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Simon Walker

Organ Mistakes: The Shortest living organs

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Quote Cynic

 

"I think a new topic is needed - we should attempt to list the recent seriously short-lived 'mistake' organs. I'll venture one of mine (in a show of humility) if someone else starts it."

 

I'll take you up on this offer - Lets have a discussion about the shortest living organs - ie. organs built relatively recently which now no longer exist, for whatever reason. What went wrong? Let's try not to name builders please and keep this potentially uncomfortable subject professional...

 

Cynic mentioned the 1987 organ at St. Peters College Oxford which was succeeded by its eminent Willis built predecessor which they never removed. I believe the 1980 organ for St. Leonard, Heston, London was removed to be broken in 2003 according to the NPOR - does anyone else know anything about this surprisingly short lived instrument.?

 

One of the worst instruments I've ever had my hands on was the one recently replaced at Trinity Hall College Cambridge, though I believe it still exists... quite why anyone would have wanted it I don't know.

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Guest Cynic

Having promised to contribute, I will tell a humbling tale here.

 

I am a fine one to talk about failed organs. I know about failed organs, I installed one.

About ten years ago now, I had a visit from the vicar and a friend from Hay-on-Wye. I had built a large practice-organ in sheds above my Gloucestershire home. It was a make-do-and-mend job, something so I could note-bash at home and enjoy myself. It was huge - more than 60 ranks at the time - on three manuals and five manual divisions. Anyway, they were impressed.

 

I was told how useless the organ at H-o-W was - a 1920s HN&B extension organ complete with Diaphonic 16' Open Diapason. I was invited to try to find them a redundant organ. I was told the congregation was very small and they had practically no money. A year or two went by - it was a difficult problem to solve for them, because the site offered only restricted height. The organ had to be in a West gallery, headroom of which is 12' at most at the front, decreasing as you go back. Your standard tracker jobs need height, so by implication the obvious solution was to install something on electric action with a detached console.

 

A friend drew my attention to a redundant 2-manual Bevington, rebuilt by HN&B in a former Asylum Chapel near Woking. I took the vicar to see it. The mains supply was off, but we could see rank after rank of excellent pipework, and a grand specification within about 18/20 stops. The action was pneumatic and - here's the problem, I assumed that I could effectively electrify it.

 

So I bought this organ from the developer, took it down, transported all the parts to Wales, hauled it all into the church gallery and then found them a spare detached console. I installed a temporary one-manual to serve them while the upstairs work was going in. All this at my own cost. I drew up a scheme which the vicar approved and an arrangement whereby I would get the thing playing and they would pay me over a period of three years.

 

The work was tough, that headroom problem meant that chests had to go pretty close to the floor, but I got it all in. It did mean that when I wanted to do anything with action, I was lying on my back on the floor with little room to move. I weigh 20 stone or thereabouts. No fun at all.

Anyway, it fairly soon played - and considering what it was, it sounded very well. The end spec is here

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=E00960

Musically speaking, I still believe I did them a good job.

 

We had an opening recital (Paul Hale) and then my troubles really started. They didn't want to pay for it. Because I had paid for everything myself, helpers, materials, a new blower, a Trombone and a [haskelled] 16' open metal for the pedal, transport - a load of transport - my own fuel to H-o-W more than 80 times..... I had to get paid. When they complained that the action was still not quite right I did not feel like spending more time on it. To bring the story to a speedy conclusion, when there was a change of organist, the incomer did not want this (still not completely paid for) instrument a report was commissioned from a famous name in the organ world and the organ was condemned. Essentially I had to buy it back and take it away or risk taking the matter to court. A number of kind people said they would assist my case, even act as alternative opinion on the quality of the work, but in the end there was too much at stake.

 

The folks at H-o-W now have a splendid organ but it has cost them nearly ten times as much. I am delighted for them, but.......

 

the moral of this story is

'Charge a proper rate and you stand a chance of supplying proper work.'

[New pull-down solenoids would have worked, I just couldn't afford them.]

 

There might be a second moral

'If you do a favour for friends, make sure they really are friends'.

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Can anyone beat the unfortunate Compton rebuild of the Binns at Selby Abbey which burnt down only three weeks after it was finished?

 

http://www.mander-organs.com/discussion/in...amp;#entry11995

 

Notably he didn't get to install its replacement - I wonder if it was disappointment by Compton at the thought of replacing something that he had only just completed, or dissatisfaction of the organ by the authorities?

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Can anyone beat the unfortunate Compton rebuild of the Binns at Selby Abbey which burnt down only three weeks after it was finished?

 

There must be something about the 3 week time period. According to the NPOR the organ at Alexandra Palace was an 1873 Father Willis London. First Organ: destroyed by fire, with the Palace, three weeks after being opened;

However F-W did get to build it again in 1875 Father Willis London.

Second Organ: built to a specification very similar to that of 1873;

increased Manual and Pedal compass (originally 58/30); and to the Swell and Great mixtures described in the stop list.

 

PJW

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Having promised to contribute, I will tell a humbling tale here.

 

This is a really sad story Mr Cynic! I have seen an organ you put together with very limited resources at the home of a mutual friend in Cheshire which is surprisingly successful for what it is. I know you're a very competent organ builder, so this must have been a terrible kick in the teeth for you.

 

Was it the case that after things started to go wrong they wouldn't let you put it right? It sounds as though they treated you like you were building a brand new instrument for them, when they surely should have known that it was a second hand job and some problems of this kind was always a risk (just like buying a restored classic car for example - you can never bank on a 100% successful restoration unless even with the best firms for all sorts of reasons...) To have paid you nothing for it and not ever paid for your fuel expenses/labour just sounds criminal. How would you have redone the electric action had you been given the opportunity? I assume you thought the instrument could be saved.

 

It seems ironic that the church employed you to get an organ at very modest cost, but in the end they managed to afford the splendid replacement you speak of! (there are no details of the replacement instrument on the NPOR so I have no idea what it is...)

 

PS - Out of interest, in contrast with the current discussion about the vandalized organ thrown into a skip in America - what have you done / plan to do with the remains?

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It seems ironic that the church employed you to get an organ at very modest cost, but in the end they managed to afford the splendid replacement you speak of! (there are no details of the replacement instrument on the NPOR so I have no idea what it is...)

 

The replacement is a secondhand Bevington (with a choir organ by another builder) in a splendid case. Some details are at http://www.wayonhigh.org.uk/organ.html . They are currently advertising in the Church Times for an organist.

What I find rather suprising is that the instrument has been rebuilt in this church with a detached console and electric action.

 

PJW

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Wow!

 

That case looks fantastic - but rather out of place on that organ gallery. Big shame the original console isn't playable - I assume it must be on some sort of electric pull down action to link it with the new console? It's a good thing at least that this instrument has a new home - when it comes to re installations, it's obvious that often the new building won't quite suite the instrument as far as case and dimensions go. At least they've taken the respectable step to preserve the original console with minimal alteration so it may be available if ever needed in the future. (I assume the pedal board is in storage somewhere...)

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This is a really sad story Mr Cynic! I have seen an organ you put together with very limited resources at the home of a mutual friend in Cheshire which is surprisingly successful for what it is. I know you're a very competent organ builder, so this must have been a terrible kick in the teeth for you.

 

Was it the case that after things started to go wrong they wouldn't let you put it right? It sounds as though they treated you like you were building a brand new instrument for them, when they surely should have known that it was a second hand job and some problems of this kind was always a risk (just like buying a restored classic car for example - you can never bank on a 100% successful restoration unless even with the best firms for all sorts of reasons...) To have paid you nothing for it and not ever paid for your fuel expenses/labour just sounds criminal. How would you have redone the electric action had you been given the opportunity? I assume you thought the instrument could be saved.

 

It seems ironic that the church employed you to get an organ at very modest cost, but in the end they managed to afford the splendid replacement you speak of! (there are no details of the replacement instrument on the NPOR so I have no idea what it is...)

 

PS - Out of interest, in contrast with the current discussion about the vandalized organ thrown into a skip in America - what have you done / plan to do with the remains?

 

 

I fully appreciate the sympathetic noises above. Truth is, I've moved on.

I did eventually get paid at least a reasonable percentage of what had initially been agreed, though extracting it from them was far from fun. However, at the end of the whole sorry saga I had to give it all back, of course. Parts of that organ are in my present house organ, some other good pipework was sold to people who could use it so that I could recoup some of my losses. The splendid and unusual 16' Haskell bass went to Bleddfa where I gave an inaugural recital on a revamped and enlarged Compton early this year.

 

Passing swiftly on.....

 

Trevor Tipple's job at H-o-W looks terrific, and he is an excellent builder whom I know relatively well - you will understand however much I like Trevor, I'll not be making a trip there myself. Don't get any idea that the old console that you see in the photo could be used, however. If you look closely, you will see that the gallery front has been removed, so not only is there no way of not falling into the church as you stand at the keys, there'd not even be anywhere to stand.

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If you look closely, you will see that the gallery front has been removed, so not only is there no way of not falling into the church as you stand at the keys, there'd not even be anywhere to stand.

 

Indeed! The only thing you could do to play the original console would be to extend the gallery! The new console downstairs is certainly a creative way on getting past the problem that this organ essentially just didn't quite fit!

 

Glad to hear you survived the unfortunate experience of the previous installation relatively unscathed... The haskelled bass you mentioned is interesting - I think I've only ever (knowingly...) come accross one of those at Ellesmere College Chapel. 1960's HN&B - a quintessential essay in 60's organ building, and a good instrument too. (The reason I was there was actually to look at the Schulzt the School hall has which is very interesting.)

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The haskelled bass you mentioned is interesting - I think I've only ever (knowingly...) come accross one of those at Ellesmere College Chapel. 1960's HN&B - a quintessential essay in 60's organ building, and a good instrument too.

 

I think the haskelled bass to the Principal 16 was plonked on at the sides of the Herbert Norman case by Rushworth's when they did some tonal changes.

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The Isaac Abbott organ installed in the Long Library at Blenheim Palace can't have had much of a tenure there. It was installed in 1888, but replaced by the Willis in 1891. His Grace must have placed the order with Willis pretty soon after first hearing its unfortunate predecessor.

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This is an interesting topic; perhaps we could add another facet to it?

 

It happens that tomorrow, 2nd November, is the anniversary of the consecration of All Saints' Church, (Pitville) Cheltenham, 1869. http://www.allsaintschelt.net/

 

Now, the first organ was second-hand, built by the Cheltenham organ builder H. Williams. In 1877 a new organ was commissioned from the same builder and The Rev'd Canon Professor Dr Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley preached at the opening. However, in 1887 a third organ was commissioned this time from Hill and is the substance of the present instrument.

 

Three organs in tweny-eight years. What's the record?

 

F-W

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http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi...ec_index=N18306 destroyed by bombing three days after completion, and before it had been heard in public.

Actually, Having done a bit more research I discovered that the timescale was even shorter than that - though it depends to some extent on when you consider an organ to have been finished.

 

On the morning of Saturday 15 March 1941, a twenty-year-old lad called Philip Liddicoat (who was subsequently to become assistant organist and then organist of the church) played the rebuilt Hele organ, Special permission having been obtained from Melville Hele, the firm's owner. At At that time the organ was virtually complete, but wind was as yet connected only to the Swell - and even that hadn't been tuned! Hele's actually completed their work on the following Thursday, 20 March. That very night Plymouth was blitzed and the fine four-manual Father Willis in the Guildhall next door was destroyed. St Andrew's was "badly mauled", but, for the time being, survived. But only for a day, Its turn came the following night when it was gutted. So Hele's magnum opus survived in its completed state for only just over 24 hours.

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This is an interesting topic; perhaps we could add another facet to it?

Three organs in tweny-eight years. What's the record?

F-W

 

It is but a short step from the largest number of organs in x years to the most rebuilt. A friend recently told me of Mansfield Chapel, in Edinburgh see www.mansfieldtraquair.co.uk. It is a Catholic Apostolic church with superb murals by Phoebe Anna Traquair, it had been turned into a depository but has been saved by becoming a resource centre which can be hired out for weddings, meetings, etc. It is a fine building but the Arts & Crafts murals by the above lady are what one most goes to see. And there is an intriguing structure which looks like a private pew or box high up on the S wall which was the organ case. As to the organ; no details on NPOR but from my very short form book of 1991 (if I can interpret the codes) :

 

Originally an 1837 Walker 2 man from former church moved into here in 1876 by ?. This was when the church was consecrated.

Hamilton of Edinburgh removed it in 1884 to Leith St John’s East.

1884 James Conacher of Sheffield built a 2 man,

overhauled in 1886 Henry Wellby and Sons Edinburgh,

overhauled 1888 Wellby,

overhauled 1891 Wellby,

rebuilt 1895 Wellby,

rebuilt 1907 Arthur E Ingram Edinburgh, as 3 man 39 stops + 2 prepared,

scrapped c1976 Frederick F Bell Edinburgh.

 

PJW

edited 22.56hrs

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It is but a short step from the largest number of organs in x years to the most rebuilt. A friend recently told me of Mansfield Chapel, in Edinburgh see www.mansfieldtraquair.co.uk. It is a Catholic Apolstolic church with superb murals by Phoebe Anna Traquair, it had been turned into a depository but has been saved by becoming a resource centre which can be hired out for weddings, meetings, etc. It is a fine building but the Arts & Crafts murals by the above lady are what one most goes to see. And there is an intriguing structure which looks like a private pew or box high up on the S wall which was the organ case. As to the organ; no details on NPOR but from my very short form book of 1991 (if I can interpret the codes) :

 

Originally an 1837 Walker 2 man from former church moved into here in 1876 by ?. This was when the church was consecrated.

Hamilton of Edinburgh removed it in 1884 to Leith St John’s East.

1884 James Conacher of Sheffield built a 2 man,

overhauled in 1886 Henry Wellby and Sons Edinburgh,

overhauled 1888 Wellby,

overhauled 1891 Wellby,

rebuilt 1895 Wellby,

rebuilt 1907 Arthur E Ingram Edinburgh, as 3 man 39 stops + 2 prepared,

scrapped c1976 Frederick F Bell Edinburgh.

 

I expect it ended up a heap of junk. As some may know, I believe that a large number of organs in Scotland deserve a match under them as they are so poor. There are a few exceptions.

 

PJW

Interesting to know about this large number of poor organs in Scotland. James Conacher had no connection with the city of Sheffield, by the way. He dissolved his partnership with brother Peter about 1879 (with ensuing court case "Conacher versus Conacher") and set up his workshop barely quarter of a mile from Springwood organ works.

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James Conacher had no connection with the city of Sheffield, by the way. He dissolved his partnership with brother Peter about 1879 (with ensuing court case "Conacher versus Conacher") and set up his workshop barely quarter of a mile from Springwood organ works.

Thanks for that. I was relying on the information in the abbreviations for ConJ in the booklet "The Organs of Edinburgh" by David A Stewart published in 1991 by the Edinburgh Society of Organists. (I was in the throws of editing my text but was not quick enough to stop you commenting! I gave up going to organ recitals when I lived in Scotland.)

PJW

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This is an interesting topic; perhaps we could add another facet to it?

 

It happens that tomorrow, 2nd November, is the anniversary of the consecration of All Saints' Church, (Pitville) Cheltenham, 1869. http://www.allsaintschelt.net/

 

Now, the first organ was second-hand, built by the Cheltenham organ builder H. Williams. In 1877 a new organ was commissioned from the same builder and The Rev'd Canon Professor Dr Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley preached at the opening. However, in 1887 a third organ was commissioned this time from Hill and is the substance of the present instrument.

 

Three organs in tweny-eight years. What's the record?

 

F-W

In the same part of the country and with particular input, both financially and musically, from The Rev'd Canon Professor Dr Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley

St Michael’s, Tenbury had two organs in a relatively short span due, I seem to recall, to deficiencies in the first instrument. The stoplist of the first is extraordinary, considering the time and place:

Flight/Harrison 1854/1867

 

It was replaced by this:

Willis 1873

 

although given that it later became:

Willis 1953

 

Maybe the second stoplist isn't entirely accurate.

 

Very interesting to note the changes.

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Three organs in tweny-eight years. What's the record?

 

Not including Electronics, for which three in 28 years would be par for the course and actually quite good going.

 

For extensive rebuilding, there are obvious candidates for the crown down here on the South Coast but they've been brought up here rather too often.

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Three organs in tweny-eight years. What's the record?

 

F-W

 

 

Take a look at Selwyn College Cambridge for a remarkable list of 4 organs from the period 1975 - 2004: 1890 Walker Organ (Rebuild Rushworths 1937) 1975 Harrison, 1993 W. Johnson and P. Collins, 2004 Letournau.... thats pretty bad going economically.... I'm sure the current instrument will last a long time though.

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I gave up going to organ recitals when I lived in Scotland.

PJW

 

Why? There are lots of good instruments in Scotland especially Edinburgh, but other cities too. Did you live in the Highlands or something?

 

The north East of England where I grew up has far less choice apart from the cathedrals. In the whole of County Durham I can only think of one large 3 manual with modern playing aids etc of note. Needless to say organ recitals aren't such a common occurrence, though thankfully the few that are organised tend to be well attended and well played.

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It happens that tomorrow, 2nd November, is the anniversary of the consecration of All Saints' Church, (Pitville) Cheltenham, 1869.

 

Now, the first organ was second-hand, built by the Cheltenham organ builder H. Williams. In 1877 a new organ was commissioned from the same builder and The Rev'd Canon Professor Dr Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley preached at the opening. However, in 1887 a third organ was commissioned this time from Hill and is the substance of the present instrument.

 

Three organs in tweny-eight years. What's the record?

 

F-W

Forgive me for being "picky", but I don't see how 1869 to 1887 makes 28 years.

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According to NPOR, Romsey Abbey had 4 significant "attentions" paid to it in twenty years. In addition, the Nave section was bolted on another 4 years later. How much money was wasted here?

 

It's still pretty rubbish for accompanying a full church......

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