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David Drinkell

Colchester Town Hall

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It was announced this week that the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded 416,000 pounds for the restoration of the Norman & Beard organ in the Moot Hall, Colchester, my home town.

 

http://www.npor.org....ec_index=N08698

 

Colchester Town Hall is a magnificent building erected around the turn of the twentieth century to the design of John Belcher. It is arguably the finest and most elaborate provincial town hall in the country and replaced an inadequate Victorian building which in its turn had replaced the old Moot Hall dating back to early medieval times. Colchester itself is the oldest recorded town in England and was a substantial settlement before the Romans established an important city there.

 

The Moot Hall organ was installed in time for the opening and has been little altered since then, except that the Choir Organ was Positivised in the 1970s. It retains its original pneumatic action (NPOR refers to an electrification, but this is a mistake - and my fault - based on what I thought happened at the time! A later note by Peter de Vile supplies a correction) and has a fine case by the Town Hall architect in keeping with the baroque splendour of the building.

 

In recent years the instrument had got into a poor state and has not been considered playable for some time. I tried it about three years ago and was lucky - only one note was 'off' and most of it functioned for me. I had not been in the Moot Hall for nearly forty years, and I was completely blown away by what an amazing organ it is. It has only 29 speaking stops but sounds at least twice that size. In a general way, this is due to everything being on a grand scale, with Great and Swell choruses up to four rank quint mixtures, but a clever feature is that these manuals each have a sub coupler which acts only on the reeds, giving a much bigger effect than would be expected. The consultant, Dr. William McVicker, rightly comments that it is an unknown treasure.

 

It is possible that T.C. Lewis had something to do with the job, as he worked for Norman & Beard for a brief period around the time it was built.

 

This is exciting news and I eagerly await hearing the restored organ .

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This is indeed good news.

 

David, do you have any further details about what the work entails, please? For example, is the the original stop-list of the Choir Organ (before it was a Positive) to be re-instated? In addition, is it possible that the other tonal changes are to be reversed (The Clarabella re-instated on the G.O., instead of the Claribel Harmonic Flute, and the Harmonic Gemshorn replacing the Super Octave on the Swell Organ.)

 

For that matter, I wonder if the Pedal 16ft. and 8ft. reeds, which were prepared-for at the console (at the time of the 1975 rebuild) are to be inserted?

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This is indeed good news.

 

David, do you have any further details about what the work entails, please? For example, is the the original stop-list of the Choir Organ (before it was a Positive) to be re-instated? In addition, is it possible that the other tonal changes are to be reversed (The Clarabella re-instated on the G.O., instead of the Claribel Harmonic Flute, and the Harmonic Gemshorn replacing the Super Octave on the Swell Organ.)

 

For that matter, I wonder if the Pedal 16ft. and 8ft. reeds, which were prepared-for at the console (at the time of the 1975 rebuild) are to be inserted?

 

The Claribel Harmonic Flute has always been there. 'Clarabella' in NPOR is a mistake. I believe that the substitution for the Swell Harmonic Gemshorn was made because the pipes were in a poor state. Soundwise, I don't think there was much difference, although Harmonic Gemshorn was something of a N&B trademark at the time (I think Winchester College had one).

 

I don't know about the rest of it. The old Choir Organ was Viole d'Orchestre, Lieblich, Dulciana, Concert Flute, Clarionet, Octave and Sub, all unenclosed. It was behind a wall and not very effective. Later, a grille was made with a painting in front of it, and later still a larger grille without the painting. I suppose one could argue that, even if the old specification was reinstated, it would not sound the same. I'm in two minds about it. The Clarinet is missed, of course, but the new stops are rather nice and because the other choruses are so virile they don't sound as if they're from another planet. The late Reg Lane, who looked after the organ for HN&B for years, pointed out an intersting side-effect, which was that coupling to Sesquialtera to the Great Posaune produced a sound just like a Tuba - but that's not much use if you have to tie up the Great to get it! I think, sitting on the fence, that I would like to see the old scheme reinstated, but I would be happy if it wasn't!

 

It's a shame that Reg passed away a few months ago, before the news of the Lottery grant came through. I'm sure he would have been pleased.

 

The Pedal reeds were prepared for in 1902 and there have always been spare stop-rods on the console. One of the reasons the organ sounds so good is that the chamber is relatively shallow (with, I think, the Swell above the Great), but fitting in a 16/8 reed unit would cause problems of space. One firm who tendered a few years ago proposed to make room by reducing the size of the reservoirs. I would hope that it could be done without recourse to this as it would compromise the original layout and I'm not convinced that, even with modern winding, these old organs sound entirely comfortable with less bellows than they were built with.

 

William McVicker remarked that, bearing in mind the possible Lewis connection, a pair of Bombardes as at Southwark Cathedral would be wonderful!

 

Further than that, I don't know, but there will be details in due course on the Friends of the Moot Hall Organ website www.moothallorgan.co.uk.

 

In the meantime, I'm glad the council has retained an expert adviser and I feel sure he will see things through to the best conclusion. As Bernard Edmunds said about the St. Paul's rebuild, 'I, too, could have told them exactly what they should have done, but fortunately no one asked me.'

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The late Reg Lane, who looked after the organ for HN&B for years, pointed out an intersting side-effect, which was that coupling to Sesquialtera to the Great Posaune produced a sound just like a Tuba - but that's not much use if you have to tie up the Great to get it!

Interesting indeed. All the more since the Great reeds have their own Sub-octave coupler. Maybe they could be coupled independently? So you could a least play Gt + Sw against Pos + Gt reeds. The Pedal reed situation might be improved by such a move as well. And since my fancy is flying anyway -- maybe there would be space for a twelve-pipe Trombone chest, rather than for a 44-pipe unit, that would complete the reeds in the pedal. Not ideal, but probably better than nothing. Just a thought.

 

By the way, I really liked the term “positivised”.

 

Best,

Friedrich

 

Afterthought: Oh yes, it is still on tp action. That makes it all more difficult, of course. An watching the photographs on NPOR makes it appear a really tight fit anyway.

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The Claribel Harmonic Flute has always been there. 'Clarabella' in NPOR is a mistake. I believe that the substitution for the Swell Harmonic Gemshorn was made because the pipes were in a poor state. Soundwise, I don't think there was much difference, although Harmonic Gemshorn was something of a N&B trademark at the time (I think Winchester College had one).

 

I don't know about the rest of it. The old Choir Organ was Viole d'Orchestre, Lieblich, Dulciana, Concert Flute, Clarionet, Octave and Sub, all unenclosed. It was behind a wall and not very effective. Later, a grille was made with a painting in front of it, and later still a larger grille without the painting. I suppose one could argue that, even if the old specification was reinstated, it would not sound the same. I'm in two minds about it. The Clarinet is missed, of course, but the new stops are rather nice and because the other choruses are so virile they don't sound as if they're from another planet. The late Reg Lane, who looked after the organ for HN&B for years, pointed out an intersting side-effect, which was that coupling to Sesquialtera to the Great Posaune produced a sound just like a Tuba - but that's not much use if you have to tie up the Great to get it! I think, sitting on the fence, that I would like to see the old scheme reinstated, but I would be happy if it wasn't!

 

It's a shame that Reg passed away a few months ago, before the news of the Lottery grant came through. I'm sure he would have been pleased.

 

The Pedal reeds were prepared for in 1902 and there have always been spare stop-rods on the console. One of the reasons the organ sounds so good is that the chamber is relatively shallow (with, I think, the Swell above the Great), but fitting in a 16/8 reed unit would cause problems of space. One firm who tendered a few years ago proposed to make room by reducing the size of the reservoirs. I would hope that it could be done without recourse to this as it would compromise the original layout and I'm not convinced that, even with modern winding, these old organs sound entirely comfortable with less bellows than they were built with.

 

William McVicker remarked that, bearing in mind the possible Lewis connection, a pair of Bombardes as at Southwark Cathedral would be wonderful!

 

Further than that, I don't know, but there will be details in due course on the Friends of the Moot Hall Organ website www.moothallorgan.co.uk.

 

In the meantime, I'm glad the council has retained an expert adviser and I feel sure he will see things through to the best conclusion. As Bernard Edmunds said about the St. Paul's rebuild, 'I, too, could have told them exactly what they should have done, but fortunately no one asked me.'

 

Thank you for the information, David.

 

How definite is the connection with Lewis? Quint mixtures on an instrument by HN&B, of this vintage, would have been rare. (As you are no doubt aware, they often used a type of 'harmonics' for their compound stops - as did R&D - presumably modelled on that by H&H, since at C1 it had the composition 17-19-flat 21-22.) Is the fact that this organ possessed quint mixtures one of the pointers to a possible connection with T.C. Lewis?

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Thank you for the information, David.

 

How definite is the connection with Lewis? Quint mixtures on an instrument by HN&B, of this vintage, would have been rare. (As you are no doubt aware, they often used a type of 'harmonics' for their compound stops - as did R&D - presumably modelled on that by H&H, since at C1 it had the composition 17-19-flat 21-22.) Is the fact that this organ possessed quint mixtures one of the pointers to a possible connection with T.C. Lewis?

 

I can't recall where I saw the record of the TCL connection with N&B, but he worked for them for about a year at the time that the Colchester organ was built. A cursory glance through a few stop-lists suggests that N&B were not tied to one style in the first ten years of the century. Apart from some lingering Hope-Jonesery, some organs (like Winchester College) were very 'orchestral', and quite interesting. Others, like Colchester and Lancaster Town Halls, were much more traditional. Lancaster also has quint mixtures, but not as bold in conception as Colchester. Indeed, it's this boldness that makes Colchester unique. There can't have been many organs built in 1902 with 28 speaking stops which included a Great of 16.8.8.4.4.2.IV.8.4. Even George Dixon never designed anything so adventurous (compare St. James, Whitehaven, which N&B built for him - although with some departure from his design - in 1909). Harrisons' Bristol University organ (destroyed in the Blitz) was, perhaps, a more clever scheme, but less remarkable for its style and period.

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On ‎17‎/‎06‎/‎2013 at 15:44, GrossGeigen said:

Has anybody heard which firm has been contracted to carry out the restoration?

I don't think the work has been put out to tender yet or, indeed, that the details have been worked out.

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The Heritage Lottery has awarded a grant and expressions of interest are now being sought. The work is expected t be done next year. I look forward to hearing this outstanding and little-known organ again.

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I wait with bated breath to see what will happen! With so little seemingly happening regarding the building of new instruments that were on the cards a few years ago it's wonderful news to hear of a noble organ not being threatened with the scrap heap. Thank the Lord for the Heritage Lottery fund - probably one of the only good reasons to do the Lottery when I think that I hardly ever win anything over a fiver every three years or so! Glad to see money going to deserving causes. I myself come from Cheltenham - a town with a provincial town hall that is as impressive on the inside as it is outside, but unlike Colchester it lacks an organ with such a beautiful case. Cheltenham's organ is quite a lugubrious organ of 1927 by R&D and typical of the age. I would love to see something as fantastic as that happening in Colchester happen there.As Gloucestershire's largest civic venue it deserves an organ worthy of it.

Oh, let's not forget the Ashton Hall in Lacaster! Things have moved on there in leaps and bounds and the organ sounds like a new instrument with the restoration of the original bellows just the previous week

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