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Booths of Wakefield:Organ Builders to the World 1796-1893


Philip J Wells
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Board Members may wish to be aware of a new book published in 2011 which so far seems to have escaped the attention of the organ press. “Booth of Wakefield; Organ Builders to the World, 1796-1893,” written by Paul Lindsay Dawson and published by the “Association Britannique de la Garde Imperiale,” Wakefield, (I purchased my copy of the book online through AbeBooks) has drawn on the author’s research over many years in field trips, the archives of the West Yorkshire Archive Service and the online records of the NPOR to produce a book of 344 pages divided into 12 Chapters, mostly structured chronologically around the Firm’s history. Many organ specifications are given and there is also an Appendix of Booth organs. Booth’s work in developing the pneumatic action is mentioned, together with his involvement with Edmund Schulze in England and the influences of other organ builders and organists on their work. The author is at pains to stress that the Firm were no less innovative than the leading organ builders of London. Where the book falls down is in its presentation; it needs a good editor/technical proof reader to address spelling, capitalisation, apostrophes, commas, etc., all things which we take for granted but which grate so when they disrupt an otherwise good read. In fact I found myself reading it with a pencil in hand for corrections; how sad is that!

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Board Members may wish to be aware of a new book published in 2011 which so far seems to have escaped the attention of the organ press. “Booth of Wakefield; Organ Builders to the World, 1796-1893,” written by Paul Lindsay Dawson and published by the “Association Britannique de la Garde Imperiale,” Wakefield, (I purchased my copy of the book online through AbeBooks) has drawn on the author’s research over many years in field trips, the archives of the West Yorkshire Archive Service and the online records of the NPOR to produce a book of 344 pages divided into 12 Chapters, mostly structured chronologically around the Firm’s history. Many organ specifications are given and there is also an Appendix of Booth organs. Booth’s work in developing the pneumatic action is mentioned, together with his involvement with Edmund Schulze in England and the influences of other organ builders and organists on their work. The author is at pains to stress that the Firm were no less innovative than the leading organ builders of London. Where the book falls down is in its presentation; it needs a good editor/technical proof reader to address spelling, capitalisation, apostrophe’s, comma’s, etc., all things which we take for granted but which grate so when they disrupt an otherwise good read. In fact I found myself reading it with a pencil in hand for corrections; how sad is that!

 

 

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

 

 

Oh my words!

 

Booth of Wakefield and Edmund Schulze?

 

Now I don't know for certain, but I have my doubts about this.

 

Currently, there is a re-built Booth organ in St Mary's RC Church, which came from a Methodist Chapel in Cleckheaton. This once splendid instrument, after years of breathing difficulties, was in fine voice the last time I played it; complete with the former Annessens 16ft case, the 32ft flue (sadly the 32ft reed went ot Leeds Town Hall), and a new Tuba installed by Wood, Wordsworth & Co., then re-positioned by John T Jackson. Unfortunately, the very large church is now redundant.

 

However, this organ was never by Booth of Wakefield, but by Booth & Hepworth of Otley WHO HAD WORKED FIRST HAND WITH EDMUND SCHULZE, AND WAS KNOWN TO BE ONE OF SCHULZE'S MANY DISCIPLES. (I'm not shouting by the way!) Schulze also supplied pipes to Booth of Otley, and he shared the voicing of the instrument at Mornington Road Methodist Church, Bingley, which I understand still; exists elsewhere.

 

The Booth family was quite extensive, and I'm struggling to remember the other Booths, but I think there was one in Leeds, and the Otley Booth had connections with that. I shall have to check NPOR for details, if they are there.

 

I'm not sure how much I can develop this, but I hope you can see why I distrust the assertion that "Booth of Wakefield" had any sort of direct dealings with Edmund Schulze, when it could easily have been another Booth.

 

The Wakefield Booth is best known for the pedal "puff" motors, which marks the start of pneumatic action in the UK.

 

MM

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I am perhaps guilty of using the "Booth" of the title generically in my text above. The chronology of the Booth firm as given in the Appendix is apparently:

1796-1832 Joseph Booth

1832-1874 Francis Booth

1874-1877 Henry Booth & Co. of Wakefield

1878-1880 Henry Booth & Co. of Otley

1880-1885 Messrs Booth & Hepworth of Otley

1885-1892 Henry Booth & Co of Otley

 

As the book shows, in 1876 Henry Booth was acting for Schulze as he had taken over the building of the organ for Charterhouse School, Godalming, Surrey which Schulze was unable to complete because of failing health.

 

The book also includes a Chapter 11 which covers the work of the Marshall Brothers 1888-1951 who apparently saw themselves as successors to Henry Booth if not Booth & Hepworth. The author thinks there is little substance to this claim.

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I am perhaps guilty of using the "Booth" of the title generically in my text above. The chronology of the Booth firm as given in the Appendix is apparently:

1796-1832 Joseph Booth

1832-1874 Francis Booth

1874-1877 Henry Booth & Co. of Wakefield

1878-1880 Henry Booth & Co. of Otley

1880-1885 Messrs Booth & Hepworth of Otley

1885-1892 Henry Booth & Co of Otley

 

As the book shows, in 1876 Henry Booth was acting for Schulze as he had taken over the building of the organ for Charterhouse School, Godalming, Surrey which Schulze was unable to complete because of failing health.

 

The book also includes a Chapter 11 which covers the work of the Marshall Brothers 1888-1951 who apparently saw themselves as successors to Henry Booth if not Booth & Hepworth. The author thinks there is little substance to this claim.

 

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

 

 

Ah,right!

 

I didn't fair too badly from memory. I knew that there were several Booth emporiums, including one which had nothing to do with the others. That must have been Booth of Leeds; not to be confused with the pipemakers of the same name.

 

I played the Bingley organ by Booth & Schulze, and although it wasn't your typical Schulze, it had a good, solid Great chorus and some exquisite flutes and strings.

 

The Bradford organ, at St Mary's, is possibly the last remaining example which has more than a passing resemblance to Schulze at close quarters. I say this, because the church (now sadly closed), is immense, and once housed the 5-manual Annessens instrument, (opened by Jaques Lemmens), which proved to be very troublesome. This was the instrument with the unique "Ocarina" stop.

 

The replacement Booth organ from Cleckheaton was only ever voiced for a large, but not immense building; possibly half the capacity of St Mary's RC church. Get someone to play and then listen in the chancel, (the console is in the huge nave), and it is a magnificent sound, with some very bold chorus-work indeed. I last played it for a funeral about ten years ago.

 

Unfortunately, it was only in the very final years of the church that everything worked as it should, and it must have been a great source of sadness to the late Mr Hanson, (the last organist of the church when it closed), who had poured a large amount of his own money into mending the instrument.

 

If ever an instrument deserves to be rescued, this is one that certainly does, but as it stands, it would require something bigger than a garden-shed; the instrument filling a 32ft high space, and so far as I know. built vertically with the Tuba on top of the Swell Box right at the top of the organ. The casework, (very 19th century Belgian in design), is a glorious affair, with a full 16ft Double Open contained within it.

 

I've never heard of the Marshall Brothers, unless this is the same company which became Marshall & Sykes of Leeds.

 

MM

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.....................I've never heard of the Marshall Brothers, unless this is the same company which became Marshall & Sykes of Leeds.

MM

 

I am not aware that the book mentions Marshall & Sykes of Leeds and the Index is slightly strange in that the main headings are all Towns and the subheadings, with the page numbers, are all buildings of one sort or another.

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There was certainly an organbuilder by the name of Marshall Sykes, based at "Bramstan Organ Works" (!) in Stanningley. An ex Binns, Fitton & Haley man, he was active from the mid-1950's (perhaps after B,F&H's demise c.1954) and through the 1960's. The majority of his work would appear to have been carrying out electrifications.

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Pardon the pedantry, but I think 'Ocarina' was not uncommon with Anneessens. Bridlington Priory has one. Or was the one at Bradford of special construction? The organ was certainly a very impressive-looking brute, to judge from the spec (and pic) in 'The Organ' years ago. Somewhat later, there was a scathing letter from a colonial visitor (James Boeringer? John Maidment?) complaining that it had been wantonly scrapped, followed by an equally indignant one from Wood's of Huddersfield explaining that it had been in such a state they had no choice. Stephen Bicknell wrote that Anneessens organs tended to look impressive but were cheaply built and not all they purported to be. Bangor PC, Co. Down, had one which didn't last long and was replaced by a Hunter in the 20s.

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Pardon the pedantry, but I think 'Ocarina' was not uncommon with Anneessens. Bridlington Priory has one. Or was the one at Bradford of special construction? The organ was certainly a very impressive-looking brute, to judge from the spec (and pic) in 'The Organ' years ago. Somewhat later, there was a scathing letter from a colonial visitor (James Boeringer? John Maidment?) complaining that it had been wantonly scrapped, followed by an equally indignant one from Wood's of Huddersfield explaining that it had been in such a state they had no choice. Stephen Bicknell wrote that Anneessens organs tended to look impressive but were cheaply built and not all they purported to be. Bangor PC, Co. Down, had one which didn't last long and was replaced by a Hunter in the 20s.

 

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

 

 

Lest we see poor John Mander issued with civil-action, perhaps we might clarify the fact that David Wood, (of Huddersfield), was never involved with the scrapping of the Anneseens at Bradford. In fact, the company involved in the installation of the new (second-hand) Booth instrument, was the now defunct company of Wood, Wordsworth & Co., of Leeds, who of course did major re-builds at Leeds Town Hall, Leeds Parish Church and elsewhere prior to their demise. (This is how the 32ft Anneseens reed from St Mary's, Bradford, ended up at Leeds Town Hall; replacing the Gray & Davison 32ft free-reed).

 

That put right, the Anneseens in Braford was one of two such instruments in the city; the other being in St.Joseph's Church, Bradford; an equally massive pile of stone, timber and slate with an equally huge acoustic.

 

I don't know all the details or even recall the old organ at St Mary's, but I gather that it was some sort of exhibition organ, which an enthusiastic parish priest , possibly with Belgian connections, had installed at St Mary's. The 5th manual of this rather large instrument, was nothing more than a coupler manual, but the fact that it had a fifth manual made it fairly unique I suppose.

 

Right from the start, the organ gave problems, possibly due to the early type of electro-pneumatic action utilised, which was covered by the Moel & Schmoll patent (Sp?). Moel, (for short), were an American/Belgian electrical company, and as an interesting aside, I stumbled across a cry for help from an American descendant of the Moel family, and he was overjoyed when I proved the Belgian connection, which is what he had been trying to find.

 

Whatever the details, the organ fell into a parlous state quite quickly, and "old faithful," J J Binns, converted the organ to his patent pneumatic action, which I think entailed moving the console from one side of the chancel to the other. (I don't have the details to hand, but I seem to recall that there are details in NPOR).

 

However, I don't think the build quality of the Anneseens was terribly good, and if it followed the example of other Anneseens organs, it probably used various "borrowings" from one department to another, but I have no proof of that. (This was the reason why certain Annessens organs used a common Choir/Great soundboard, as at Bridlington Priory. (Then the longest single windchest in Europe).

 

St Joseph's was no better, but at least I do remember this organ. When it played, it sounded good, and the free-reed Clarinet was one of the most beautiful ranks I've ever heard. It's whereabouts are now unknown, since the organ was replaced by, (surprise, surprise), a re-built Binns organ.

 

I can well understand the despair which many organ-builders must have felt, because tonally these two organs were very good, but structurally, they were a nightmare.

 

Now didn't the Italian Church at Clerkenwood, London, have an Annessens instrument, and doesn't much of that instrument form part of the present instrument? I shall have to check this out, because it is probably ten or more years since I discussed Anneseens previously, but somewhere, there is something of interest.

 

One thing I do know, is that quite a lot of the Annessens pipework at St Joseph's RC Bradford, was leaning at crazy angles, and the Tubas basses, (Tubasson) were folding in on themselves at the mitres. Some of the large flues were also collapsing at the feet. Apparently, Anneseens failed to use antimony in the pipe-metal, resulting in structural weakness, and if St Mary's was in a similar state to St Joseph's, I can entirely sympathise with what Wood, Wordsworth had to say about the instrument.

 

With pots of money, it may have been possible to restore and repair these two instruments, but the cost would have been enormous, and in a city where a majority of Christian churches and chapels have closed or been converted to other use/religions, I suspect that there was neither the means nor the will.

 

Indeed, the organ-history of Bradford is a very sad one, for all the major instruments other than the cathedral have been lost. In addition to the two big Anneseens instruments, there was a magnificent, (I am told) four-manual Abbott organ at St Mark's, the old mid-19th century William Hill at Eastbrook Chapel, (now in the Methodist Church, Cambridge), another 4-manual Hill somewhere, (I think in a Methodist Chapel), and numerous other instruments large and small, as well as a long-silent instrument at St George's Hall.

 

Now, if they'd all been tracker-action.............. (the Abbott organ probably was).

 

 

MM

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There was certainly an organbuilder by the name of Marshall Sykes, based at "Bramstan Organ Works" (!) in Stanningley. An ex Binns, Fitton & Haley man, he was active from the mid-1950's (perhaps after B,F&H's demise c.1954) and through the 1960's. The majority of his work would appear to have been carrying out electrifications.

 

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

 

 

I think the only Marshall Sykes re-build of their I ever played, was that of the old Hill organ at Eastbrook Hall, Bradford. The console was very Binns, Fitton & Haley in style, with lots of mahogony veneer and plastic.

 

I don't know anything much about them beyond that.

 

I just wonder if the collapse of Binns, Fitton & Haley was the one which caused the loss of an important Schulze instrument, which was being re-built at the time. (St Mark's, Doncaster). Just why the church couldn't get the organ back I have no idea, but what a tragic loss that was.

 

MM

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My apologies for mixing up the Woods. Is David Wood the successor to Wood, Wordsworth? Is he anything to do with the Wood of Huddersfield who had a wonderful shop which sold all kinds of Renaissance instruments (including off-the-peg pipe organs of varying sizes)? I bought a crumhorn there once and remember a line of contra-bass recorders standing in the window like something out of an oil refinery.

 

I'm sure the state of the Bradford Anneessens was indeed as described - it sounds typical. Yes, Clerkenwell was one of theirs (well, it was Anneessens, but there was more than one firm of that name in Belgium at the same time as far as I can see - I think they were related, like the Ingrams of Hereford and Edinburgh). Compton did it up, then Walkers' produced their notable rebuild in the sixties.

 

Binns, Fitton and Haley don't seem to have had much of a reputation, but when the firm went bust, hadn't it dropped the Fitton & Haley bit again? It is said that the organ of Lisburn Cathedral, Co. Antrim was in the works at the time and the organist hied himself off to Leeds with a van and brought it home with him before the creditors could get their hands on it. The 1958 Binns in St. Silas, Belfast was a very fine sounding job, although it had the advantage of a fine acoustic. The church was rebuilt after the Blitz, against the wishes of the Bishop, who said it would close within fifty years - he was right. Nearby, Holy Trinity, Belfast is a similar instrument (1956) in a nice case, but in a less advantageous position and acoustic.

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My apologies for mixing up the Woods. Is David Wood the successor to Wood, Wordsworth? Is he anything to do with the Wood of Huddersfield who had a wonderful shop which sold all kinds of Renaissance instruments (including off-the-peg pipe organs of varying sizes)? I bought a crumhorn there once and remember a line of contra-bass recorders standing in the window like something out of an oil refinery.

 

I'm sure the state of the Bradford Anneessens was indeed as described - it sounds typical. Yes, Clerkenwell was one of theirs (well, it was Anneessens, but there was more than one firm of that name in Belgium at the same time as far as I can see - I think they were related, like the Ingrams of Hereford and Edinburgh). Compton did it up, then Walkers' produced their notable rebuild in the sixties.

 

Binns, Fitton and Haley don't seem to have had much of a reputation, but when the firm went bust, hadn't it dropped the Fitton & Haley bit again? It is said that the organ of Lisburn Cathedral, Co. Antrim was in the works at the time and the organist hied himself off to Leeds with a van and brought it home with him before the creditors could get their hands on it. The 1958 Binns in St. Silas, Belfast was a very fine sounding job, although it had the advantage of a fine acoustic. The church was rebuilt after the Blitz, against the wishes of the Bishop, who said it would close within fifty years - he was right. Nearby, Holy Trinity, Belfast is a similar instrument (1956) in a nice case, but in a less advantageous position and acoustic.

 

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

 

 

David Wood followed in the footsteps of his father Philip, and I don't recall what the actual connection was, but they were/are related to the people who owned the shop.

 

What a story that tells!

 

A once fine, but quite small music-shop in the city centre, where I bought a lot of my standard repertoire stuff, a very good organ collection in the record department, where I obtained some now very rare vinyl recordings and all sorts of useful things for the musician. The shop expanded into new premises, and in time, not only did they have the Ahlborn and Bradford Computing organ franschise, they also had REAL positive organs built, presumably, by the family firm. Not only that, they also developed the Early Music Shop, which occupied the floor above the main shop selling pianos and electronic organs, as well as brass and woodwind instruments etc. So it was quite a large concern, with many connections and a loyal client base.

 

It says something about the decline of Bradford and the sort of professional musicians it once attracted, that a shop of this magnitude could first flourish, and then close down. In many ways, it was a similar sort of quality shop such as the old Rushworth & Dreaper business in Liverpool, or Banks of York.

 

Wood, Wordsworth of Leeds, were quite separate and not at all related, so far as I know. The previous owner was Peter Wood, and the company is now based in Harrogate, trading in the style of Peter Wood & Sons, (Organ builders by appointment).

 

I wasn't aware that there was more than one Anneseens, and I not that one of the builders of one of the Bradford instruments had a double barrelled name; perhaps suggesting another company from the Charles Annessens I had assumed it was. (More sleuthing necessary, methinks).

 

I am aghast at the idea of administrators/insolvency practitioners locking the premises of an organ-builder, and claiming someone else's property as a part of the business.

 

The Schulze organ which disappeared, didn't totally vanish. The organist of the church hot-footed it to Leeds and rescued at least one Diapason, which I believe went into whatever replacement organ they found. However, the rest of it seems to have vanished without trace.

 

Thank you for reminding me about the Italian church at Clerkenwell. I was aware of it, but had forgotten the details.

 

MM

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Just for the sake of accuracy, I stated that the lost Schulze organ was that of St Mark's, Doncaster, when in point of fact, it was Christ Church, Doncaster.

 

The NPOR site gives further details. Apparently, it was the collapse of Binns, Fitton & Haley which was responsible, as I suspected.

 

MM

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  • 3 months later...

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

Oh my words!

Booth of Wakefield and Edmund Schulze?

Now I don't know for certain, but I have my doubts about this.

MM

 

Health Warning. MM is right to question this. I have learnt that the author of the book may well have mis-interpreted facts, possibly taken from the NPOR. When I was at school I thought that anything written a book must be true. Life has taught me nothing!

PJW

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Health Warning. MM is right to question this. I have learnt that the author of the book may well have mis-interpreted facts, possibly taken from the NPOR. When I was at school I thought that anything written a book must be true. Life has taught me nothing!

PJW

 

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

 

 

I must say that the warning bells rang the moment I read of this, but for the life of me, I can't recall where I read the "facts," assuming that they were true.

 

Something deep in my grey-matter tells me that the research might have been done by the late Mr Hanson, the then organist of St Mary's (RC), Bradford, (now closed).

 

Because of this, I wouldn't even know where to start looking for the correct information, but I live in hope that someone may know the answer as to whether Booth (Wakefield), Booth (Leeds) and Booth (Otley) were variously related, unrelated or just in-bred.

 

We do know that Booth the pipemakers were a separate entity, and we also know that the most outstanding craftsman from Otley, was the furniture-maker Chippendale.

 

MM

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

 

 

I must say that the warning bells rang the moment I read of this, but for the life of me, I can't recall where I read the "facts," assuming that they were true.

 

Something deep in my grey-matter tells me that the research might have been done by the late Mr Hanson, the then organist of St Mary's (RC), Bradford, (now closed).

 

Because of this, I wouldn't even know where to start looking for the correct information, but I live in hope that someone may know the answer as to whether Booth (Wakefield), Booth (Leeds) and Booth (Otley) were variously related, unrelated or just in-bred.

 

We do know that Booth the pipemakers were a separate entity, and we also know that the most outstanding craftsman from Otley, was the furniture-maker Chippendale.

 

MM

 

Hi

 

Take a look at "Booth" on DBOB (accessible via the NPOR web site). It seems that Booth of Otley moved to Wakefield - and I don't have time to look further into the various other ramifications of the name.

 

It's interested that several different Booths - and several different Nicholsons - apparently either unrelated or only distantly related - became organ builders in various places.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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