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Contrabombarde

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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(PLEASE NOTE THAT THE NAME MUSOMUSING IS A.K.A.:MUSINGMUSO - I LOCKED MYSELF OUT OF AN OLD E-MAIL ACCOUNT AND LOST THE MANDER PASSWORD! A NEW ACCOUNT WAS THE EASIEST OPTION)

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.

MM






 

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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.

RW

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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. 

https://www.expressandstar.com/news/2015/04/10/historic-organ-at-wolverhamptons-civic-hall-in-line-for-1m-revamp/

https://www.expressandstar.com/news/local-news/2016/09/28/wolverhamptons-resident-organist-steve-tovey-dies/

https://www.expressandstar.com/news/2018/12/04/plans-to-restore-wolverhamptons-historic-organ-to-its-former-glory-scrapped/

 https://www.expressandstar.com/news/local-hubs/wolverhampton/2019/02/08/wolverhampton-council-dumps-priceless-organ-at-landfill-site/

https://www.expressandstar.com/news/local-hubs/wolverhampton/2019/02/12/no-alternative-wolverhampton-council-defends-decision-to-scrap-historic-organ-pipes/


https://www.expressandstar.com/news/local-hubs/wolverhampton/2019/02/14/revealed-wolverhampton-council-dumped-civic-hall-organ-pipes-without-carrying-out-full-asbestos-checks/

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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.

http://www.orgelnieuws.nl/subsidie-25-ton-voor-pierre-palla-orgel-muziekcentrum-omroep/

http://www.orgelnieuws.nl/mark-rutte-stemt-eerste-pijp-van-pierre-palla-concertorgel/

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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https://www.expressandstar.com/news/local-hubs/wolverhampton/2019/02/23/asbestos-riddled-organ-posed-no-risk-to-public-health-council-claims/?fbclid=IwAR1jUU3KvMPGLNDRrlt1lbGLjf1VDFRr4l2GC79L8MiyFgJXIWG_b8nAaR0

Now, if the "asbestos riddled" organ, which was only presumed to be contaminated, posed no risk to public health, why was it scrapped? Lets assume that the council are correct in their assumption that asbestos fibres were in the pipes whilst the organ was being used, then for all those years, surely it will have been throwing asbestos fibres out into the auditorium every time it has been played. 

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And the next thing we need to know is which major organ building company or consultant apparently said that the organ was of no significant value - thus scuppering the Heritage Lottery application.   This is such a tragic loss.

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Do public servants not have a duty (in this case, the local authority) to ensure no losses are incurred by their (council) taxpayers ?

Can they be said to have made ‘reasonable’ efforts in this regard ?

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On 22/02/2019 at 18:27, John Furse said:

Do public servants not have a duty (in this case, the local authority) to ensure no losses are incurred by their (council) taxpayers ?

Can they be said to have made ‘reasonable’ efforts in this regard ?

 

It is entirely reasonable, it would seem, to demolish all buildings built before 2012:-

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 link to external website came into force on 6 April 2012, updating previous asbestos regulations to take account of the European Commission's view that the UK had not fully implemented the EU Directive on exposure to asbestos (Directive 2009/148/EC).

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

It's worth reading through some of the regulations and laws concerning asbestos, because it seems that where asbestos has been disturbed, there must be the assumption that the entire surrounding area is contaminated; which is fair comment.

So all anyone needs to prove is that something can be ASSUMED to be contaminated, whether or not that is the case. This is how they have got away with it in Wolverhampton, by referring to primary legislation. (They could even blame the EU for it!)

The legislation and safety aspects also go on to say how contamination may be dealt with, but of course, if the council had allowed the (unpaid) removal of the organ and (free) storage of the instrument, the problem would never have arisen in the first place.

It comes back to what I said originally. They wanted rid of the organ, and they have used primary legislation to justify their actions.

MM
 


 

 

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The discovery of asbestos is by no means always a showstopper.  Some relatives bought a house (near Wolverhampton!) some years back and were warned by their surveyor that the detached garage would have to be removed.  It was an old-fashioned one constructed from asbestos sheets on a timber frame.  Initially they were appalled but their surveyor said it did not present any particular problem provided they would do it by a certain deadline in which the local council and the mortgage provider both had a say.  It was apparently a common problem.  Also of course they would have to stump up the cost but that problem was solved, partly at least, by them requiring the vendor to reduce the asking price.  So they moved in and it all went according to plan without any particular hiccups.  So it seems that asbestos might be one of those kinds of problem which can assume exactly the magnitude that you wish it to assume to suit other purposes.  Of course, I'm sure Wolverhampton council would never take this line.

CEP

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15 minutes ago, Colin Pykett said:

The discovery of asbestos is by no means always a showstopper.  Some relatives bought a house (near Wolverhampton!) some years back and were warned by their surveyor that the detached garage would have to be removed.  It was an old-fashioned one constructed from asbestos sheets on a timber frame.  Initially they were appalled but their surveyor said it did not present any particular problem provided they would do it by a certain deadline in which the local council and the mortgage provider both had a say.  It was apparently a common problem.  Also of course they would have to stump up the cost but that problem was solved, partly at least, by them requiring the vendor to reduce the asking price.  So they moved in and it all went according to plan without any particular hiccups.  So it seems that asbestos might be one of those kinds of problem which can assume exactly the magnitude that you wish it to assume to suit other purposes.  Of course, I'm sure Wolverhampton council would never take this line.

CEP

This is how lawyers make their money!
The removal of asbestos at ceiling level must, by definition, have involved the forces of gravity. Therefore, it would be perfectly reasonable to ASSUME that contamination fell like snowflakes, then somehow climbed or crawled its way into the (sealed) swell chambers, resulting heavy contamination of the pipes. (As most Compton organs have predominantly metal pipes, that could have been solved by a few buckets of soapy water, a gas mask and disposable microfibre cloths).

The bigger question is why the offer of free removal and storage was not taken up by the council, when that was on the table. It was refused for a reason, and we don't need to look far to find it.

As for the organ being of "no particular significance", it would be interesting to know the qualifications of those who uttered such nonsense.  Are they historians?  Are they organ consultants? Are they musicians? Are they of sound mind?  Are they experienced in simple manual work? Are they fully trained and qualified in using a vacuum-cleaner?

As Dr.Colin suggests, "......asbestos might be one of those kinds of problem which can assume exactly the magnitude that you wish it to assume to suit other purposes."

Where is take issue with him, is in the overwhelming generosity of his doubts, because I KNOW they wanted rid of the organ and would go to any lengths possible to achieve it. That much is on record!

MM
 

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As a Compton enthusiast, I greatly regret that this instrument has not been saved, but I have been involved in projects to remove asbestos from a number of places, and I must advise that it is a material that must be treated with the greatest respect. 

Some types of asbestos are more harmful than others and in some places it may have degraded or been damaged since it was put in.  You would be amazed how far microscopic fibres can travel and it is essential to test all areas for contamination before making decisions.  Was there any asbestos sound deadening on the blowers or in the cable ducts?  I am sure at least some of the pipework could have been cleaned, but at considerable cost as it would require specialist effort.  However some parts of the action would be very difficult to make safe.   

It is essential not to take risks.  Despite taking all normal precautions, I know from personal experience that even one fibre deep in the lung can cause life-threatening health problems.  I was fortunate that the problem was spotted at an early stage by a radiologist looking for something else, but the subsequent treatment was not one I would wish others to experience. 

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The dangers of asbestos are widely understood in the building and demolition trades, I would have thought.
Simple logic tells me that asbestos will float around in the air for some time, or fall in bigger lumps where it lands.....it was a ceiling area they were demolishing.
I would make the point, that any contamination of the organ is no better or worse than any other contamination in the building, and it must be understood that most of the organ pipes were contained in swell boxes. The action is almost entirely contained. John Compton was very particular about dust and dirt, and more or less sealed everything from the outside world.

Presumably they will not be knocking the whole civic hall down, simply because someone "assumes" that the whole place is contaminated with asbestos?

The fact is, they will clean it up, and no-one will be using explosives to rid Wolverhampton of this major health risk.

Fact is, they wanted rid of the organ....pure and simple, and the easy way was to pin it on legislation. So £1 million worth of organ ends up in a landfill site, which may actually be a criminal matter.

MM 

 

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I am as appalled by what has happened to the Wolverhampton Compton as anyone, but unfortunately its value to the council was probably nowhere near the figures being mentioned in this thread.  This is because the value of an asset to a public-sector business is assessed in accountancy terms, and the figures reduce year on year in the annual budgeting process which all such organisations must (by law) undertake.  For example, an asset write-down (depreciation) period of between five and ten years is typical, after which its value is as near to zero on the balance sheet and profit and loss account as makes no difference.  Thus the point is that 'value' does not mean 'replacement value', as we all know from our experiences when trading in our current car for another one.  An even more stark example was the channel tunnel boring machine, which was advertised on ebay a few years ago at a starting price of GBP 1!  It sold for around GBP 40K if my memory serves, which was of course only a minute fraction of what it would have cost to buy.  Yet other examples are the pipe organs which routinely appear on ebay.  All of these items have done the job for which they were originally purchased, so they become almost worthless thereafter.

So although it might be attractive for us to entertain the vision of some council employee being roasted in court for 'illegal' acts, in reality I wonder whether there would be a realistic prospect of prosecution provided that the accountancy procedures relating to public finances had been properly followed.  It might be arguable that insufficient provision had been made for maintenance (though this seems unlikely given that the instrument worked quite well for a long time), or for eventual replacement.  Here, there might be a stronger case, although where in the rule book does it say that everything owned by a council must automatically be replaced?

CEP

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I had considered making a post that for there to be any effective complaint of maladministration by the Council there would have had to have been some potentially contractually-binding arrangement - effectively an offer by a prospective buyer of the organ for a realistic (i.e., significant) sum of money - which the Council perversely refused to accept.  Several high thresholds to be met here.  Nor is that the only possible criterion.  I mentioned in an earlier post that the District Auditor (who is totally independent of the local authority) keeps a close watch on all local authority fiscal matters.

The answer to your final question is ‘nowhere’.  Tower blocks and council houses are demolished (not always on grounds of safety) and not automatically replaced in the sense of your question.  The result might be a small area of public open space of landscaped grass, trees and shrubs.  One might argue that these are a ‘replacement’ of the building, but they will not be an income-producing asset as the replaced building was.

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1 hour ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

I had considered making a post that for there to be any effective complaint of maladministration by the Council there would have had to have been some potentially contractually-binding arrangement - effectively an offer by a prospective buyer of the organ for a realistic (i.e., significant) sum of money - which the Council perversely refused to accept. (shortened)......................

I'm not sure that the monetary value and/or contractual arrangements make the case for scrapping something which would clearly be very expensive to replace.
Councils have a duty to maintain and protect public assets, many of which cannot be valued as if they were items in an auction.

All hell broke loose when "they" refurbished the local library, because the owl which used to sit in a bird-box beneath the decorative dome, went missing. (Carnegie Library, incidentally) The bird turned up again, so they stuck it on top of the college. Hoots of anguish!   :)
Finally, the bird ended up back on its perch in the bird-box, which put together, must have cost a small fortune.

No-one said the bird was only worth £10 as scrap bronze!  Perish the thought!

"Value" is not just a monetary estimate, as politicians need to be reminded of from time to time.

 

MM
 

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I didn’t suggest anything which would make the case for scrapping the organ!  When I find some time, I must revisit the Local Government Act, but I think the first paragraph of Colin Pykett’s post above is probably spot-on.

While none of us likes the result, I doubt that any action will be taken against the Council.  I may be wrong.  We must wait and see.

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It would be perfectly straightforward to request a copy of the asbestos consultants' report, or minutes of any meetings in which the scrapping of the organ was discussed, as a Freedom of Information request from the city council.

Regarding the instrument's value however, realistically how many people, organisations, churches or concert halls would have been queuing up to buy a large four manual Compton/Wurlitzer pipe organ as a going concern had that option been on the table? Where else could it have been installed that would have had the space to house it and the budget to pay for its relocation and any associated restoration (including, possibly asbestos decontamination)? And how many organ builders would be willing to take the risk of removing and storing it, potentially for years, given that even if a potential buyer came forward to express interest, they might well decide subsequently that the organ wasn't suitable or the relocation was unaffordable, which would leave the organ builder with a storage nightmare.

I suspect the unfortunate reality is that besides Wolverhampton's civic hall, there wouldn't be any suitable alternative venue for this instrument. At which point the bean counting comes in and it's cheaper to send it to landfill.

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1 hour ago, Contrabombarde said:

It would be perfectly straightforward to request a copy of the asbestos consultants' report, or minutes of any meetings in which the scrapping of the organ was discussed, as a Freedom of Information request from the city council.

Regarding the instrument's value however, realistically how many people, organisations, churches or concert halls would have been queuing up to buy a large four manual Compton/Wurlitzer pipe organ as a going concern had that option been on the table? Where else could it have been installed that would have had the space to house it and the budget to pay for its relocation and any associated restoration (including, possibly asbestos decontamination)? And how many organ builders would be willing to take the risk of removing and storing it, potentially for years, given that even if a potential buyer came forward to express interest, they might well decide subsequently that the organ wasn't suitable or the relocation was unaffordable, which would leave the organ builder with a storage nightmare.

I suspect the unfortunate reality is that besides Wolverhampton's civic hall, there wouldn't be any suitable alternative venue for this instrument. At which point the bean counting comes in and it's cheaper to send it to landfill.

I shall have to investigate the past a little, but Steve Tovey and fellow enthusiasts had the removal of the organ, storage and eventual re-installation in hand.....all for free, if memory serves correctly!

MM

 

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I fully understand the strength of feeling by MM and others, but I’m not sure where this is all leading, or whether any of us (apart, possibly, from any Wolverhampton tax payers) have any standing.  As mentioned earlier, I can remember broadcast recitals by Arnold Richardson from here - possibly all of 60 years ago!

Are people taking on board that it was never intended to re-install the organ in the Civic Hall?  Mr Tovey was looking for another location.

Sadly, the Wolverhampton organ has gone, but there is another Compton at present alive and well in the BBC Maida Vale studios.  What is its future when the BBC moves out?   That thread was diverted into a discussion of electronics!  I don’t have any BBC connections.  Does anyone here know anything?

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