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Aeron Glyn Preston

Conacher - how good were they?

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This is a Conacher that I play from time to time. It was funded by the Davies sisters of Llandinam (later of Gregynog). It has some pleasant sounds. but the tutti is really only based on the Large Open Diapason, full Swell with octave coupler and the Trumpet. The pedal division is very weak too. What are other members' experiences of Conacher organs? Is there a 'golden period' for these? Any gems among them?

 

I gather that Peter Conacher trained in Germany and later worked for Hill. What were the greatest influences on his company's organs?

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There is a suggestion that Peter Conacher had contact with France, did some training there and brought back some French organ builders.

 

Locally Buck's., Oxon. borders. there are number of Conachers from different times. Some do have a slightly French 'vowel sounds' to the flues and touch of French sound in the reeds. Some are just indifferent. Some speak boldly and 'lead' well. Many have been moved from their original setting though.

 

revdnsm

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Hi

 

For a small organ, http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=N13335 is interesting. I played it quite a few times when we were in the area. The somewhat strange stop list (Open on the Great, Principal on the Swell) actually works very well, giving, with the other stops, 2 independent choruses - or couple the manual together for a full great effect. It's one of those organs where almost anything goes with anything else.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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I am not sure about the others, but I thought that the four- (formerly five-) clavier instrument in Saint Mary's Church, Calne, Wiltshire was foul. Aside from a few quiet stops, there was nothing of any beauty - or vitality. The tutti was turgid, dull and dominated by the Pedal and G.O. foundations and big reeds.

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I probably haven't played that many Conacher organs, but by and large, I tend to think that they are tonally dreadful.

 

One of the most "celebrated" instruments is that in Saltaire URC, which has now been messed around with to a considerable extent. However, even in its original format, this was a war-horse of an organ, with few saving graces; yet like all Conachers, built like the proverbial battleship and soldiering on, when it could really have done everyone a favour by collpasing in a heap.

 

I recall accompanying a choir on another of their instruments....awful reeds, scratchy strings, dull Diapasons, characterless soft stops and Mixtures which did nothing but declare war on the very idea of a chorus.

 

Going back to the Saltair instrument, I recall a recital there, when an organist, (possibly THE organist), declared it "a magnificent instrument.,"

 

At that moment, a cathedral organist leaned towards me and whispered, "Is he bloody tone-deaf, or what?"

 

I can't help but think that the most useful addition to every Conacher organ I've ever played would be a box of matches, but as pure machines.....wonderful!

 

MM

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The only Conacher I've come across was this one, which I helped to rebuild. I don't remember it very well, but I don't think it was that bad. Although it's not noted on NPOR, I do remember that a lot of the pipework originated from the Schultz and Cavaille-Coll firms (this is noted in the listing under its previous home in Nottingham).

 

Paul

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The only Conacher I've come across was this one, which I helped to rebuild. I don't remember it very well, but I don't think it was that bad. Although it's not noted on NPOR, I do remember that a lot of the pipework originated from the Schultz and Cavaille-Coll firms (this is noted in the listing under its previous home in Nottingham).

 

Paul

 

 

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

 

 

How fascinating!

 

The only organ I knew which incoporated pipework from both Schulze and Cavaille-Coll, was the Forster & Andrews instrument at All Souls, Hayley Hill, Halifax.

 

I'm not sure that the Halifax instrument was an unqaulified success, but it was good enough.

 

It would be interestng to know how people regard the ex-Nottingham instrument in Norfolk.

 

MM

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I don't claim to be an expert, but I played a lot of Conacher organs when I lived in Ireland (where they were the dominant builder), so here goes:

 

I think the 'French' influence was more specifically on James Conacher, who set up on his own in Huddersfield. I've never played one of his instruments, but the RC Cathedral in Aberdeen has one which is said to sound quite Gallic.

 

The main Conacher outfit called themselves 'The Old Firm' to distinguish themselves from others of the name. Apart from James, there was a later 'Conacher, Sheffield & Co', who were not highly thought of - Bernard Edmonds once wrote 'upon whom be maledictions', which was strong criticism for him. Hoar Cross, with its fabulous Bodley case, was one of their rebuilds and became unplayable long before it should.

 

The Old Firm lasted a long while and was a big undertaking, with a factory in Dublin as well as a large one in Huddersfield. They were favoured by Huddersfield-born Sir Walter Parratt, which probably gave them a few breaks outside the north of England (e.g. Holy Trinity, Windsor - the Garrison Church). Another influential patron was Eaglefield Hull, who devised a type of stop-tablet which he called a 'chromo-digit board'. The organ in Gwas Bach's original posting is so equipped, and so was Enniskillen Cathedral (the chromo-digits were replaced by more normal tilting tablets when rebuilt in 1991). A smaller one is (or was) at Seymour Street Methodist Church, Lisburn, Co. Antrim (http://www.npor.org....ec_index=C00553).

 

Early Conachers were quite Schulzian. A notable one is at Kildare Cathedral:

 

Great: Large Open, Small Open, Clarabella, Lieblich Gedact, Salicional, Principal, Flute Harmonic, Mixture 15.19.22.26, Trumpet

Swell: Open Diapason, Stopped Diapason, Viol di Gamba tc, Voix Celestes tc, Gemshorn, Mixture 12.15, Trumpet, Oboe, Trem

Choir: Violin Diapason, Lieblich Gedact, Dulciana. Flute tc, Clarinet tc

Pedal: Open Diapason, Bourdon, Unison

5 couplers (no C/G)

3 comps each to Great and Swell

Compass: 58/30

The Oboe was moved to 16' pitch in 1986, but I think it's been put back since.

 

There are obvious similarities between this and the very Schulzian early Brindley at Kilmore Cathedral, Co. Cavan, but Kilmore was built in 1860, Kildare in 1896. Kildare doesn't quite have the terrifying roar of the Kilmore principal chorus and the whole thing is a little more suave, but it is still very lively, and less ponderous than, say, Binns might have done. Both Kilmore and Kildare benefit from open transept sites.

 

Note that what was startlingly modern at Kilmore in 1860 was a little passe at Kildare in 1896. Later, the quasi-Schulzian thrill got less and the duller aspects of the Anglican service-provider got more pronounced. The afore-mentioned Windsor job is an example (http://www.npor.org....ec_index=D00991). A fine organ, on a commanding west-gallery site, but lacking that final bit of class (the razzmattazz of a Willis III, the sublime finish of a Harrison, the nobility of Walker flue-work - or even the quality of the late, very Harrisonian Hunter down the road at All Saints). Conacher's whopper at Calne is in the same category. I would disagree (and have!) with PCND's hearty dislike of it, considering it to be a fine big organ, engagingly vulgar in its size and appearance, but it's probably true to say that the soft stops are the nicest part of it.

 

When it came to bread-and-butter two manual organs, Conachers were usually good and could be very good. Ahoghill PC, Co. Antrim, has a particularly effective one. The original specification (it was pepped-up in 1998 by Wells-Kennedy and appears in that form in NPOR) was:

 

Great: Open Diapason, Stopped Diapason, Gamba, Dulciana, Principal, Harmonic Flute, Fifteenth

Swell: Violin Diapason, Rohr Flute, Salicional, Voix Celeste, Gemshorn, Piccolo, Oboe

Pedal: Bourdon, Violoncello

3 unison couplers

3 comps each

Compass: 56/30

 

Give or take, this was fairly standard and produced an instrument which was OK to live with and nice enough to play. At this size, however, one might get a more impressive result from Binns. Compare the Binns in Trim Cathedral with the Conacher at Tuam (CofI, not the Compton up the road):

 

Trim

Great: Open, Gedact, Dolce, Octave, Flautino, Trumpet, S/G 16.8.4

Swell: Geigen Principal, Rohr Flute, Vox Angelica, Principal, Mixture 15.19.22, Cornopean, Oboe, Octave, Sub, Tremulant

Pedal: Contra Bass, Bourdon, Flute

2 comps to Great, 3 comps to Swell

Compass: 61/30

 

Tuam

Great Double Diapason, Open Diapason, Flute, Dulciana, Principal, Flute Traverso, Fifteenth

Swell: Violin Diapason, Rohr Flote, Viol d'Orchestre, Wald Flute, Cornopean, Oboe, Tremulant

Pedal: Open Diapason, Bourdon, Bass Flute

2 comps each

Compass: 58/30

 

The Binns is a more imaginative scheme and also a more imaginative sound (not just due to the octave couplers)

 

One of the nicest Conachers of this size is at Clogher Cathedral, Co. Tyrone (1906):

 

Great: Open Diapason, Stopped Diapason, Dulciana, Principal, Harmonic Flute, Fifteenth

Swell: Violin Diapason, Flauto Traverso, Viol d'Orchestre, Flute, Flageolet, Glockenspiel 12.17, Cornopean, Sub, Trem

Pedal: Grand Bourdon, Flute

3 unison couplers

2 comps each

 

Another good gallery position in a plastered interior, this one has both a fine 'cathedral roll' and a wealth of colourful effects (due to the imaginative Swell).

 

From the 1930s, the Conacher style was updated, at least as far as action and consoles were concerned. There was little advance tonally. Pneumatic action and stop-key consoles became common. Later still, by the fifties and sixties, electric action was the norm. Consoles had double-touch pistons to give suitable pedal and cancel bars over the stop-keys. There was often a reed unit available all over the place. Some of these were quite fine and one looked forward to playing them. Two of my favourites are, alas, no more - the Presbyterian Churches in Great Victoria Street and Oldpark, Cliftonville Road, Belfast:

 

Gt. Victoria Street: http://www.npor.org....ec_index=C00348

Oldpark: http://www.npor.org....ec_index=D01444

 

The Oldpark job was removed by the Pipe Organ Preservation Company and I believe is available for relocation. It would be worth considering if someone is looking for an organ of that size. I had a pupil there and played it often. The principal choruses were refined but bright and the reed unit did various jobs very well. http://www.organ.dnet.co.uk/popco/

 

Perhaps this late (1964) Conacher sums up the strengths and weaknesses. Belmont Presbyterian Church, Belfast:

 

http://www.npor.org....ec_index=N06965

 

It has a lot to offer. A big, resourceful Pedal Organ, the first Positive Organ in Ireland (nicely done, too), a good chorus in the Swell with a well-pitched Mixture, good build quality throughout, handsome and comfortable draw-stop console with double-touch pistons and department labels acting as cancel bars. The biggest let-downs are the bourdon double on the Great and the tierce Mixture in the same department. Perhaps they are hangovers from the original instrument (also Conacher).

 

Overall, one could do a lot worse (in Ireland, the options included Evans & Barr and the later Telfords, which were decidedly inferior to Conacher). If Conachers don't quite hit the heights, they sometimes come close.

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I don't claim to be an expert, but I played a lot of Conacher organs when I lived in Ireland (where they were the dominant builder), so here goes:

 

.

 

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

 

 

Thank you for this interesting post. I feel that I have learned something, though i'm, not sure how significant it all is.

 

At least David has played quite a few Conacher organs, whereas my experience is restricted largely to West Yorkshire, where there are any number of humdrum instruments from the firm, but at least they are still functioning.

 

I wasn't actually aware that there had been more than one Conacher concern, which I had regarded as Huddersfield based only until David mentioned other places.

 

However, apart from the interesting Schulze influence on early organs from the firm, I think it does tell us something about Victorian organ-building in particular.

 

If one took a small geographic area like West Yorkshire and counted the number of organ-builders operating there in the mid to late 19th century, it would probably amout to quite a large number, relatively speaking, and an area like Manchester must have had an equal or greater number.

 

The ones I know about include the following:-

 

J J Binns (Leeds)

 

Wordsworth

 

Abbott (Leeds) (Later Abbott & Smith)

 

Holt (Bradford)

 

Driver & Haigh (Bradford)

 

Booth (Wakefield)

 

Booth (Leeds)

 

Booth (Otley)

 

Laycock & Bannister (Keighley)

 

Conacher (Huddersfield)

 

Hughes (Bradford)

 

Andrews (Bradford)

 

 

Even a short distance away, to the south and east, therer were other companies building organs for this area; notably Brindley, Ward, Keates and others, yet relatively few instruments ever made it over the Pennines from Manchester.

 

I would suggest that, apart from the undisputed leaders such as Abbott & Smith, and J J Binns, the rest were what I would call "jobbing" builders, and the tonal qualities were seldom particularly good or, in certain cases, not good at all. Nevertheless, these companies between them, churned out possibly 3,000 or more instruments from workshops which were, without doubt, quite substantial commercial enterprises.

 

Perhaps an indicator is the fact that John Laycock started out as a carpenter, but obviously very skilled, he made many half-decent instruments of magnificent build-quality. Tonally, they were what one might expect, but from time to time, one comes across something a little bit special, like the Stopped Diapason I came across in Sabden (Lancs), which is one of the most beautiful examples I've ever heard.

 

Sadly, I would think that a majority of these instruments have now been destroyed or broken up for parts; others re-built beyond recognition.

 

But what a huge demand for organs there was from around the mid-19th century!

 

MM

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I imagine that quite a few of the Yorkshire builders listed would have been former employees of one of the bigger firms. Andrews was an ex-Binns man and, from what I gather, his organs were much in the same style. He built a large three-manual for Queen's University, Belfast, now in the Whitla Hall, after rebuilds by Compton and HN&B (1969, one of their best jobs from the period, I always thought).

 

Abbott & Smith - I don't know many of their instruments, and the ones I do know are not outstanding (apart from the Isaac Abbott at Woodchurch, Kent, which is a fine old beast). If you have time to elucidate, I'd be interested.

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If you can find a copy, "Just a Box of Whistles", the memoirs of Brian Hirst, a Conacher pipe maker, is a good read.

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If you can find a copy, "Just a Box of Whistles", the memoirs of Brian Hirst, a Conacher pipe maker, is a good read.

 

Hi

 

I'd second that - I have a copy.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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In Kent, there is a wonderfully gritty Conacher here. Gallic reeds and leathered lips on the Gt Open. It is unusually powerful for a village church organ.

 

It arouses my curiosity that a provincial firm could get such distant commissions like this. Clergy connections/recommendations perhaps ?

 

It is recorded that one of Conacher's foremen, Musson, died falling from a third storey crane doorway at Conacher's works, as this job was being despatched. The same man who worked with John Compton in his early years.

 

H

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In Kent, there is a wonderfully gritty Conacher here. Gallic reeds and leathered lips on the Gt Open. It is unusually powerful for a village church organ.

 

It arouses my curiosity that a provincial firm could get such distant commissions like this. Clergy connections/recommendations perhaps ?

 

It is recorded that one of Conacher's foremen, Musson, died falling from a third storey crane doorway at Conacher's works, as this job was being despatched. The same man who worked with John Compton in his early years.

 

H

 

I must try that one next time I visit my sister (as well as the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway).

 

Perhaps the recommendation of Sir Walter Parratt helped spread the word for Conacher. Or it could have been advertising.

 

I think you're right about poor Musson.

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If you can find a copy, "Just a Box of Whistles", the memoirs of Brian Hirst, a Conacher pipe maker, is a good read.

 

I sought out a copy via the internet and after quite a lot of searching found one. It arrived only yesterday so haven't had much time to read it but found the pictures fascinating; men pouring molten pipe metal into moulds with no gloves or arm protection. :o

 

Inside the book was a small press cutting, unfortunately undated and with no clues as to its origin. It reads, "Dynasty Ends. Mrs Winefred Conacher, the last surviving member of a Huddersfield organ building family, has died in Lytham St Anne's. Her husband, Philip, became managing director of Peter Conacher & Co of Springwood, in 1913. Mrs Conacher's death at the age of 95 brings to an end the Peter Conacher family organ building connection. A funeral will take place at St Margaret's Church, Lytham St Anne's, at 1.45 on Friday."

 

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=S00012

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I understand that the last two organs (both in the same building) built by the "Old Firm" of Peter Conacher, Huddersfield, were completed in the mid 1960's and were for the Tapton Masonic Hall, Sheffield.

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Once you've played St Peter's Raunds you may wish to eat your words. It may be in a small and of-the-beaten-track country country churcn but it is (IMHO) fully deserving of its historic organ certificate and was recently restored to glory by Nicholsons:

 

http://www.npor.org....ec_index=N03492

 

Possibly.

 

However, the inescapable corollary is that, were you to play the instrument which I cited, you may well be forced to agree with me....

 

This is beginning to sound a little like something else, involving poisoned coffee, Lady Astor and Winston Churchill.

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An N.B. to this wonderful column.

 

I look after the fine 3 manual in St. Mary's Catholic Cathedral in Aberdeen which sounds quite wonderful.

All 3 manuals now have mechanical action, and the new pedal trombone is thrilling.

 

However I would invite any reading this to visit Dunkeld Cathedral in Perthshire.

 

At the entrance to the side door, (in the bone-yard), there is the Conacher family burial plot. Both brothers are interred there, and it has always been a great source of wonder to me when I walk past the gravestone that they were the sons of a Perthshire farmer.

 

Replies please.

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An N.B. to this wonderful column.

 

I look after the fine 3 manual in St. Mary's Catholic Cathedral in Aberdeen which sounds quite wonderful.

All 3 manuals now have mechanical action, and the new pedal trombone is thrilling.

 

However I would invite any reading this to visit Dunkeld Cathedral in Perthshire.

 

At the entrance to the side door, (in the bone-yard), there is the Conacher family burial plot. Both brothers are interred there, and it has always been a great source of wonder to me when I walk past the gravestone that they were the sons of a Perthshire farmer.

 

Replies please.

 

I have never played either of the above-named instruments. However, as it happens, recently I had to play for a serivce on a fairly large instrument by Conacher ('The Old Firm').

 

Here, the reeds did not have any leanings towards French tonality. In fact, the Swell reeds in particular were fairly unpleasant - and somewhat unblending. Whilst there were a few pleasant quiet stops, the chorus work was very weak. There were two compound stops; The G.O. Mixture was actually lowered in pitch a few years ago (apparently a former organist had it raised, without a faculty). The Swell 'Sharp Mixture' was anything but, since it began at 15-19-22. Both stops were somewhat reticent and simply did not impart any brilliance - neither did they appear to do anything useful. In the case of the Swell compound stop, it barely made any difference whether it was drawn or not.

 

I found the instrument to be both inconvenient and unwieldy. The pistons were non-adjustable, few in number and sluggish. So I was left with little choice but to hand-register virtually everything. This necessitated a few awkward pauses between items, in order to manipulate stops.

 

As I found it, the organ was in a fairly bad state. The tuning was not particularly good, the action was somewhat un-responsive and there were one or two cyphers - for example, E-flat 40 (whilst I was accompanying a choral piece in E-flat major).

 

As requested, as the final voluntary, I played Bach's Prelude, in C minor (BWV 546). Although I tried to treat it romantically, with the full Swell and coupled claviers, the sound was thick, turgid and somewhat uncouth.

 

I could see little merit in this instrument; it did not really perform the job which it was built to do. As an accompanimental medium, it lacked subtlety, clarity and interest (and the ability to be handled conveniently); as a solo instrument it was something of a disaster.

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I'm wondering where Conacher Sheffield (not the city) fits into this discussion. They appear to hail from Birmingham and I have no idea if Peter Conacher was the Conacher part of the company. In these parts, Staffordshire, they were responsible for additions to the Sam Green organ, originally at Bangor Cathedral, at the wonderful Anglo-Catholic church at Hoar Cross. By all accounts their work there was something of a dogs dinner, enlarging the instrument by installing too much additional, highly space hungry pipework with pneumatic action on a mechanical action organ. I understand the organ is presently being restored by Bishops to something like its original specification.

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Bernard Edmunds wrote, 'Conacher Sheffield, upon whom be maledictions'. I think that sums them up. I don't think think they were ever up to much, although I seem to remember an ad in MO for a clever-looking little extension organ in a college somewhere which might have been quite nice in a Mander Denham-ish sort of way if it worked out. I don't know if they had any connection with the Huddersfield Conachers - it's not a particularly unusual surname so it might just be coincidence.

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Bernard Edmunds wrote, 'Conacher Sheffield, upon whom be maledictions'. I think that sums them up. I don't think think they were ever up to much, although I seem to remember an ad in MO for a clever-looking little extension organ in a college somewhere which might have been quite nice in a Mander Denham-ish sort of way if it worked out. I don't know if they had any connection with the Huddersfield Conachers - it's not a particularly unusual surname so it might just be coincidence.

 

"Not a particularly unusual surname" you say, David. I've just done a search via the BT online directory for major cities in Yorkshire and it only comes up with one personal name (ironically a P Conacher) in Leeds. And surprisingly there's nobody listed by that name in Huddersfield or Birmingham.

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I was thinking in Scottish terms. I knew a few Conachers when I lived in Scotland - human, not organic. I think the name has a certain Irish/Gaelic ring to it, too.

 

Yorkshire names, and others from the Danelaw, tend to have Anglo Saxon roots - like Drinkell. My ancestors seem to have been in Jarvik until the 15th century, when they started a trek east, being found in Howden, and ended up in Grimsby. All Drinkells, Drinkles, Drinkalls, Drinkels, etc, will probably trace their origin to Grimsby within one or two generations (my grandfather was a sailor from there).

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