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Aeron Glyn Preston

Conacher - how good were they?

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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).

 

 

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

 

 

DON'T put this on your CV.

 

Best,

 

MM

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"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.

 

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

 

 

They probably fled when people heard the organs the family had made.

 

Best,

 

MM

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

 

 

They probably fled when people heard the organs the family had made.

 

Best,

 

MM

 

Maybe, but the NPOR website contains a mighty impressive list of organs attributable to Peter Conacher and he seems to have built a great many for Ulster. I assume that half the stops on the rather brash instrument in Hanley's Victoria Hall are those of the original Conacher organ.

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We had a Peter Conacher  in the Lytham Parish Church. It was a 3 manual instrument and must have been quite impressive when built. The pipes were made in France.and the organ faced the nave. When it was still fairly young the whole instrument was turned around to face the chancel and there the problems began. It was now much too loud in the chancel and feeble in the nave. All sorts of efforts were made to rectify this problem. Wind pressures were changed. New upperwork was added. The swell Cornopean 8' became a 16' stop and an extra chest for 8' and 4' reeds was added, but on higher pressure than the rest of the division. All the balance of the instrument was lost and it became an ugly mongrel of an organ. A pity really as the original pipes still sounded pretty good. It just goes to show that, like your house, 'Location, location, location' is vital to any organ......

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The trouble with Conacher's is that they were not just one firm but several, so you can't really ask how good 'a Conacher organ' is (or not) as this topic heading does, without saying which of the various forenames is on its nameplate and when it was built.  David Drinkell's earlier summary is useful to help sort their pedigree out.  Laurence Elvin in 'Pipes and Actions' also goes into it.  He mentions Peter, James, James & Sons, Joseph and Philip - to name but some - and draws out to some extent how they were intertwined.  It's some time since I last read the book so I can't summarise it here from memory, but will try to do so if requested by those who might not have it to hand.

As well as their average-to-bad work which previous posters have described, there were also some apparently well-regarded examples left by Peter at least, if contemporary accounts are to be believed.  I think it was the firm of that name which built four large 4 manual 22 rank cinema organs - correct me if I've got the wrong branch of the dynasty somebody.  One was in the Odeon (formerly the Ritz) in Nottingham.  It was a terrific thing and highly regarded by W L Sumner in the mid-20th century, and I had the privilege of a private play on it as a schoolboy thanks to the kindness of Gerald Shaw.  This was not long before bits of the organ were dispersed to the four winds just prior to the cinema being bulldozed.

CEP

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There were two firms in Huddersfield, stemming from Peter's initial foray in 1854 (initially with another partner), however brother James duly became a partner. This partnership was dissolved about 1879/1880, with a court case "Conacher v Conacher" well-covered in Musical Opinion & Trade Review at that time. James set up on his own, and in 1881 dismantled an 1860's Father Willis in Newport's Albert Hall and re-erected in the newly-completed Huddersfield Town Hall - and therein may lie the basis of the split, as Peter Conacher was by this time a Town Councillor and could not tender for the Town Hall project (which would undoubtedly been a worthy project to have bagged).

Herbert (son of James) worked with his Father before forming a partnership in the Birmingham area with P H Sheffield, sometime just before WWI I believe.

In terms of the "average-to-bad" epitaph, I simply don't recognise this in the number of Victorian instruments which I have encountered and worked on (by both brothers) constructed as they are with uniformly excellent materials, and most of them working with admirable efficiency in circumstances where the custodianship has been frugal. I accept that certain tonal characteristics of these instruments may not appeal to all.....

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 I agree with GrossGeigen's summary.  During my 14 years in Northern Ireland I played at least 40 Conachers, some of which I mentioned in my post on this thread a few years ago. The earlier ones are good, respectable tracker instruments, well built and voiced.  A comparison might be made with the organs of Henry Jones, many of which may still be found on country churches (at least, in East Anglia, where I grew up), although some of the smaller, later Jones jobs are let down by gormless stop-lists (flutes, dulcianas and a big diapason).  When one gets to the size where the Great runs to a Fifteenth, the comparison is more apt, and Conachers of these dimensions usually compare favourably with organs of similar size by such as Binns or Lewis.  They tend (in my experience) to be better and more imaginative than those of Abbott & Smith, Wadsworth or Forster & Andrews.  Often, an organ has to be over a certain size before it gets interesting.  Binns could be deathly dull around 11 speaking stops (e.g. Stromness Church, Orkney http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N18251), but excellent at 17 (e.g. Trim Cathedral, Co. Meath. Great: Open, Gedact, Dolce, Octave, Flautino, Trumpet. Swell: Geigen Principal, Rohr Flute, Vox Angelica, Principal, Mixture 15.19.22, Cornopean, Oboe. Pedal Contra Bass, Bourdon, Flute. Couplers include Swell Octave and Sub and Swell to Great 16.8.4). Nine stops worth of Lewis, as at Woolverstone, Suffolk (http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=D05628) does not add up to a lot of fun, although better than the same amount of Lewis at Dundrum, Co. Down (http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=D01459 - almost an octopod). A Father Willis "Model" (http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=D00537) or the same sort of thing by Arthur Harrison (http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N05347) is a lot more versatile from our point of view, and some of the little Norman & Beard jobs to be found all over East Anglia (each one an individual) can be much more interesting than the stop-list would suggest.

On a larger scale,  one could feel that a more inspired selection of stops might have been provided for the number of slides, such as one finds at Holy Trinity, Windsor (http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=D00991). Quite a fine organ, but some other builders would have been more imaginative.  On the other hand, Conachers' were recommended for the job by Sir Walter Parratt (a Huddersfield man), and he may have had a say in the stop-list.  First Ballymacarrett Presbyterian, Belfast has nothing above 4' pitch, but is quite impressive in a "toujours rosbif" sort of way (http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N06928).

Long-established firms often changed hands in the course of time, and it appears that Conachers' was no exception.  Leonard Bartram was their Irish manager at one time and later was in charge of the whole show (I don't know if he actually owned the firm as well).  Some fine jobs were turned out during his time - quite up-to-date technologically with stop-key consoles, cancellors, adjustable pistons, extended reed units.  It seems almost unkind to mention a real shocker - Cregagh Road Presbyterian, Belfast (http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=D01431).  It lurks behind a false "east" wall, complete with back-lit stained glass window, and the console is in the "west" gallery.  No time-lag, but the sound simply doesn't get into the church.  David McElderry of Wells-Kennedy, who maintained it, said that it was a decent enough organ inside the chamber, but it sounds unbelievably gormless in the church.  Simon Preston opened it and is reputed to have said it was the worst organ he had ever played, although his opinion might have been coloured by his leaving his organ shoes by the console while he went out for a bite to eat, returning to find that the care-taker had found them, thought they belonged to a tramp and binned them.  So said the Old Boys in Belfast, anyway....

These late Conachers could be a bit heavier in the diapasons, thicker in the chorus reeds and sometimes rather more acidic in the strings than was by then fashionable, but they were pretty good all the same. St. Columba's, Knock, Belfast is a nice example of a large two-manual (http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=D01412) and I mentioned Belmont Presbyterian as an outstanding effort for its time, with a big Positive division and generally (not quite entirely) enlightened scheme.

The firm was taken over by Willis, and later John Sinclair Willis acquired it from Henry 4 and ran it under the original name, from the old factory in Huddersfield.  I would be interested to know if this is still the case.

To conclude, I usually felt happy enough if I was going to play a Conacher, and there were some to which I would definitely look forward.  As forumites will know, there are a lot of organs, even the generality of products by certain builders, about which one cannot say that.

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Hi

I've come across a good few Conacher organs over the years, and haven't found a really bad one (aside from maintenance issues); and one of the most surprisingly versatile small organs of the era that I've  played a few times is this one http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N13335

Just a handful of stops across 2 manuals - the only thing I'd prefer is a Cornopean instead of the Oboe on the Swell.

Every Blessing

Tony

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I know this one and I agree that it's good.  In effect, a one-manual organ spread across two keyboards.  As my friend Tony Percival (a Congregationalist) used to point out, the Church at Steeple Bumpstead doesn't have a steeple, but the chapel does!  Conachers are quite rare in Essex, although the three-manual at South Weald comes as a bit of a surprise in what is not a very large church.

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I've played two Conachers, and both are very fine musical instruments, in my opinion. This one, by Peter Conacher, was originally a cinema organ before being moved to a church: http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=R00300 It looks to be very similar to the one Tony Newnham mentions above, and is very versatile despite it's size. 

The second is by James Conacher: http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=R00130 It is even smaller, but produces a lovely sound. The non-standard pedalboard takes a bit of getting used to. It is a 25-note radiating concave board, but takes up about the same space as a 30 note would, with the result that the notes are very widely spaced, and you have to stretch to reach top C. One other strange feature about this organ is the trumpet stop, which must have been a later addition. It is accessed by a strange red button, centrally placed above the swell manual, and produces the vilest sound I have ever heard from an organ. 

IMG_0003.JPG

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A fairly large two-manual Conacher organ is still housed in Theatr Soar in Merthyr Tydfil.  Dr William Reynolds, organist of St Mary's, Swansea, is heading up a grant application to get the organ restored.  It's not playable at the moment, and I've never heard it myself, but I'm assuming it is/was a fine instrument, given its BIOS certification.

http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=G01778

http://www.theatrsoar.co.uk/take-part/heritage-treftadaeth/

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I must say that I do think that the Conacher case designs and particularly their pipe stencilling can be very pretty.  Having said that I have two in churches in my care and both are plain and not particularly pretty (IMHO). The organ in the Church of St John the Baptist, Old Colwyn dates from about 1904 (and I wonder if it came from somewhere else or was originally designed for the church).  It was originally a two manual tracker and then at some time later a pneumatic choir of six stops was installed.  The stops are set on jambs at 90 degrees to the keyboards and the whole thing is INCREDIBLY difficult to play.  The action is in need of constant adjustment, although the tuning is rock steady generally speaking.  It was cleaned about four years ago.  But I can't help feeling that for 1904 it was incredibly old-fashioned even then.  Soundwise it's quite pleasing although there are some pretty powerful reed stops at 8' and 4' pitch which need careful use, and I also think that it's fairly light in the pedal department.  The stop jamb has a blank space presumably for a pedal reed which never came.  There are also other blanks on the jambs.  Certainly the pneumatic coupling from swell to choir doesn't work well with the very heavy mechanical action thwarting it.  

I was vicar of a church where we replaced with a digital organ,  an Abbott & Smith which had been butchered and just about destroyed by a notorious firm from Stoke on Trent.  This time I think it would be a huge pity to lose this rather grand Edwardian pipe organ, and a significant electrical rebuild would preserve and enhance what we have.  Alas however, congregations are small and the organ simply is not a priority as there is no budget.

Organ.jpg

Con1.jpg

Con2.jpg

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4 hours ago, quentinbellamy said:

...  The stops are set on jambs at 90 degrees to the keyboards and the whole thing is INCREDIBLY difficult to play.  The action is in need of constant adjustment, although the tuning is rock steady generally speaking.

Just out of interest, is the touch bad even when the organ is not in wind?  If so, this implies it is the action itself which is mechanically defective.  But if the touch becomes reasonable when the wind is switched off, this would suggest that the pallets are too large, a common problem in the days when they were simply made to cover the gaps between the soundboard bars (which result from how the pipes happen to be planted) rather than being designed aerodynamically for their function of wind delivery.  It could also mean that the wind pressure is too high, perhaps having been increased after the instrument was built.  Either way, the cost of doing much about it would be significant for a small congregation, as you said.

CEP

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Are you sure that's a Conacher original?  The draw-stops and layout look more like Lewis to me - or I could be making an idiot of myself!

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Hi

BOA has a couple of references to St John, Old Colwyn, (but from a secondary source).  According to that it was built by Conacher in 1903 & rebuilt be them in c.1913.  The NPOR ref is N11752, but it is a 1955 survey.  Hopefully, when I'm eventually well enough to get there, Quentin will find time to show me his churches & their organs.

Every Blessing

Tony

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 The drawstops on the Conacher organ below are in the same style as those in Quentin's photo, though the columns are two drawstops wide.

http://npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N11858

Quentin, NPOR shows a large Conacher organ in St Paul's, Colwyn Bay.  Are you familiar with it at all?

 

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22 hours ago, Aeron Glyn Preston said:

 The drawstops on the Conacher organ below are in the same style as those in Quentin's photo, though the columns are two drawstops wide.

http://npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N11858

Quentin, NPOR shows a large Conacher organ in St Paul's, Colwyn Bay.  Are you familiar with it at all?

 

The Colwyn Bay Conacher is still at St Paul's.  It was rebuilt in the very early 1960s by John H Cowin of Liverpool.  Even in those days it was a cheap rebuild and the fact that it is still playing is nothing short of a miracle.  To be sure, in it's present state it's not very good.  The Cowin console is now more or less completely worn out and I believe that there is to be some electrical work carried out very shortly (I think by David Wells) and that a new console will be provided.  It has the lovely stencilled pipework - alas that the choir stalls obscure the lower part of the chancel organ pipe display.  There is also a west-facing rack of very narrow scale pipes.  I think that in its time (ie before the rebuild) it was a pretty decent Conacher.   St Paul's is a HUGE church with a massive tower and was designed by the Chester architect John Douglas in the 1880s - the tower came in 1910, indicating to me that there must have been an enormous amount of money floating around at that time.

Other Conachers locally include Llanelian Church, Bryn y Maen Church, Rhos on Sea United Reformed Church (a later pneumatic job), the now-closed Nant y Glyn Methodist Church (another Cowin rebuild), and the now-closed Engedi Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Chapel.  There's also a transplanted Conacher (pictured below) installed by George Sixsmith & Co in the late 1980s/early 90s which replaced an earlier Aeolian organ in St Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Colwyn Bay.  My organ teacher once told me that the harp is not the national instrument of Wales:  the Conacher pipe organ is.

st J's organ02.jpg

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On 17/05/2012 at 20:56, Murton said:

How about this...yards away from me, its a great little instrument

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=N06615

This instrument is now in need of rescuing, as the Union Free Chapel in Wellington is due to be sold for housing.  I have received an email from a registered values, who has blithely assumed that I, having expressed an interest in looking at the organ, am in a position to buy it.  I am not, and am thus in something of a panic!  I could arrange to look at it and take some photos/videos, if anyone is interested.

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There is a very fine Conacher at St.Mary's in Frittenden, Kent, moved a few years ago from the south chancel to the north aisle. 

Details here.

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