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Death of a major Compton announced

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I think another, and possibly major, factor was Mr Tovey’s sad death at the very time he was about to oversee the removal of the organ, hoping to find, in his words, “a suitable home ... where it can be restored to its former glory.” 

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Undoubtedly Mr Tovey was the driving force behind the preservation of the instrument.

Like David I wonder whether the 2001 additions scuppered the chances of any funding. I also have to say, and I speak from some experience that, I wonder about the quality of the 2001 work as well. 

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Right!   Wolverhampton!

All those involved with the refurbishment of the hall should hang their heads in shame!
The organ was suspended from the roof/ceiling area in two large swell boxes; the organ being totally enclosed, as many Compton organs were. (Not sure about the piano and percussion additions etc)

There were various proposals to restore the organ at considerable cost, which in view of the "sympathetic" restoration of the hall, would have required that the organ first be removed and stored. That was the official line when Steve Tovey was appointed to oversee the entire process as Borough Organist. His death two years ago, opened the way for those who really were not bothered about the organ and wanted rid of it.  Why?

I'm afraid that populism ruled the day. "They" wanted to turn the Civic Hall into a grand pop venture, which could host "spectaculars" and "pop concerts" etc. That meant increasing the height of the stage area (presumably to accomodate fly curtains/effects/lighting etc)  This was seen as a way of creating additional use and revenue for the Civic Hall, which is perfectly understandable.

Taking the organ out, and putting it back in again, would not only have been very expensive, it would also have thwarted plans to convert the hall as described above.

The moment Steve Tovey died, the obstacles to the original plans and his own wishes flowed thick and fast. 

1)  The organ was a potential fire risk
2)  There was asbestos in the roof area

The first thing they did was to condemn the organ on fire safety grounds, and it was unplugged in effect.
With a dead organ, perhaps the hope was that people would forget about it. Interestingly, I have on file a comment that the organ was sealed when work commenced on the ceiling area.
Clearly, the Wolverhampton CC people were made aware of the need to protect the organ from dust, damage and debris. 

Considering that the organ was totally enclosed in boxes, the vast bulk of the pipework should have been safe if it was sealed appropriately).

If the council are to be believed (?) work commenced on the ceiling area, with the organ beneath, and miraculously, all the pipework became contaminated with asbestos dust in the process. Considering the above comments, this appears to be a complete fabrication, but a nice legal loophole for those who wanted rid of the organ. I would be happy to be proven wrong, but I can't help but think that this was a stitch-up involving myriad lies and deceit.

What disturbs me about this debacle, is not so much the loss of the organ to Wolverhampton, but the wanton destruction of a unique instrument. Not only that, the additions made to the instrument also contained some quite rare pipework; some of it from America. (Moller Tibia etc)

We may have differing views about the additions made to the organ (as there must have been when the original Melotone unit was removed) but ALL the original Compton organ remained exactly as it was installed, and the additions were just that....nothing more and nothing less.

Although the pipe-count was rather fanciful at 6,200 pipes or so (more like 4,500 at an educated guesstimate) it was a particularly fine instrument in all respects, with much less use of extension than many other Compton instruments. In that respect, it was one of the most significant Compton organs ever made, and certainly one of the best sounding.

What angers me, is the way the destruction of the organ was allowed, when so much of it could easily have been saved; either as a whole instrument, or as a donor instrument for other projects. Turning it over to such as the Cinema Organ Society, ATOS or any other enthusiast group, would either have preserved the organ or made valuable pipework available for re-use.

It is my personal view that the Wolverhampton council have not only acted irresponsibly, but may have acted illegally by releasing a sequence of mistruths, if not downright lies, and it really does call for some sort of enquiry.

Considering the fact that I have been writing the Compton story for what feels like decades (now finally coming to a conclusion) this leaves a serious hole in that story and that history, but I will make sure that it contains as many details as possible of this wanton destruction, so that future generations will know the truth and be able to draw their own conclusions.



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warm welcome back, MM.  Although a relatively new member, as a guest I have been reading your posts for years, and they have been greatly missed in recent times.  I wish we could get Pierre Lauwers, pcnd5584 and some others back on board.

There is also the matter of the BBC Compton(s).   So far no information is forthcoming about what will happen to the Maida Vale Compton.


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For those who didn't see the post made on a separate forum that Colin Pykett linked to, I will copy and paste it here for others to read. 

"The organ was not a theatre organ, it was concert organ, the vast majority of it is a straight instrument, capable of being used for both classical and popular music. The organ was installed in 1938 when the hall was constructed. The organ included a melotone unit as part of the specification. This was rumoured to be down to John Compton's insistence that the organ had theatre ranks, however, the organist responsible for specifying the organ did not want theatre ranks/percussion on the organ. So a melotone was added. This was soon removed by Arnold Richardson very early in the history of the organ. 

In the work done by Hawkins in 2001, a new transmission system was added to the organ, 4 theatre organ ranks and percussions were added to take place of the missing melotone. Three of the new ranks added were constructed new by Booths of Leeds, Brass Saxophone, English Horn and Kinura, as well as a Moller Tibia Clausa – which was of an enormous scale and sufficient to carry the other 56 ranks of the instrument when used in “theatrical” mode. It could be argued that these additions made the instrument more along the lines of what John Compton had intended in 1938. They certainly have been much appreciated by visiting organists as it allows for a much more flexible specification without destroying what was there originally.

Let me make this clear – No changes were made to the original specification other than additions/borrowing. Nothing was removed and the original specification of the instrument was present (minus the long removed melotone). There was no new console, the console is original. The Ex Blackpool Empress Ballroom Wurlitzer console was purchased in 2004 to be connected to the organ as a secondary console. This never transpired. The Ex Empress Ballroom Wurlitzer console is now back in the Empress Ballroom. 

In 2015 it was decided that the organ would be removed from the hall. According to the council, reports showed that in the event of a fire on the stage, the organ prevented effective smoke extraction and it would not be re-installed, but it would be placed into safe storage until funding and a home could be found for it. The hall closed in late 2015 – the organ was still in use up till this point. The council had been advised by Historic England that the organ be removed before any asbestos work was carried out in the building, and for its safety during the ongoing building works in the hall. The council did not carry this out despite offers of removal to storage at no cost to the council. They chose instead to leave the instrument in situ.

In August 2018 after a long silence with regards to the future of the instrument, the council approved planning permission for the disposal of the instrument due to the assumption that the organ may possibly have been contaminated with asbestos. The pipework was apparently in poor condition and it would apparently cost £250 per pipe to test each pipe for asbestos and the council was not willing to go to this expense. 

I'll add here that the pipework was in no worse condition than that of any pipe organ of 80 years of age, it was in pretty good condition, albeit a little dusty. 

Information supplied to Historic England by the council/contractors made out that the organ was not unique, that it was a run of the mill cinema organ of which there are many examples of and that the original console had been replaced in 2004, when in actual fact it was still on the organ up till 2015. 

It was also said that the audible and visible elements of the organ had been removed (if so how were organ concerts possible right up till the hall closed?) and because of that, it held no historic value.....

It has also been stated that when approached, that the council were advised by Heritage Lottery Funding that the organ would be unsuccessful in any application for funding because HLF were only interested in more visible, less expensive organs, and not expensive enclosed instruments and because of this, it was deemed not worthy of preserving. Historic England gave the all clear for the instrument being disposed of. The reports quote £1.29 - 2.5 million for the restoration of the organ are completely off the mark, you could probably have built two or more organs of the same size for those figures. I have read elsewhere by organ builders that the lowest quote received was actually more in the region of £600k for restoration. By my own calculations, worked out at around £10k per rank, I'd have said that figure too.

I would also add to this, to keep in mind that the scrapping of the organ was nothing to do with lack of money. Indeed, the council are spending £38.1 million (plus losses since the venue closed in 2015) on adding 400 new seats and a fly tower (with the organ now conveniently out of the way) in order to turn the venue into a theatre. That's around £100k per seat.....damn expensive seats!"

I find it very sad that within a week or so of the organ's removal being announced, despite his poor health, after all his hard work to keep the organ playing and to keep it in use regularly, Steve Tovey died. It makes you wonder. 
I don't believe for one minute that HLF was refused because the organ was enclosed with no visible pipe work. Though I could be wrong, but I wouldn't think it a reasonable argument for denying funding. 

I have listed below a list of articles by the local newspaper, the Wolverhampton Express and Star, which has covered the story since 2015. 







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Resurrection of a major Compton


It's not that they do always things better in "Europe", but often they do.

AVRO, one of the Dutch national broadcasters, had an organ installed in their music theatre in 1936. Started by the Dutch company Standaart, who made theatre and cinema organs, among other things, in Holland, it was largely built by Compton, who took over in 1935 when Standaart went out of business.

This organ is now being restored by Pels en van Leeuwen, to be re-installed in the Muziek Centrum voor de Omroep, the Broadcasting Music Centre. Two links below, in Dutch but which will be understandable via Google Translate, report the initial award of a subsidy for the work, and the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte "tuning" the first pipe.



What a stark contrast with Wolverhapmton. That instrument could so easily have been found a home, even temporary. There could well be a couple of Cathedrals and good sized churches which would have been prepared to install it, even temporarily, given it's particular character as a concert instrument - although some purer theatre and cinema organs have found their ways into churches. This loss is pure ignorance, given the unseemly haste with which the destruction took place.

At the risk of raising a few hackles - I'll risk it -"we" as a country refuse to return the Elgin marbles to Greece, someone else's heritage, on the grounds that they won't be properly looked after. I have been to the very new Parthenon Museum in Athens, it is superb, specifically designed to keep ALL of the marbles, and I would happily see the British marbles returned to Greece where they unquestionably belong. However, we happily destroy our own cultural heritage from the more recent past out of laziness. I think the average Greek would draw their own conclusions!

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On 07/02/2019 at 10:47, Rowland Wateridge said:

One’s impression is that ‘classical’ organ music doesn’t seem to have been likely in the scheme of things.  


I remember reading somewhere, that the hall management HATED the organ, and simply wanted rid of it.

Presumably, the theatre-style concerts held were seen as "old fashioned" and only attended by the elderly.


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