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John Erskine

St Paul's Swell

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I wonder if someone would be kind enough to settle a small argument...

 

According to NPOR, the wind-pressure for Swell flues on the St Paul’s organ is 4½; the records of Henry Willis & Sons (apparently) give 3½. Which is correct? (Or is it that the pressure was 3½ and has been increased to4½?)

 

Thank you.

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According to an undated (but subsequent to the Mander alterations) booklet:

 

Great = 3 1/2" and 7"

Swell = 4 1/4" and 7" (so you're both wrong!)

S. Choir = 2 3/4"

N. Choir = 3 1/4"

Solo = 7" and 15"/17"

Chancel Pedal = 6" and 12"

Dome = 8", 17", 20"/25" and 30"

Dome Pedal = 6", 12" and 20"

West = 6" and 15"/25"

 

This booklet is a little old now, but I can't imagine anyone changing the wind pressure of such a highly regarded Swell.

 

Of course, the booklet could be wrong...!

 

John Mander would know.

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Thank you. And my apologies to NPOR! My eyes failed: NPOR, like your booklet, does indeed say 4¼ - though I’m told other sources say 4½. So there are actually three figures in the discussion. And the question remains as to the Willis figure: was the pressure at some point increased, or is 3½ a clerical error? To my knowledge there are at least four people around the world currently wanting to solve the mystery.

 

Yes, indeed: I am hoping that our kind hosts will settle the point for us authoritatively.

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According to an undated (but subsequent to the Mander alterations) booklet:

 

Great = 3 1/2" and 7"

Swell = 4 1/4" and 7" (so you're both wrong!)

S. Choir = 2 3/4"

N. Choir = 3 1/4"

Solo = 7" and 15"/17"

Chancel Pedal = 6" and 12"

Dome = 8", 17", 20"/25" and 30"

Dome Pedal = 6", 12" and 20"

West = 6" and 15"/25"

 

This booklet is a little old now, but I can't imagine anyone changing the wind pressure of such a highly regarded Swell.

 

Of course, the booklet could be wrong...!

 

John Mander would know.

 

The 'mystery' has gotten the better of me and I have taken the morning to take out all of the St. Paul's Cathedral files from the archive - I'm filthy dirty now!

 

There are MANY sheets of voicing shop notes, specifications to the Works, reports, etc., etc., and in ALL of these the Swell (Fluework) is only ever referred to as being on 3 1/2" w.g.. Also, in all cases, the Swell is always referred to has having never been changed from 1872.

 

For further interest, there is a 6-page note written in HW3's own hand to No. 2 Voicing Shop which indicates that the three stops in the Choir that were reputed to be fed from the same reservoir as the Swell Flues are indeed on 4 1/2" wind, but not fed from that res. at all (see later).

 

File notes from Nov. 1945 include a typed out "Reservoir Key" shewing what is fed from which reservoir and at what pressure:

 

No 1 - (Under Solo) Chancel South side 10" & Solo Swell engine 10"

 

No 2.- (Under Solo) Solo back soundboard & Cor-di-Bassetto, Ped.

Bourdon & Violone 3 1/2"

 

No 3. - Chancel Pedal: Open Bass, Octave, Flute, Octave Flute 3 1/2"

 

No 4. - Solo front soundboard: Con. Fagotto, French Horn, Cor Anglais 7"

 

No 5. - Solo Front soundboard: Trumpet, Con. Posaune, Chancel Ped

Ophicleide 17"

 

No 6. - Altar Organ 4 1/2"

 

No 7. - Swell & Choir Drawstop Action 17"

 

No 8. - Choir Pitman Chest 4 1/2"

 

No 9. - Choir main Fluework soundboard & front pipes 2 3/4"

 

No 10. - Swell Reeds soundboard 7"

 

No. 11 - Swell Fluework soundboard; Choir Flute Harmonique, Cor.-di-

Bassetto & Cor Anglais pallet 3 1/2"

 

etc., etc., etc..

 

And HERE I think we may be getting to the source of the mistake: If it has been noted in other places that the same reservoir supplies the Swell and THREE STOPS IN THE CHOIR, then these three stops could have been mistaken for the three on the Pitman chest, on higher pressure (which just happens to be 4 1/2").

 

There is therefore no doubt that the Swell was on 3 1/2" wind - at least until the rebuild carried out by Mander - and I really do doubt that it would ever have been changed. The 'sources' appear to be wrong!

 

These details are available to be inspected by any interested party.

 

Now I'm afraid I must get back to paid work.

 

Regards,

 

David Wyld

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Now I'm afraid I must get back to paid work.

David Wyld

This has been most interesting, and since no-one else has said it: Thanks David, you are a hero, dust-covered as they come.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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This has been most interesting, and since no-one else has said it: Thanks David, you are a hero, dust-covered as they come.

 

Best,

Friedrich

 

Indeed - thank you for taking the time to research this, David - it is most interesting.

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I too, as the instigator of this thread, am most grateful to Mr David Wyld for providing so much detailed and interesting information. (I am sorry that dust fell about him in the process.) It is good to know that so much archive material is preserved, and that it is generously made available to answer points of research - even informal ones.

 

That information proves beyond doubt that the pressure of the ranks concerned was 3 1/2; it also leads to the suggestion that it remained at 3 1/2, at least until recently. Interestingly, there is no mention there of the figure 4 1/4 - which is quoted as the current pressure by NPOR and 'the booklet'.

 

The questions remain: is the pressure today 3 1/2, or has it in the course of re-builds been increased to either 4 1/4 or 4 1/2?

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The questions remain: is the pressure today 3 1/2, or has it in the course of re-builds been increased to either 4 1/4 or 4 1/2?

 

Our host's company added a Vox Humana to the Swell, but whether this was added to the 3 1/2" chest or the 7" chest is not clear. In either case, I wonder whether John Mander would have this information to hand.

 

Personally, I'd bet on the wind pressure not having been raised during the rebuild.

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The mystery continues. My Mander contact messaged me earlier today: "I had to look it up! According to our wind pressure chart, the Swell fluework (inc Vox Humana and Hautboy) are on 4 3/8". I will try and find out if that is how we found it in 1972."

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The mystery continues. My Mander contact messaged me earlier today: "I had to look it up! According to our wind pressure chart, the Swell fluework (inc Vox Humana and Hautboy) are on 4 3/8". I will try and find out if that is how we found it in 1972."

 

 

I may be able to assist further:

 

There is a works copy (typed) specification in no 17. file (from 1st Jan 1970 - 31st Dec 1970) of the work done in 1960 which shews the pressure retained at 3 1/2" - the last time that Willis did any work, so it couldn't have been changed between then and the rebuilding.

 

Regards,

 

DW

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The mystery continues. My Mander contact messaged me earlier today: "I had to look it up! According to our wind pressure chart, the Swell fluework (inc Vox Humana and Hautboy) are on 4 3/8". I will try and find out if that is how we found it in 1972."

 

The mystery deepens: many thanks to you and your ‘Mander contact’, but that adds yet another figure to the list! I am wondering whether, in fact, it smoothes out the argument between 4/1/4 and 41/2, as they may simply be different people’s inaccurate reporting, or simply rounding, of the exact figure. Presumably if that’s what the Mander chart says, it must be the current pressure. It would be very interesting to know when and why it was raised.

 

As for the comment that ‘fluework’ includes the (new) Vox Humana and the (old? – NPOR has ‘part 1977’) Hautboy... that is interesting once again. As I understand it, the Hautboy was previously on low pressure. A History of the Organs in St Paul’s Cathedral (unless that’s wrong too!) reads: ‘The old swell box was to be retained. The department was to stay where it was in the south case. Eight flue stops would be on two lower soundboards on 3 1/2". The four reed stops of the upper soundboard were to be on 7”, though, in the event, the Hautboy was revoiced on the lower pressure, and given new resonators for the lowest octaves, leaving the three chorus reeds alone on the upper chest’ (p169).

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I am sorry to be a bit slow in responding to this.

 

When we first looked at the organ, long before we did any work on it, the wind pressure for the Swell fluework was measured at 4 3/8". We had assumed it would be 3 1/2", so were somewhat surprised. So the pressure was raised by somebody before we got to it. We stuck with this pressure, on the assumption it had been raised for a reason and it certainly seems about right for the building. The Vox Humana is (of course) on the same flue pressure.

 

John

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Thank you very much: that settles the point of exactly what the pressure is today and has been since (I believe is the case) 1972.

 

But put that information together with the previous information from Willis, that they appear to have left the pressure at 3 1/2 up to and including the last time they worked on the organ, and we have a final, intriguing (but perhaps irresolvable?) mystery: who raised the pressure, when, and quite why?

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Would Willis ever have had a reason to measure it after installation? In which case, is there the possibility of an error in the record from the very start, which has been perpetuated - precisely because it has never been changed - from the very beginning?

 

Paul

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Is it possible that the Swell wind pressure could have been increased at some time since 1945 (and before the Mander rebuild)? For example, I believe the Lewis pipes for the Dome Diapason Chorus were installed in 1949. Could other minor alterations have been made then or at other times since?

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Is it possible that the Swell wind pressure could have been increased at some time since 1945 (and before the Mander rebuild)? For example, I believe the Lewis pipes for the Dome Diapason Chorus were installed in 1949. Could other minor alterations have been made then or at other times since?

 

But David Wyld says in post 10 above: There is a works copy (typed) specification in no 17. file (from 1st Jan 1970 - 31st Dec 1970) of the work done in 1960 which shews the pressure retained at 3 1/2" - the last time that Willis did any work, so it couldn't have been changed between then and the rebuilding. Does this not mean, then, that attention should be focussed (as John Erskine says in post 13) on the twelve years from 1960 to 1972?

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Maybe Willis's were assuming the traditional pressure, unless it states specifically that they weighed the wind. Is it possible that the pressure may have been unofficially raised in the years following the Second World War, when the organ took a severe battering and everything may not have been well internally? It's quite a hike, all the same, so I am probably talking complete nonsense.

 

Wonderful organ, of course (and I think it still sounds like a Father Willis, despite what some folk say), but whenever I've played it, I've noticed that the in-house organists' piston settings use the Swell octave coupler rather a lot. Thus, the effect of the Swell, although marvellous, would seem not to be quite up to expected balance level with the Great (hence also Harry Gabb's practice of using the enclosed Solo reeds and mixtures as a super-Full Swell which extended the crescendo after the Swellbox proper was open. I do the same thing with the Solo reeds here).

 

Willis III, of course, quite often voiced complete large Swells on a pressure calculated to drive the reeds. The whole Swell at St. Magnus Cathedral is on 6", with no detriment to the sound of the flue-work.

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But David Wyld says in post 10 above: There is a works copy (typed) specification in no 17. file (from 1st Jan 1970 - 31st Dec 1970) of the work done in 1960 which shews the pressure retained at 3 1/2" - the last time that Willis did any work, so it couldn't have been changed between then and the rebuilding. Does this not mean, then, that attention should be focussed (as John Erskine says in post 13) on the twelve years from 1960 to 1972?

 

Sorry, I missed that.

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Willis III, of course, quite often voiced complete large Swells on a pressure calculated to drive the reeds. The whole Swell at St. Magnus Cathedral is on 6", with no detriment to the sound of the flue-work.

 

Isn’t that a rather different case, though? Correct me if I’m wrong, but that I think is a 1925 organ, so was presumably set up on comparatively high pressure and has remained at that level: the organ is playing today at the level at which it was designed to play, so one wouldn’t expect anything detrimental. But taking an organ (or ranks of one) designed to be played on a modest pressure and raising it significantly is obviously very different. Isn’t it, indeed, just the sort of thing that ‘most people’ today would lament – as being likely to make the tone fatter and less characterful?

 

If indeed the St Paul’s swell was 3 ½ in 1872 and was raised by 25% (by persons unknown, apparently some time before 1972 but after 1960), then isn’t (say) Southwark a more pertinent comparison? That famous Lewis organ was, if I’ve read it up correctly, also on 3 ½ in 1897, was then increased in one rebuild (1952), and then put down again to its original level in the 1991 rebuild.

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I emailed Ian Bell who was responsible for the Mander work in the 1970s. John Pike Mander had also mentioned the question of the swell wind pressure to him, and Ian has the following points to add to the information provided by JPM in post 12 above. He writes:

 

As is usual with anything that Willis worked on during the time of HWIII, several of the Cs were adorned with printed paper labels recording name, pitch and pressure, which was what first alerted us to the fact that things were not as we expected. The pressure on the labels was 4 1/2 inches, but when measured it turned out to be a bit less, at 4 3/8.

 

The reason that we checked this early was that the Swell Mixture, which remained cone-tuned, was in a very bad state with several dumb pipes, so it was brought to the shop, repaired, and fitted with slides as soon as we took the organ on, a couple of years before it was rebuilt, and checked for length and speech on the wind.

 

The 1872 work at St Paul's always had some aspects which were not pursued or repeated elsewhere (such as the Hautboy being on the reed pressure, and the half-length 16ft reed)). Most of the published material suggests that the Great and Swell pressures were 3 1/2 and 7 which were the usual HW practice (though not without exceptions, especially in the mid/late 1880s where some, such as Canterbury and Truro, had fluework on 4). I did not believe this was an exception, and was inclined to guess that this was raised either when the organ was moved to, or back from the nave, in 1925-1930; or perhaps more likely when it was roughly dismantled and reassembled after WWII.

 

However the published recording of wind-pressures in organs is often erratic, sometimes because the builder either works from memory or deliberately misleads the writers (especially with some very high pressures which everyone knows have never been what they were claimed to be), and sometimes because the voicers changed pressures on site which never found their way back into the file. There are very few detailed lists of pressures for St Pauls, which HWIII simply bracketed in print as from 3 1/2 to 30 inches - neither of which were in fact accurate. But John Bumpus, in his Organs and Organists of St Pauls, 1891 (which can be read online), lists the pressures in some detail and gives the Gt and Sw as 3 1/2 and 6, which are probably wrong - but who is to say? It might have been re-jigged to what were by then standard Willis pressures, in 1897-1900. He also notes the other thing which was relevant to the question, which is that the two Choir reeds were higher than the rest of the Choir - the flues being shown as 2 1/2, and the reeds 3 1/2.

 

What I had forgotten in talking to John on Monday was that we found when we dismantled the organ that the Choir was 2 3/4, but the reed pallets (no longer feeding reeds by then) were fed from the Swell low -pressure reservoir, in wooden trunking, and clearly had always been so. In 1949 Willis III replaced the Choir reeds with upperwork, and also added three more stops (mutations and a Trumpet) on a Pitman chest, which was also taken off the Swell flues - and the pressure for these is noted in his published material at that time, and thereafter, as being 4 1/2.

 

So for what it is worth we can infer that by 1949, deliberately or not, the Swell flues were on a nominal 4 1/2. Either way, this was not altered at the Mander rebuild - though some other pressures were, and the Hautboy was brought onto the flue pressure.

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These further comments and suggestions are all interesting.

 

On the surface, there is one seemingly irreconcilable contradiction between what could otherwise be perfectly complimentary information from the two organ firms concerned: Willis - 'so [the pressure] couldn't have been changed between then [1960] and the rebuilding [1972-7]' ; and then Mander - 'So the pressure was raised by somebody before we got to it[ in 1972]'. It would be a rash man or woman who would suggest that either Mr Wyld or Mr Mander can't read the records of their own firms (not to say impolite and ungrateful, after they have kindly made them available); but it seems unlikely that a third firm crept into St Paul's and raised the wind pressure unnoticed and without authorisation or payment. So a simple error or omission somewhere in the records seems the only possibility.

 

As a couple of earlier posts have observed, the records prior to 1972 seem to show the pressure not being altered; the Mander information states that it was measured, and found to be set at 4 3/8. One can only contemplate the possibility that either the pressure was raised at some point in the mid-twentieth century (as we know happened to many organs) and the record of it for some reason didn't survive, or the pressure was in fact 4 3/8 from 1872, but by some simple clerical or other innocent error was recorded somewhere as 3 1/2, and subsequent information was taken from that common source. Either, I freely admit, would be a very thin and speculative argument. But unless the pressure was raised by angelic powers - what other possible explanations are there? One way of testing the latter point, I suppose, would be to ask how likely it is that such an organ would have been given that pressure at that date. One could compare the pressures on other Father Willis organs. One could... except that by no means all available specifications include details of wind pressure (I tried earlier today, and didn't get far). And even then, there is no saying what might have been thought appropriate for that particular building.

 

Frustrating! But I suppose the key points are the observation above from John Pike Mander that 'it certainly seems about right for the building', and another from the current organist of St Paul's: 'Either way, the results speak for themselves - the best Swell Organ in the world!'

 

[The above was written before the last post from Wolsey appeared.]

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Having now studied that...

 

Thank you very much, Wolsey; and thank you very much indeed, Mr Ian Bell, for taking us as far as possible to a solution, and in very interesting detail.

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I have found this a fascinating thread. My thanks to all concerned.

 

More like this, please!

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Wonderful organ, of course (and I think it still sounds like a Father Willis, despite what some folk say), but whenever I've played it, I've noticed that the in-house organists' piston settings use the Swell octave coupler rather a lot. Thus, the effect of the Swell, although marvellous, would seem not to be quite up to expected balance level with the Great (hence also Harry Gabb's practice of using the enclosed Solo reeds and mixtures as a super-Full Swell which extended the crescendo after the Swellbox proper was open. I do the same thing with the Solo reeds here).

 

David is absolutely correct about Harry Gabb and his Full Solo 'habit.' Given the current specification of the St Paul's organ, however, readers unfamiliar with the organ in its previous incarnation may not fully appreciate how powerful an effect this was. Pre-1972, there was (on the Solo) a Trumpet 8 and a 16ft Contra Posaune (which went up to the dome in the 72-77 rebuild and have subsequently been replaced) and a 16ft Contra Fagotto which was discarded as well as a III-rank Mixture. Octave and Sub-Octave couplers were also available, of course, and this produced a most exciting effect - a great wall of sound coming from the Solo area which is east of the main case on the north side. Think of the opening of Stainer's 'I saw the Lord' and the fanfare bits in the magnificat of Murrill in E.

 

Very interested in David's observations regarding use of the swell octave on the pistons - I have felt sure this was happening in one or two St Paul's organ recordings and it had never really occurred to me that on a large organ such devices would be used very much. I have always rather eschewed them except for special effects or with 8ft strings, or a single 8ft stop - lieblich, tuba, etc... but are they used in a regular way by organists playing large instruments? On our (excellent) digital instrument, I have enjoyed experimenting with them to good effect lately.

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Fascinating thread.

 

How much difference does the condition of the reservoirs or blower make to the wind pressure? I have no idea what conditiopn the organ was in by 1970 but seem to recal there was damage after the war.

 

The difference a new blower (actually two, one temporary until the reservoirs can be restored) has made to wind stability in Shrewsbury Abbey is quite remarkable, making me wonder how much difference wind leaks would make to recording a wind pressure. If perhaps there had been leaks at the time it was measured at 3 1/2 which were subsequently patched up, could that raise the recorded pressure by almost an inch? How much can the pressure be changed before pipes need revoicing?

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