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Nicholsons of Worcester - Thumb Pistons


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I yesterday went to a very enjoyable recital given by Andrew Henderson, the new DoM of Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon, at the town's URC and asked if I might note the specification and take some photographs in order to update the 1930s NPOR survey.

 

The organ is a 1993 renovation, with tonal changes, of a 1912 Henry Hewins which had 2 fixed combination pedals on each side of the swell pedal. The pistons are actually on the keyboard, rather than in between, and are of a type I haven't seen before, although the organs I currently play have no playing aids at all so anything would be a bonus.

 

Is this type of arrangement, as hopefully shown below, commonplace with Nicholsons organs? Are they settable by the player or fixed? Any information would be of great interest. Thank you.

 

Apologies for the image quality but it was taken on a compact digital as I didn't want to lug a DSLR around.SonA_URC_30032012.jpg

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They look similar to T C Lewis's key-touches. Stephen D Smith writes here (http://www.organreci...warkpistons.php) that they took the form of ivory rectangles (measuring approximately 3/8" high, 3/8" wide, 6/8" deep) located at the back of the keyboard associated with the stops they affected (unlike pistons, which are located below their keyboard). Also, key-touches were pressed down (whereas pistons are pushed in) and, for this reason, they were more usually operated by the fingers (rather than by the thumbs, as in the case of pistons). Key-touches can still be seen on the Lewis instruments at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow, and Saint Luke's Church, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey.

 

The ones in the picture above look different though, and there's quite a large number of them in view of the small number of stop-keys which are apparent.

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I believe they were known as 'liquorice allsorts', having the size and look of one of those black-white-black confections. Rather treacherous, too, being easily hit by an errant finger when playing too 'deep' into the keys - as happened to me once at Kelvingrove, with the unbidden arrival of Great reeds 16+8 in a Rheinberger slow movement!

 

JS

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Thank you both for the replies. I can see that accidental use of the devices might be easy to achieve and as Wolsey says, there are a quite a lot of them here for an organ with a small number of stops. The Southwark set-up appears to have been quite ingenious, although complex and requiring a good memory on the part of the player.

 

I shall get in touch with the church in Stratford and ask if I might go in and explore the console in detail. A report will follow. . .

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Those thumb pistons and stop keys date from the time when Arthur Henry Whinfield (1862-1917) owned and ran Nicholson (1903-1915). They were a Whinfield patent.

 

Identical pistons and stop keys can be found on the Nicholson/Whinfield organ in All Saints, Wyche, Malvern. It is a most peculiar organ with a stop list of only Gt 2, Sw 4, Ch 1, Ped 2 yet there are 12 couplers and the tubular action is fiendishly complex.

 

There was a strong family connection between the Whinfields and Elgar. Serenade for Strings was dedicated to Arthur's father, Edward Wrey Whinfield.

 

Andrew Moyes

Nicholson & Co.

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Thank you Andrew, that's most interesting. It seems as if this 1912 organ may have been built by Nicholsons rather than by Hewins unless Hewins have been able to buy the system under licence although somehow I doubt this as his organs are mostly simple, octopodal in the main, and with mechanical foot pedals for stop changes if they have any aids at all. I can't see that he would have built something with a complex TP action. I played the organ a few times in about 1969-1970 but can't remember if the pistons were in place then but assume that they were.

 

The current organ sounds much better than the stop list would suggest and is well-voiced and bright; the octave couplers no doubt helping considerably.

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I have often wondered about various combination systems, particularly those which appear to be somewhat complex. It does seem that most of these have little or no advantage over the system which is used in many instruments in the UK - that of the 'capture' piston system, with multiple channels.

 

Since this technology was being used effectively (without the multiple channels) - and reliably - by a few notable builders (for example, Henry Willis III) for many years, I can see little point in attempting to introduce a rather more complex type - particularly when it was more difficult to become accustomed to - and, due to its complex design, was perhaps more likely to produce faults. Willis III was using the capture system (with a single setter piston*), including general pistons from the early 1920s.

 

To me, the console above looks almost as ugly as some of those which were produced by some German firms in the first few decades of the twentieth century. I note that there is (or was) a similar console in the church of Saint John-the-Baptist, Claines, Worcester. A.H. Winfield as in fact organist of this church from 1898-1917. INcidentally, the spelling of his surname is uncertain; the NPOR survey gives it as both 'Winfield' and 'Whinfield'. However, the article in The Organ † spells it consistently as 'Winfield'. The stoplist of this three clavier instrument is somewhat unconventional, even for 1902. In fact, it has a number of similarities with some of Robert Hope-Jones' schemes - that is, without the more exotic stop names. Since the later NPOR survey gives a smaller instrument (with two claviers), with a rather paired-down 'classical' scheme. Unfortunately, the survey for 1935 (D02939) has been deleted - which would perhaps have shed some light on what happened to it between 1902 and 1977. The article in The Organ states that the organ was cleaned and some revoicing was carried out in 1928. However, the NPOR survey gives 1931 as the date for further work - but without any further details.

 

 

 

* I fail to see why Harrison & Harrison often used multiple setter pistons in their own systems. There are several examples extant and, aside from the inconvenience, I dislike the crowded appearance at the top of the stop jamb panels, which could contain up to nine or so setter pistons. Westminster Abbey is an existing example.

 

† Article by Charles Myers: The Organ, January 1944. pp 136-9. Musical Opinion, London.

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