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Early 20th Century Electro-Pneumatics


MusingMuso

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Really a part of my Compton research, but something which is of general interest, is the question of when particular organ-builders started to use EP actions rather than tracker or Tubular Pneumatic ones.

 

We can safely eliminate Compton and Norman & Beard, because Compton seemed to switch over after about 1910,(first use actually 1908 at Selby Abbey) and N & B, after early use of EP action around the turn of the century, (completing Hope Jones contracts)reverted back to the TP actions they had worked with previously. (Their last TP action, as H,N & B, was in 1958 at St Mark's, Brighton)

Hill, Norman & Beard used EP actions in all the theatre organs of course, but TP seems to have been normal for church jobs.

 

What of Walker, Rushworth & Dreaper, Harrison & Harrison, and Willis?

 

 

All I know, is that Willis more or less copied the Pitman actions and used this system quite early, but exactly when I do not know.

 

Harrison & Harrison incorporated EP action for the first time at Christ Church, Skipton. (NPOR states 1906, but I think it was 1911...the action was still working in 1980, when it was replaced) Was the rebuild of the Willis at Durham anotherearly one? They were certainly happy to continue with TP action for quite some time afterwards, in spite of the success at Skipton.

 

Most of not all of the provincial builder stayed with TP action....Abbott & Smith, Forster & Andrews, Brindley & Foster, Binns etc. (I think Binns, Fitton & Haley were using EP in the late 1940's)

 

It's a bit of a puzzle to me, probably because I've never thought to ask the question before or even consider it.

 

Actually, the success of TP is not unconnected with the lecky supply, which in certain rural areas, didn't exist even in the mid 1960's. I recall Yorkshire Dales farmhouses with coal fires and oil lamps in the mid 1960's, and a farmhouse in Scotland which had a Petter engine and generator set in an outside shed.

 

I suspect this is one for the active organ-builders, who will have hands on knowledge, because the details in NPOR are not complete when it comes to action types.

 

Best,

 

MM

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Hi

 

First Willis with EP action is said to be Canterbury Cathedral - http://npor.org.uk/c...ec_index=N14643 - that was 1886. IIRC, Bevington used an electric action earlier than that.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

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

 

 

Thanks Tony, I wasn't aware of Canterbury. However, there were numerous experiments in the 19th century, a few fires and not a little aggro. Even Dr Gauntlett came up with the weird idea of making all the organs at the Great Exhibition (1851) play from one electric console. Another early one was the ex-exhibition organ at St Mary's, East Parade, Bradford, built by Annessens using the Moel & Schmole patent action.

 

This is why I want ot avoid the 19th century, because I'm looking for the time when certain builders "went electric" as a matter of course, while others remained loyal to TP action, like Brindley did right to the end in the 1930's. I'm fairly sure there was never an EP Abbott & Smith organm, or for that matter a Forster & Andrews one, and that's two companies who had done a lot of work across the land.

 

Apart from Willis and the early Norman & Beard electric actions, was it the theatre organs which forced certain organ-builders down that path?

 

I'm thinking Compton obviously, but additionally, companies such as Conacher, Spurden-Rutt, Hill, Norman & Beard (Christie); maybe even Walker with their Compton connection.

 

Harrison are the big surprise, because in spite of the extraordinary success of the 1906 (1911?) EP action at Skipton, they were very slow to adopt it generally it seems.

 

Intriguing and intriguinger!

 

Best,

 

MM

 

.

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Bryceson's exhibition organ, relocated to St Peter, Parkstone in 1886 used electric action. The Leclanche cells were located on high shelves in a vestry beneath the organ chamber. The shelves were still there c1983/4, around the time it was rebuilt by Osmonds.

 

H

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... Harrison are the big surprise, because in spite of the extraordinary success of the 1906 (1911?) EP action at Skipton, they were very slow to adopt it generally it seems. ...

MM

 

At Durham Cathedral, in 1905, they placed the Great and Swell organs on electro-pneumatic action. Since these divisions were situated on the North side of the Quire, it was presumably deemed expedient and desirable to do so. In 1935, the Solo Organ was also placed on the North side of the Quire (but high up, in the Triforium).

 

The 1914 H&H rebuild* of the FHW organ in Saint Peter's Church, Bournemouth, also utilised electric action for the Choir Organ. However, I am fairly certain that this was direct electric, there being no pneumatic motor stage.

 

 

 

* Although in most respects it was actually a new instrument.

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At Durham Cathedral, in 1905, they placed the Great and Swell organs on electro-pneumatic action. Since these divisions were situated on the North side of the Quire, it was presumably deemed expedient and desirable to do so. In 1935, the Solo Organ was also placed on the North side of the Quire (but high up, in the Triforium).

 

The 1914 H&H rebuild* of the FHW organ in Saint Peter's Church, Bournemouth, also utilised electric action for the Choir Organ. However, I am fairly certain that this was direct electric, there being no pneumatic motor stage.

 

 

 

* Although in most respects it was actually a new instrument.

 

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

 

 

Thank you for this reply.

 

I had identified Durham as a possible candidate, but I wasn't aware of the details. I shall have to dig my The Harrison Story out and have a look. It tends to suggest that the Skipton organ was their first ALL EP action organ. These early dates intrigue me, because there is absolutely no way that organ-supply houses had the components, and no firm in their right minds would have tooled up to make one-offs. Were they, I wonder, supplied by a licensee of the Hope-Jones system? Perhaps even another organ-builder such as Norman & Beard?

 

Thinking about Bournemouth, I suspect that this would be a town with a decent electric supply in 1914, but direct electric action would require quite a hefty dynamo to work the pallets direct. Could it have been that the Choir Organ didn't have primary pneumatics as an under-action, but had instead, the usual electro-magnetic solenoid operating the main, secondary pneumatic inside the chest? That would tie in with the usual method of the day, I suspect.

 

Of course, rapidly becoming the premier builder of the day after about 1910, Harrisons would work with some particularly large and difficult installations, with pipes scattered here there and everywhere; Durham being a good example. For that reason, they had good cause to pursue EP action early on, and that seems to be the case.

 

It's curious really, for although EP was around after the Hope-Jones organ at Birkenhead, most builders avoided using it for quite some time. Compton was certainly one of the first to have a good working system, but I suspect that the general adoption of EP action wasn't until the era of the theatre organ in the late 1920's and through the 30's.

 

It's that period 1910 to about 1925 which is a bit obscure, and if we eliminate the Norman & Beard/Hope Jones jobs, it's starting to look as if only Compton, Willis and Harrisons were pursuing the EP route as a viable and reliable alternative to TP before the theatre organs came along. (The Patman touring organ must have been EP, coming to think about it). Looking at the Willis/Lewis at Westminster Cathedral, that MUST have been EP, rather the TP action listed on the NPOR, if only because of the far flung east end section. Liverpool must also have been an early candidate, coming to think about it.

 

So the jury is still out for the moment, but I'm sure it will get clearer as time drifts on.

 

Best,

 

MM

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Hi

 

Perhaps we need to remember that electricity wasn't widely understood - nor available everywhere - until relatively recently*. Organ builders understood pneumatics, and they could make everything in house, whereas electric actions needed special parts which either had to be bought in - and in the early days there were no suppliers - or made, requiring tooling and a different set of skills. From what I've read, many builders until perhaps the 1950's only used electric action where long distances/difficult routes between console & pipework were involved, or where a significant amount of extension and/or duplexing was specified (small amount could be done with pneumatics - I've seen the remains of a pneumatically played Trumpet rank playable at 16, 8 & 4ft from the Swell and at 8 on the pedals. (The same organ had a tracker action Nave division the other side of the chancel arch from the main organ). Many customers didn't want to be guinea pigs for what was to them unknown technology, and early electric actions were often regarded as being fire risks.

 

* My great-grandmother's house had no electricity in the 1960's - gas lighting downstairs, open fires, and a "Rediffusion" speaker for radio.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Hi

 

Perhaps we need to remember that electricity wasn't widely understood - nor available everywhere - until relatively recently*. Organ builders understood pneumatics, and they could make everything in house, whereas electric actions needed special parts which either had to be bought in - and in the early days there were no suppliers - or made, requiring tooling and a different set of skills. From what I've read, many builders until perhaps the 1950's only used electric action where long distances/difficult routes between console & pipework were involved, or where a significant amount of extension and/or duplexing was specified (small amount could be done with pneumatics - I've seen the remains of a pneumatically played Trumpet rank playable at 16, 8 & 4ft from the Swell and at 8 on the pedals. (The same organ had a tracker action Nave division the other side of the chancel arch from the main organ). Many customers didn't want to be guinea pigs for what was to them unknown technology, and early electric actions were often regarded as being fire risks.

 

* My great-grandmother's house had no electricity in the 1960's - gas lighting downstairs, open fires, and a "Rediffusion" speaker for radio.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

 

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

 

 

More or less right Tony, and people often forget that the lecky supply only became a grid around 1930 or thereabouts, (I forget the exact date), but the task of the grid was to make the supply available generally, which probably took over thirty-years. Certainly, in the 1960's, the Yorkshire Dales were largely powered by diesel generators at farmhouses, with oil lamps, tilley lamps, open fires, coal/wood cooking ranges and a few handheld torches bought on a trip to the city. There was no gas to speak of, and at night, the villages were totally dark. I know that one Compton installation used accumulators charged by a dynamo from an unspecified type of blower....probably a gas or oil engine, and they were only removed in the late 1930's..

 

With regard to "outside suppliers" of electrical parts, I suspect, (but cannot prove) that this existed on a bespoke basis. I don't know whether you've read the Lancaster Theatre Organ Trust article about Hope-Jones, but apparently, his magnets were almost certainly made and wound by a certain Mr Rolls, (of Rolls-Royce fame), in Manchester. When Hope-Jones, with the backing of the brewer Threlfall, set up the HJ Electric Organ Company, the intention was to permit other organ-builders to use the system "under licence".....that translated I think into "supplying clients." That company went pop, as did almost any company associated with H-J, but G W Wells-Beard, (of Norman & Beard), was a director of the ill-fated H-J enterprise, which is how Norman & Beard ended up with the rights to the patents. My guess....and it is a guess...is that Norman & Beard may have supplied things to other builders, but using outside manufacturers operating on a franchise basis. That would make perfect sense, because not only were Norman & Beard starting to become strapped for cash at this time, due to the general downturn in organ-building after the turn of the century, fledgling electrical companies would have welcomed work which involved job-lots of identical components as a production run.Perhaps the same people supplied telephone companies....who knows?

 

It's a great shame that I wasn't more aware of things back in 1980, because that early electrical mechanism at Christ Church, Skipton, was only ripped out then, after about 70 years of reliable service. I'd almost stick my neck out, that that action was supplied by the same people who made parts for Norman & Beard and Hope-Jones; especially since the cable run was from the steps of the chancel, right to the west gallery position of the windchests under the tower....probably about a 100ft cable run. As I stated previously, there's no way that Harrison & Harrison would have had the skills and capacity to make their own electrical components, and whether we care to admit it or not, "organ supply houses" DID exist, going right back to mid-Victorian times.

 

As for the fire risk, you are quite right.....Selby Abbey being the classic example. If the gas-engine didn't burst into flames or poison everyone, a sudden discharge or short in miriad cotton or silk covered cables would have produced an interesting firework display. (I recall my brother accidentally shorting out a mini-van battery inside the vehicle, with a reel of loose cable....we were running for our lives with blobs of molten metal flying everywhere). Amusingly, as I was writing up the early years of John Compton, I realised that I was also writing about the history of the fire-brigade!

 

So you are quite right about people being wary of electrical anything in the early days, just as I was rather scared of the carbon-arc rectifier of an organ in Rochdale, by Binns. I was 15 and the rectifier was an old-age-pensioner, and nowadays, I suspect one would only be allowed to approach such a device wearing a Faraday suit! (The wires were just bolted to bare terminals, without any attempt at insulation, with a mains switch about 10 ft away).

 

Remember those early blower rheostats? They were fun if you threw the handle too quickly.......sparks everywhere and probable damage to the motor. They wouldn't be rushed as the blower ground up to speed, and it was a bit like driving a tram....if people remember what trams were outside Manchester, Sheffield and Blackpool.

 

Which reminds me, I must get a battery for my watch. It's been in there 3 years!

 

Best,

 

MM

 

 

PS: Tony....Compton made a whole 4 rank extension organ using pneumatics in the early days. That must have been a throw-back to his Brindley & Foster days, and their use of the modified Keggladen operating on their Metechotic system, which must have been under development when Compton worked for them..

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Ingrams, working with RHJ, produced some of course, or at least one - St Oswalds Hartlepool being a still present but not working example. Designed by RHJ before he 'fled' to the USA but not built til 1905 according to NPOR.

 

Something I'd be interested to know on a technical point, is what orientation of magnets did the likes of Willis and others starting/dabbling in EP use - that is, did they have them 'upside down' as Hope-Jones did (magnets on top side of action, meaning that armatures fell to the on position when the organ was off, thus as the blower ran up or down there were a huge amount of brief cyphers, which prompted RHJ to create elaborate switching systems to shut ventils and sliders off as the highest pressure reservoir collapsed (at least he did so at Battersea)), or what we now know as the right way up, with magnets on the underside of chests?

 

Of course I'm sure that time-served organ builders can answer all this.

 

P

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Willis - My old organ at St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, was supposed to have been the last Willis built with slider soundboards, but I think it had electric action from the start (1925). The action goes in a small conduit under the floor - in the beginning they dispatched a small dog into the conduit which duly emerged at the other end carrying a string to which the cable was attached. It seems to me that Willis III was establishing a new house style at the time, of which the Skinner-type mechanisms were a part, but also the tonal schemes (Kirkwall had an Harmoncis IV on the Great amd other features that looked more Harrisonian than Willisean). The feature of the Skinner-type action was that it was "all-electric", rather than relying on pneumatic motors at certain points.

 

N&B - Apparently their pneumatic action was popular for its reliability, particularly in tropical work. I believe they produced one or two pneumatic jobs for Africa even in the early 60s. St. Peter's, Brighton (rebuild of a rather good Father Willis) was a late pneumatic action - mid to late 50s.

 

Innate conservatism was probably the reason for some firms being late on the electric action scene. If they had a reliable system, which could be produced economically and serviced by their representatives, a firm would be loath to give it up for something else for which they might have to spend money in research or in licence fees.

 

Willis III made some remarks in the press about innovations in Rushworth organs which he claimed were a result of some of his men leaving and going to Rushworths.

 

As Stephen Bicknell remarked, Compton's confidence in using electric action was one of his most important characteristics. The same could be said of North American builders, who were using electrics and other modern features as a matter of course long before they became normal in the UK. My Casavant console (1927) has a piston setting mechanism with everything adjustable by a setter piston. It was patented in about 1907 and still works.

 

The orignal 1904 H-J/Ingram organ here at St. John's had a number of problems, which N&B's rep (in 1907) put down to lack of knowledge on the part of the local tuner, the effect of steam heating on the soundboards (a common cause of distaster with British organs in North America), and a design fault in the coupling mechanism which he said could be easily rectified.

 

Westminster Cathedral - The west end organ was pneumatic, but the big console controlling both organs was electric. I beleive that when Harrisons' restored the west end organ some years ago they kept the pneumatics at the keys in order to preserve the feel of the action and electrified things further on.

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Willis - My old organ at St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, was supposed to have been the last Willis built with slider soundboards, but I think it had electric action from the start (1925). The action goes in a small conduit under the floor - in the beginning they dispatched a small dog into the conduit which duly emerged at the other end carrying a string to which the cable was attached. It seems to me that Willis III was establishing a new house style at the time, of which the Skinner-type mechanisms were a part, but also the tonal schemes (Kirkwall had an Harmoncis IV on the Great amd other features that looked more Harrisonian than Willisean). The feature of the Skinner-type action was that it was "all-electric", rather than relying on pneumatic motors at certain points.

 

Your point about the Harrison 'influence' on Willis' tonal schemes is an interesting one - particularly the G.O. Harmonics (17-19-flat 21-22), which was an apparent copy of Harrisons' recipe. There was also a Tromba, on 300mm wind pressure - although this was enclosed in the Choir expression box. Aside from some differences in nomenclature, there are also a number of similarities between this Choir Organ and a standard Choir Organ scheme of a Harrison organ. The action was indeed electro-pneumatic from the outset. *

 

Willis III was a great believer in (and promoter of) electro-pneumatic actions, together with adjustable pistons - including an array of general pistons.

 

 

 

* p.10, The Rotunda: Volume One, Number One. Willis 'house' magazine; September 1925.

 

 

 

 

... Innate conservatism was probably the reason for some firms being late on the electric action scene. If they had a reliable system, which could be produced economically and serviced by their representatives, a firm would be loath to give it up for something else for which they might have to spend money in research or in licence fees.

 

I suspect that this was certainly the case with H&H. In addition, I think that it is likely that Arthur Harrison would be unwilling to risk the reputation of the firm on anything that was either untested or not thoroughly safe.

 

Willis III made some remarks in the press about innovations in Rushworth organs which he claimed were a result of some of his men leaving and going to Rushworths.

 

He also made some unwise (and thinly-veiled) remarks in jest with regard to the workmanship of Hele & Co, Plymouth. In this case, legal action ensued. There were a number of interesting exchanges in the 'Letters to the Editor' section - as well as articles from both parties.

 

As Stephen Bicknell remarked, Compton's confidence in using electric action was one of his most important characteristics.

 

Although it is interesting to note that the authorities at Selby Abbey elected not to re-quote with Compton after the disastrous fire of 1906, instead choosing to commission William Hill & Son to build the new instrument.

 

 

Westminster Cathedral - The west end organ was pneumatic, but the big console controlling both organs was electric. I beleive that when Harrisons' restored the west end organ some years ago they kept the pneumatics at the keys in order to preserve the feel of the action and electrified things further on.

 

They also retained the 'piano' keys for the lowest clavier. Willis often did this, although I think that it looks odd. It must have made it a little difficult to fit in the action for the Choir pistons - since these keys are not under-cut.

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The Melbourne Town Hall rebuild was designed by Edwin Lemare in consultation with Eustace Ingram.

And now for a slight deviation from the subject at hand. Eustace Ingram (Jnr) travelled to Melbourne in 1904 on the ship Ortona. Some of the other passengers on this voyage were Paderewski and Alfred Hollins. Hollins was contracted for concerts on the Sydney Town Hall instrument, but while on the stopover in Melbourne was shown the Hill instrument by Ingram. Hollins was also hired to give a series of three concerts by Norman & Beard to open their first New Zealand instrument (in late October 1904) in St. John's Anglican Church, Invercargill, (the southernmost city in the world). It was Hollins only New Zealand concerts.

As an complete aside, the instrument re-used the Lewis pipework from the former instrument, and according to the local reports, "Mr. T. C. Lewis, the maker of the present organ in S. John's is a member of the firm of Norman and Beard, who have been entrusted with the additions, and he is taking a keen personal interest in the business in consequence." Not only that, but the Invercargill organbuilder who installed the organ was one of Eustace Ingram's (Senior) first apprentices - N. T. Pearce.

 

Now back to the subject of early 20th Century electro-pneumatic, Ingram & Co., also installed two instruments in Christchurch, New Zealand. A four manual for the New Zealand International Exhibition, ordered mid 1905 and installed by November 1906. It was used for factory recitals on June 12 and 13, 1906. It was billed as the largest organ of its class in the world, with the exception of the Melbourne Town Hall, and the second electrical organ in Australasia. It was destroyed by fire in 1917.

This was followed in 1907 by a three manual instrument in Durham Street Methodist Church, Christchurch (job number 662).

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The Melbourne Town Hall rebuild was designed by Edwin Lemare in consultation with Eustace Ingram.

And now for a slight deviation from the subject at hand. Eustace Ingram (Jnr) travelled to Melbourne in 1904 on the ship Ortona. Some of the other passengers on this voyage were Paderewski and Alfred Hollins. Hollins was contracted for concerts on the Sydney Town Hall instrument, but while on the stopover in Melbourne was shown the Hill instrument by Ingram. Hollins was also hired to give a series of three concerts by Norman & Beard to open their first New Zealand instrument (in late October 1904) in St. John's Anglican Church, Invercargill, (the southernmost city in the world). It was Hollins only New Zealand concerts.

As an complete aside, the instrument re-used the Lewis pipework from the former instrument, and according to the local reports, "Mr. T. C. Lewis, the maker of the present organ in S. John's is a member of the firm of Norman and Beard, who have been entrusted with the additions, and he is taking a keen personal interest in the business in consequence." Not only that, but the Invercargill organbuilder who installed the organ was one of Eustace Ingram's (Senior) first apprentices - N. T. Pearce.

 

Now back to the subject of early 20th Century electro-pneumatic, Ingram & Co., also installed two instruments in Christchurch, New Zealand. A four manual for the New Zealand International Exhibition, ordered mid 1905 and installed by November 1906. It was used for factory recitals on June 12 and 13, 1906. It was billed as the largest organ of its class in the world, with the exception of the Melbourne Town Hall, and the second electrical organ in Australasia. It was destroyed by fire in 1917.

This was followed in 1907 by a three manual instrument in Durham Street Methodist Church, Christchurch (job number 662).

 

This is interesting.

 

Do you know of any sound-clips of any of these instruments, please? I have not heard any organs by this builder.

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Willis - My old organ at St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, was supposed to have been the last Willis built with slider soundboards, but I think it had electric action from the start (1925). ...

 

Writing in The Organ* of the Willis III instrument in Hanley Town Hall, Reginald Whitworth says this: ' It was completed in 1922, just prior to [Willis'] adoption of electric action as standard.' He continues: 'The console of this organ might well be termed "Willis transitional", in that it possesses some of the features of the modern standard console of that firm. For instance, all the combination pistons are adjustable at the keyboards, but each piston has its own individual adjuster button placed above the drawstops concerned instead of one adjuster for all the pistons, as in the present Willis console.'

 

This feature pre-dates the brief adoption of this method, which was also employed by H&H, by several years. I believe that the Harrison firm first used this facility at Westminster Abbey, in 1937.

 

 

 

* p. 112, The Organ. Musical Opinion. 13 Chichester Rents, London WC2. (October 1936.)

 

 

 

Addendum: As I typed this, I had in the back of my mind, a recollection of a photograph of an earlier H&H instrument with this feature. Certainly the Royal Albert Hall had twelve of them (for various adjustable pistons), at the tops of the divisional jamb panels. This instrument was completed in 1933. However, the console of the H&H organ in King's College Chapel, Cambridge (1934) did not have this component - it had the switchboard type, with small, three-positional 'pins', such as was still in use at Exeter Cathedral until 2002. The earliest example I can find to-date, is the console of the H&H rebuild of the Hill organ in All Saints', Margaret Street, London W1. This was built in 1911, and possessed six miniature pistons at the tops of the divisional jamb panels, to set the adjustable pistons. So, in fact, HWIII may also have copied this from Harrison organs too. That is, if we allow that his 'Harmonics' (17-19-flat 21-22) at Kirkwall Cathedral (1925) was a copy of Harrisons' recipe.

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I find it interesting that a certain Charles Sparkman Barker, who patented his eponymous lever in 1839, filed a patent for a "pneumatico-electric device" [sic] as early as 1862. He licensed its sole use to Henry Bryceson whose first essay at an electropneumatic organ - and thus almost certainly the earliest ever built in the UK - seems to have been in 1867 for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, subsequently moved to the University of Westminster, Fyvie Hall (formerly Regent Street Polytechnic). I have no idea what happened to it in the end:

 

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=N16539

 

Two further electropneumatic organs followed in 1868:

Christ Church Peckham (organ destroyed in the Blitz)

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=N16150

 

and

St Michael's Cornhill

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=N17708

 

St George's Tufnell Park followed in 1871:

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=N16881

 

Sources:

http://tinyurl.com/a7befsm

 

A second patent for electropneumatic action was filed by a Mr Goundry in 1863. The first electropneumatic action, designed by Barker and Peschard was at Salon (Bouche-de-Rhônes) in France where Barker was working at the time. Even earlier Henry John Gauntlett filed a patent for direct electric action in 1852 which would free keyboards from having to be echanically connected to organs, and improve key touch (see also the earlier comment about joining the various Great Exhibition organs together through one console) but the likelihood of this working satisfactorily seems small. And Audesley records that Forster (of Hull) claimed in the 1860s that Schulze had experimented with electricity in Germany too.

 

All this rather begs the question, when did tubular pneumatic action begin to be widely used in preference to the Barker lever, and why? There must have been a significant advantage to either tubular pneumatic or electropneumatic actions (besides the ability to build detached consoles) over it, for the use of Barker levers to be phased out in the latter half of the nineteenth century, never to return (at least, perhaps, until Willis' recent organ in Florence). From the chronology it would appear to me that both tubular pneumatic and electropneumatic must have developed in parallel initially, and it's tantalising to ask whether, had electricity supplies been safer and more reliable in the mid-nineteenth century, would tubular pneumatic action ever have been invented or refined in the first place? I suspect the reason why the advantages of electric actions were never realised until much later (and why therefore pubular pneumatic organs continued to be built right into the 1950s) ultimately boiled down to their (initial lack of) reliability combined with supply issues. One would have thought that if anyone was to champion electropneumatic action, it would have been that Hope-Jones hero-worshipper George Ashdown Audesley, yet if I recall correctly, even he, writing in the Art of Organ Building in 1905 felt unable to fully commend it due to the continuing unreliability of the technology at the time of writing.

 

This reminds me of a thread I started a little while back on the restoration of the organ in Shrewsbury Abbey; having been built originally with pneumatic action the plan now is to restore it but with elctropneumatic action. I raised the suggestion then that had electricity been more reliable during Victorian days we might not even be having the discussion since electropneumatic action would have always been the default for non-tracker organs and pneumatic action need never have been invented. However the need to repair and upgrade early electric actions is clear; around twenty five years ago my school replaced its organ (a 1930s Rushworth and Dreaper with console but no case, pipes were concealed behind wooden panels) with a new Peter Collins organ. The Rushworth console had to be removed, so a few pupils, myself included, under the watchful eye of a physics teacher, dismantled it over one weekend. His facial expressions ranged from pure delight (when dismantling the intricacies of the mechanism with no fewer than eighteen couplers across three manuals including intermanual octaves and subs, plus a combination system with setter) to horror (at the sight of all the poorly insulated cotton-covered wires and corroded rubber, a fire risk waiting to happen).

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I reply to pcnd's post; the specific quotes being in red:-

 

 

Your point about the Harrison 'influence' on Willis' tonal schemes is an interesting one - particularly the G.O. Harmonics (17-19-flat 21-22), which was an apparent copy of Harrisons' recipe

 

Well, this MAY be true, but surely, the first example of a Harmonics (V ranks) mixture, using the tierce and septieme ranks, was that built in 1899 by Thomas Casson at Omagh, Co.Tyrone, Eire?

 

GREAT

1. Geigen Principal 16

2. Lieblich Bordun 16

3. Contra Dulciana 16

4. Open Diapason 8

5. Open Diapason 8

6. Viola da Gamba 8

7. Suabe Flute 8

8. Principal 4

9. Flauto Traverso 4

10. Twelfth 2 2/3

11. Fifteenth 2

12. Harmonics

(15.17.19.21.22) V

 

 

Casson knew Carlton Michell.....Carlton Michell accompanied Arthur Harrison and Lt Col George Dixon on their visit to hear the Schulze at Armley....they are all linked by organ-enthusiast/financier Mr J Martin White, who knew Hope-Jones and John Compton.

 

I suspect that this was certainly the case with H&H. In addition, I think that it is likely that Arthur Harrison would be unwilling to risk the reputation of the firm on anything that was either untested or not thoroughly safe.

 

Stephen Bicknell claimed that Harry Harrison designed Harrison's electro-penuamtic action, but I wonder if that included the very early example at Christ Church, Skipton (1906 or 1911?) It may be that there was a re-design of the Hope-Jones patent, carefully avoiding certain details of the patent so as to avoid licence fees, but I doubt that it was in any way "original" in design. Any risk involved would almost certainly have come from what I described earlier....cotton/silk covered wire, battery shorts, gas engine fires, possible dynamo fires....the fact is, we don't really know, and the poor reputation of early Hope-Jones actions was one which was often, it would seem, the result of sabotage by rival builders. In actual fact, so good was the bulk of the Hope-Jones design, it would be fair to suggest that it was a wondeerful piece of electrical-engineering, and most of the problems seemed to centre around actually producing the current required. Ask any theatre organ enthusiast just how good Wurlitzer actions are, even after the passage of 80 years.

 

Electric action made a slow start, and as Stephen Bicknell also said, "it was only after the Great War that English builders returned to the idea of electric action"

 

 

I'm not sure that this is entirely true, because John Compton was earlier than most and by the 1920's, he had gained a significant lead in electro-pneumatic actions.

 

I'll quote Stephen Bicknell again, who said:-

 

 

Henry Willis III, who I doubt ever had an original idea of his own,imported the Skinner Pitman chest, console design, key action, and the French Horn and the Erzahler (renaming the latter Sylvestrina and claiming sole credit). Depsite Aubrey Thompson-Allen's claims that he redisgned the action for Willis's use, I think it remained in essence similar to Skinner's original, just adapted for local materials and conditions. This all took place in 1924-5. I think the console for the Jesuit Church, Farm Street, Mayfair was made in America and fitted out in London.

 

So it appears to me, that what started out as a French/Belgian/British idea (Hope-Jones, Bryceson, Moeles & Schmol, Hope-Jones etc etc), was carted off the America where it developed very quickly and effectively. In fact, with perhaps a few isolated uses here and there, and presumably some experiments by others, it was Compton who was the only rival this side of the pond.

 

 

Although it is interesting to note that the authorities at Selby Abbey elected not to re-quote with Compton after the disastrous fire of 1906

 

Indeed, which is sad considering that the fire is believed to have started in the gas-engine responsible for raising the wind. The other possibility may be that Compton never got paid in full, or there may have been a considerable delay in any insurance payout.....we will never know. Compton may have been very hard up at this time as a result, and may have found himself unable to meet another contract of such magnitude so soon afterwards.

 

It amazes me that Compton's reputation wasn't ruined at this point, because of all buildings NOT to set alight, I would have thought that Selby Abbey would be in the top few dozen. It was headline news right around the English speaking world. I have photographs of the aftermath....not a prettty sight.

 

Best,

 

MM

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All this rather begs the question, when did tubular pneumatic action begin to be widely used in preference to the Barker lever, and why?

 

There must have been a significant advantage to either tubular pneumatic or electropneumatic actions (besides the ability to build detached consoles) over it, for the use of Barker levers to be phased out in the latter half of the nineteenth century, never to return (at least, perhaps, until Willis' recent organ in Florence). From the chronology it would appear to me that both tubular pneumatic and electropneumatic must have developed in parallel initially, and it's tantalising to ask whether, had electricity supplies been safer and more reliable in the mid-nineteenth century, would tubular pneumatic action ever have been invented or refined in the first place? I suspect the reason why the advantages of electric actions were never realised until much later (and why therefore pubular pneumatic organs continued to be built right into the 1950s) ultimately boiled down to their (initial lack of) reliability combined with supply issues. One would have thought that if anyone was to champion electropneumatic action, it would have been that Hope-Jones hero-worshipper George Ashdown Audesley, yet if I recall correctly, even he, writing in the Art of Organ Building in 1905 felt unable to fully commend it due to the continuing unreliability of the technology at the time of writing.

 

The Rushworth console had to be removed, so a few pupils, myself included, under the watchful eye of a physics teacher, dismantled it over one weekend. His facial expressions ranged from pure delight (when dismantling the intricacies of the mechanism with no fewer than eighteen couplers across three manuals including intermanual octaves and subs, plus a combination system with setter) to horror (at the sight of all the poorly insulated cotton-covered wires and corroded rubber, a fire risk waiting to happen).

 

 

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

 

 

What a lot of compicated questions in one post!! :blink:

 

I've clipped the "quote" for the sake of clarity.

 

Did EP and TP actions develop in parallel? Yes and no.......pneumatic being way ahead in the game. Pneumatic, sort of related to steam and presures vessels, was well understood from an engineering point of view, let alone organ actions. Organ building materials....leather, felt, wood....were all ideal for this type of action.

 

Why pneumatic actions in the first place? Mechancial and Barker Lever arrangements are fine when you have either depth or height, but for the most part, the action has to work in one plane, either horizontally or vertically. Enter the Oxford Movement.....chancel choirs, organs stuffed under chancel arches or divided, with the pedal pipes scattered along the rear walls. Simple as that really.

 

Electric actions may have existed, but let's not forget that until about 1850, electro-magnetism was still a sensation among academics and inventors, and even a toy for the rich, The only available power were Leclanche Cells for low voltage actions, and this explains the claims of unreliability.....voltage drop. They got around this by eventually using more cells in parallel and even having two lots of cells, which could be switched from one to the other by the organist.

 

So almost anything prior to maybe 1880 or so, was bound to be unreliable.

 

Before his departure to America, not even the genius (electrical that is) of Robert Hope-Jones could guarantee a steady, reliable power source, but make no mistake, he was a brilliant engineer and his designs are considered exceptionally good even to-day; notwithstanding the limitations of the materials available at the time. His later use of gas engines and dynamos was a bit of a turning point Another alternative were re-chargeable accumulators, but how many people realised the importance of re-charging them from whatever local source could be found?

 

So in effect, the reliability factor was heavily weighted in favour of water engines and compressed air actions, which almost any local engineer could understand.

 

Take the example of the Binns action at St Bart's, Armley. I forget the date....1870's?

 

It has been restored as is, which I think is wonderful, considering that it was still soldiering on 70 years later, and was still functioning after a fashion until a few years ago. No wonder people wanted pneumatic-actions of that quality, even if they only rarely got anything so good as what Binns had to offer.

 

As I have been reseraching the earlier years of John Compton, which I am just about concluding, it impresses me that he appears to have worked independently at a time when EP actions were not trusted generally. With some quite sound engineering, he developed a good working system, though not perhaps up to the totally professional standards of Hope-Jones in the early years.

 

By a process of forensic speculation, (in the absence of anything better), it is probably true to say that John Compton's work on EP was very much a British thing, whereas Willis had imported American developments . This is probably....in fact very likely....to have been the result of professional input from a certain Mr A H Midgeley, who became a Director at Compton's, and was also a Director at the Vanderwell automotive plant, which eventually became VAG Lucas. Later on, (I assume), after having a row about patents, he walked out of Compton's and set up his own firm, titled Midgley-Hamer Ltd., who did a lot of electrical-engineering work for the military. Were I a betting man, I would almost wager that Midgley was the man who introduced a lot of the mass production methods associated with Compton, because he came from a mass-production, engineering works background.

 

Still.....musn't over speculate must we? ;)

 

As for the dangers of cotton wound cables and perishable natural rubber....yes. However, the danger only arises if negative and positive are in close proximity. I know that when my brother and myself used to fiddle around as kids with ex-wartime electrical things, the terminals were usually kept well away from each other, and organ-builders also mounted electrical things on wood, which was an added bit of safety insulation. Most short-circuits in organ consoles and such, probably caused rather more ciphers than they did fires, but I just know that someone will tell me that they used to work for the fire-brigade before they got their FRCO!!! :lol:

 

Best,

 

MM

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" his magnets were almost certainly made and wound by a certain Mr Rolls, (of Rolls-Royce fame"...

 

Just a small point, but the Hon C.S. Rolls wasn't the electrical or mechanical man. That honour goes to Sir F.H. Royce whose electrical company started in 1884.

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" his magnets were almost certainly made and wound by a certain Mr Rolls, (of Rolls-Royce fame"...

 

Just a small point, but the Hon C.S. Rolls wasn't the electrical or mechanical man. That honour goes to Sir F.H. Royce whose electrical company started in 1884.

 

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

 

 

Well, I had a 50:50 chance of getting it right. :P

 

Thank God it wasn't William Hill & Son; Norman & Beard Ltd. :wacko:

 

Best,

 

MM

 

PS: I should have recalled that Rolls was a bit of Hoorah Henry sort of character...a racing driver and early pilot. Didn't he die in a plane crash or something?

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I reply to pcnd's post; the specific quotes being in red:-

 

 

Your point about the Harrison 'influence' on Willis' tonal schemes is an interesting one - particularly the G.O. Harmonics (17-19-flat 21-22), which was an apparent copy of Harrisons' recipe

 

Well, this MAY be true, but surely, the first example of a Harmonics (V ranks) mixture, using the tierce and septieme ranks, was that built in 1899 by Thomas Casson at Omagh, Co.Tyrone, Eire?

 

GREAT

1. Geigen Principal 16

2. Lieblich Bordun 16

3. Contra Dulciana 16

4. Open Diapason 8

5. Open Diapason 8

6. Viola da Gamba 8

7. Suabe Flute 8

8. Principal 4

9. Flauto Traverso 4

10. Twelfth 2 2/3

11. Fifteenth 2

12. Harmonics

(15.17.19.21.22) V

 

 

Casson knew Carlton Michell.....Carlton Michell accompanied Arthur Harrison and Lt Col George Dixon on their visit to hear the Schulze at Armley....they are all linked by organ-enthusiast/financier Mr J Martin White, who knew Hope-Jones and John Compton.

 

 

Well, yes - but my point was that I can think of no other example of a 'Harmonics' stop (with a composition of 17-19-flat 21-22) by HWIII. Whilst, on paper, one or two of the mixtures at Liverpool Cathedral appear to come close. the composition of many of them was altered, either during the building of the instrument, or shortly afterwards. Goss-Custard hated tierce mixtures, apparently.

 

With regard to the visit by George Dixon, Arthur Harrison and Carton Michell to the Schulze organ at Armley, it is interesting to note that it was Arthur Harrison who decided to treat the mixture differently at Ely Cathedral. He broke a rank each octave, thus carrying the acute pitches higher up the compass and providing a more brilliant effect. (At Armley, Schulze had made the twenty-second break back an octave at F#31.) *

 

 

 

*c.f. p.113 The Harrison Story (Second Edition); Laurence Elvin. Elvin, 10 Almond Avenue, Swanpool, Lincoln. (1974 and 1977.)

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Well, yes - but I have my point was that I can think of no other example of a 'Harmonics' stop (with a composition of 17-19-flat 21-22) by HWIII. Whilst, on paper, one or two of the mixtures at Liverpool Cathedral appear to come close. the composition of many of them was altered, either during the building of the instrument, or shortly afterwards. Goss-Custard hated tierce mixtures, apparently.

 

With regard to the visit by George Dixon, Arthur Harrison and Carton Michell to the Schulze organ at Armley, it is interesting to note that it was Arthur Harrison who decided to treat the mixture differently at Ely Cathedral. He broke a rank each octave, thus carrying the acute pitches higher up the compass and providing a more brilliant effect. (At Armley, Schulze had made the twenty-second break back an octave at F#31.) *

 

 

 

*c.f. p.113 The Harrison Story (Second Edition); Laurence Elvin. Elvin, 10 Almond Avenue, Swanpool, Lincoln. (1974 and 1977.)

 

 

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

 

I'm sure you're right about the Harmonics, and indeed the alteration to the Schullze "breaks" at Ely. The Schulze "brilliance" derives as much from the overall voicing as it does that big V ranks Mixture. It's an organ which actually NEEDS a brighter Mixture in the chorus, but I think the antiquarians would have something to say about THAT idea. In a smaller space and a vastly different acoustic, as it was originally designed for, it probably sounded exactly right.

 

Liverpool IS interesting, and if I recall correctly, there was going to be a "Flute Mixture" of some sort, which fortunately died a death.

 

Of course, the Septieme, (as a separate rank) had made an appearance in a Liverpool organ....I forget where....some time before the Harrison/Casson Harmonics. amd Cavaille-Coll certainly used the 7th pitches in certain pedal organs; again I forget where and I can't be bothered to look because I'm busy and I'm eating cheese and biscuits.

 

 

Your observation about Liverpool Catehdral is probably spot-on, because a very old recording of Goss-Custard doesn't seem to sound as if there was anything different about the Mixtures, but there are plenty of mutations apparently evident, even allowing for the age of the recording. (Try searching under [Goss-Custard Liverpool Storm] on You Tube....fabulous playing!)

 

Best,

 

MM

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This is interesting.

 

Do you know of any sound-clips of any of these instruments, please? I have not heard any organs by this builder.

Not for the Exhibition instrument, that was burnt in 1927, and the Melbourne Town Hall was destroyed (also by fire) in 1925. The replacement Town Hall instrument was an HNB - (the starting instrument for the Melbourne branch of HNB). The Durham Street Methodist was rebuilt and revoiced (by HNB Melbourne / Christchurch) in 1946 so any recordings will not be the original Ingram sound. The local Organists' Association are compiling a CD of recordings of lost instruments of Christchurch, and it will contain two recordings from Durham Street as a memorial to the three that died there.

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It may not be by Ingram, but the Melbourne organ as is, makes a terrific sound.

 

This is such fun....and those reeds!

 

Of course, everyone was up in arms about the re-build, but it has to be said that it sounds superb.

 

 

 

Best,

 

MM

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Hi

 

I don't think Barker Lever actions were ever widely used, except perhaps in France. Tubular Pneumatic action, in the UK at least, seems to have been pioneered by Joseph Booth of Wakefield in 1827 (ISTR also seeing something about Booth of Otley inventing TP action - maybe they were related). This obviously became the norm - even sometimes for quite small organs with attached consoles - presumably down to fashion - and was well established before reliable EP actions came on the scene. Direct Electric action was much later because of the lack of a reliable power source of adequate capacity in the early years.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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