', 4', 2', the pedal diap chorus, the loud pedal reeds, the secondary pedal reed chorus and so on. If you needed a fourth stop as well, it always seemed to involve almost no extra hand movement. I remarked on this near miracle of design to Sidney Campbell, who simply said, "Yes, I designed it like that."

 

This was many decades ago, but I trust things haven't changed in the interim.

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I agree with pcnd that Harrison consoles are by far the best. I have yet to play an uncomfortable one, modern or old.

 

St Albans Cathedral and The Colston Hall Bristol are a joy to play too.

 

AJJ

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I agree with pcnd that Harrison consoles are by far the best. I have yet to play an uncomfortable one, modern or old. The very best in my view is St George's, Windsor, which is so ergonomically perfect that it is almost impossible to play a wrong note. It shares this characteristic with Coventry, of course, but where Windsor scores over its sister is in the arrangement of the stop knobs. These are laid out in such a way that virtually any two- or three-stop combination you might want can be pulled in a single draw, be it the Gt diaps 8', 4', 2' (based on no.2), the Gt flutes 8', 4', 2', the pedal diap chorus, the loud pedal reeds, the secondary pedal reed chorus and so on. If you needed a fourth stop as well, it always seemed to involve almost no extra hand movement. I remarked on this near miracle of design to Sidney Campbell, who simply said, "Yes, I designed it like that."

 

This was many decades ago, but I trust things haven't changed in the interim.

 

Absolutely, Vox.

 

The other advantage that Saint George's, Windsor has over Coventry Cathedral is that the console does not smell of Jersey cow....

 

It is a while since I played the instrument at Windsor, but I do not remember it being in any way uncomfortable; however, I do know that Coventry has, without doubt, the most comfortable pedal board I have ever played.

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Guest Cynic
I agree with Cynic's observations.

 

For the sake of interest, which stop is incorrect on the G.O. at Chester Cathedral - and to what is it connected?

 

snip

 

I only sat at the console for the duration of one piece last May, having known the organ fairly well some years ago, working on a few lunchtime recitals and an Amphion CD.

 

I can only give you a best guess: I drew stops last May that ought to have been good, but they sounded very peculiar. Mentioning to someone standing by me that I seemed to have a prominent 16' from somewhere that I knew I hadn't drawn, I was told, 'Ah the Great 16' metal is called something else'. Not something useful like an actual speaking stop, of course!! I think it's actually labelled 'Great and Pedal Combinations Coupled', but this is just my best guess with a fading brain and a middle-aged memory. The interesting thing is, Roger Fisher was pretty well long gone by this time, so if he changed this stop round, his successors have left it un-re-named (what a terrible word!) for a good while since.

 

Richard McVeigh is the man to tell us what the situation really is.

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You have reminded me of the Gloucester console, an unwise move! Where has anyone, ever, seen a worse planning bodge than there? I refer to the double key cheeks at the treble end of each of the four manuals*. The only logical explanation I can think of is that HN&B were expecting to be putting in 61 note manuals and had to change after most of the console was made. Even then, it would have been much better to put a small filling piece either side of the 58-note manuals rather than a lump of nearly three inches extra on the right hand side. In my experience, HN&B only messed up this one console, whereas IMHO they messed up a long succession of organs internally (examples given upon request). I quite liked their 'new' organs, but that's a different thing entirely.

 

I was told many years ago that HN&B already had a 61 note console chasis in stock so it was cheaper to use that with a small bodge to accomodate the 58 notes than build a new one! (I was also told that a space was left on the old console jambs so the 32 foot wood could be put back when Downes died - too bad it was disposed of too soon)

 

As the Liverpool Anglican mobile console has been mentioned what do people think about the new St Paul's London mobile console layout?

 

Should there be a category for futuristic consoles; I would like to nominate Matthew Copley's Oxford job with the lift buttons as stops.

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Having played quite a wide variety of consoles, I wonder if we could collectively identify the best we have come across, but from different aspects.

 

I would suggest three main categories as a starter, as follows:-

 

1) The best design

 

2) The most ergonomic

 

3) The most beautiful

However, we also need sub-categories, because there are obvious differences in actual layout.

 

For example, there are conventional draw-stop consoles, less conventional draw-stop consoles (such as those by Norman & Beard with push-buttons below each horizontally disposed stop for "on"), ampitheatre style (Cavaille-Coll etc), horseshoe style, central european left side only stops/tabs, stop-key consoles, illuminated stop type consoles etc etc.

 

With all the primary listing categories, and the sub-categories, we could end up with thousands of answers. Perhaps we should each restrict ourselves to a favourite five, and then categorise them accordingly.

 

This way, we should be able to build up a picture of what a majority would prefer in a console.

 

I'll hold back for the moment, but I do have my favourites.

 

MM

 

 

================================

 

 

I may have a slight advantage over some, in that I've been to America and played some stupendous organs. If the English school of Harry/Arthur /Cuthbert Harrison has a peer, then it has to be some of the fabulously elegant and opulent consoles by Skinner and Aeolian-Skinner. One I have always admired is the huge console of the Newberry Memorial organ at Yale, which really is a beautiful piece of furniture apart from anything else. The same goes for the Virgil Fox console at Riverside Church, New York. Of course, as both elegant and spectacular pieces of design, some of the really big Wurlitzer consoles are not only showy, they are actually very, very beautiful, extremely comfortable (apart from the AGO pedal spacing) and superbly ergonomic.

 

I quite agree with Cynic about H, N & B consoles. My only qualm about Bradford Cathedral (as a good example of the style) is the lightness of the pedal-springs, which I used to find disconcerting after playing weighter items elsewhere. However, they are comfortable beyond belief in every other way, and possibly even better than their Harrison counterparts. I personally like the square-pistons, but more as an aesthetic feature. I would also point out that the same company made some extremely fine stop-key, semi-horshoe style consoles.

 

My verdict for "best" user-friendly consoles would, I think, go to H,N & B (after 1950), with Aeolian-Skinner and Harrison at equal-second.

 

For sheer aesthetic delight, I must confess a certain fondness for the use of waxed-wood and 21st century styling in certain central-european organs; especially in Hungary, (Aquincum and Pecs organ-builders), as well as a new organ somewhere (I forget exactly where) by Sauer, with terraced stops and elegant use of materials.

 

For sheer originality and space-age design, the Porsche-studio designed console (Stuttgart?) takes some beating. It really is a wonderfully imaginitaive approach to aesthetics and ergonomics.

 

Of the old organs, I think it would be difficult to pin-point a top-favourite, but the care taken in the making of the old Michael Engler console at St.Moritz, Olomouc in the Czech Republic is quite extraordinary. The console is carved with fine detail, but the stop-jambs are in what looks like burr-walnut with marquetried inlays. The same care and detail is eident at Weingarten, as well as many other truly beautiful antique instruments across europe.

 

In the category of worst-consoles, I suspect that the old Norman & Beard (circa 1910?) ones were somewhere near the bottom. I never saw the point of having stops so close together that it was impossible to pull them out. Beneath each was a push-button which did that, but it was easy to cancel the stop at the stop-head. This made for a double trajectory hand-action, either with a single-finger for the button, or the back of the fingers to push the stops in. It was like playing an old Remington typewriter in a hurry, but like anything else, people got used to them. Not a great piece of design, and rather "clever" for the sake of it.

 

MM

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I was told many years ago that HN&B already had a 61 note console chasis in stock so it was cheaper to use that with a small bodge to accomodate the 58 notes than build a new one! (I was also told that a space was left on the old console jambs so the 32 foot wood could be put back when Downes died - too bad it was disposed of too soon)

 

I have also heard this - but I suspect that it is apocryphal, since each jamb is constructed of individual divisional panels, the outer two being at slightly different angles (possibly a cheap way of imitating curved jambs). There was certainly room on the Pedal jamb to add further stops (which is where the new Pedal Organ stops have been placed). However, there was also room on the coupler jamb, the West Positive jamb and the Choir Organ jamb.

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Guest Cynic
================================

snip

 

I quite agree with Cynic about H, N & B consoles. My only qualm about Bradford Cathedral (as a good example of the style) is the lightness of the pedal-springs, which I used to find disconcerting after playing weighter items elsewhere. However, they are comfortable beyond belief in every other way, and possibly even better than their Harrison counterparts. I personally like the square-pistons, but more as an aesthetic feature. I would also point out that the same company made some extremely fine stop-key, semi-horshoe style consoles.

 

 

 

snip

 

MM

 

 

If any reader has a problem with a light pedal spring on a HN&B console such as described here, these can usually be very quickly remedied because unlike most firms' designs, the method HN&B used was a spring steel plate at the tail (i.e. heel end) of the key. These are held over a pivot point, so all you have to do to get a firmer feel is tighten the back screw.

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If any reader has a problem with a light pedal spring on a HN&B console such as described here, these can usually be very quickly remedied because unlike most firms' designs, the method HN&B used was a spring steel plate at the tail (i.e. heel end) of the key. These are held over a pivot point, so all you have to do to get a firmer feel is tighten the back screw.

 

Yes, but like Compton pedalboards hinged this way, I have found that over a few months use they all work loose again! B)

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Firstly I must express my lack of knowledge in these parts, as I haven't played many of the cathedral organs around the country, or anywhere for that matter! But I must express my preference for drawknobs over stop tabs or the like. Firstly they are much more asthetically pleasing, and secondly, I find them easier to use. I don't know why this is, perhaps its the feeling you get when yanking out that 32' bombarde for the last chord! Ooh, spine tingling!

 

Anyway, seeing as I haven't played a huge amount, I can't really say which are the best to play. However, having seen a good many, the one that I think is just breathtaking in looks is the console for the Father Willis organ in the long Library at Blenheim Palace. I think it is just amazing!

 

Kind Regards,

 

Richard

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For the sake of interest, which stop is incorrect on the G.O. at Chester Cathedral - and to what is it connected?

 

I only sat at the console for the duration of one piece last May, having known the organ fairly well some years ago, working on a few lunchtime recitals and an Amphion CD.

 

Paul D, you are correct (as ususl). At Chester Cathedal, the stop marked 'Gt & Ped Cbs' actually controls the Gt Double Open. There are also some changes which I can't remember offhand. When I played there for a day of sevices a couple of years ago, I (perhaps rather presumptiously) updated the NPOR survey and indicated the post 197(3?) changes. In some cases, the stop knops are incorrect, in others, the stop names have been overwritten in felt-tip pen...! as far as I can recall, the only alteration that has included a re-engraved/new stop knob is the Ped Dulciana (duplexed from the Ch).

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For the sake of interest, which stop is incorrect on the G.O. at Chester Cathedral - and to what is it connected?

 

I only sat at the console for the duration of one piece last May, having known the organ fairly well some years ago, working on a few lunchtime recitals and an Amphion CD.

 

Paul D, you are correct (as ususl). At Chester Cathedal, the stop marked 'Gt & Ped Cbs' actually controls the Gt Double Open. There are also some changes which I can't remember offhand. When I played there for a day of sevices a couple of years ago, I (perhaps rather presumptiously) updated the NPOR survey and indicated the post 197(3?) changes. In some cases, the stop knops are incorrect, in others, the stop names have been overwritten in felt-tip pen...! as far as I can recall, the only alteration that has included a re-engraved/new stop knob is the Ped Dulciana (duplexed from the Ch).

 

I have just looked at the latest survey on the NPOR site. It now appears to be even worse. I cannot imagine why yet more ranks have been removed from most of the mixtures, particularly those of the G.O.

 

Perhaps the time is now ripe for a sympathetic builder to restore this instrument to a state rather closer to the old Whiteley/Gray & Davison/Hill organ of 1910. Clearly it does not work tonally at the moment - there have been a large number of changes since the (arguably) disastrous rebuild in 1969 - 70.

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For sheer originality and space-age design, the Porsche-studio designed console (Stuttgart?) takes some beating. It really is a wonderfully imaginitaive approach to aesthetics and ergonomics.

MM

It's the Nickolaikirche, Leipzig (one of JSB's churches). It is a truly stunning yet simple console see here and here

 

For the perfect combination of luxury and elegance, I love Fisk's horseshoe consoles, such as at St James's, Richmond, VA. Can't find any close-ups on the web but Rice University is similar (tho bigger).

 

I agree with all above about HN&B consoles - I spent my formative years at Bolton Parish Church, where the Hill/HNB has a beautifully comfortable console of similar vintage to Selby Abbey.

 

IFB

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It's the Nickolaikirche, Leipzig (one of JSB's churches). It is a truly stunning yet simple console see here and here

 

For the perfect combination of luxury and elegance, I love Fisk's horseshoe consoles, such as at St James's, Richmond, VA. Can't find any close-ups on the web but Rice University is similar (tho bigger).

 

I agree with all above about HN&B consoles - I spent my formative years at Bolton Parish Church, where the Hill/HNB has a beautifully comfortable console of similar vintage to Selby Abbey.

 

IFB

 

The 'Porsche' console looks beautiful, ergonomically pleasing and very comfortable. I look forward to watching Jeremy Clarkson test-drive it on the new season's Top Gear.

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The 'Porsche' console looks beautiful, ergonomically pleasing and very comfortable. I look forward to watching Jeremy Clarkson test-drive it on the new season's Top Gear.

More Hammond's league, I think. Clarkson's not a Porsche fan B)

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The 'Porsche' console looks beautiful, ergonomically pleasing and very comfortable. I look forward to watching Jeremy Clarkson test-drive it on the new season's Top Gear.

Perhaps with Barbara Dennerlein as the "star in the reasonably priced car"?

JC B)

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Perhaps with Barbara Dennerlein as the "star in the reasonably priced car"?

JC ;)

I can just imagine the interview with a drooling Clarkson... it'd be like Ellen Macarthur and Helen Mirren rolled into one :rolleyes:

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I can just imagine the interview with a drooling Clarkson... it'd be like Ellen Macarthur and Helen Mirren rolled into one :rolleyes:

 

Well, just as long as he has a steam iron for the Helen Mirren part....

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