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There is a black and white 28 minute documentary produced by the John Compton Organ Company exploring the manufacture of the Compton Theatre Organ filmed at the Chase Road works in the 1930's. I think it might have been intended for show at an exhibition of some sort. It has been converted to DVD and I picked up a copy on ebay a while ago. There is no reason to assume anything else went on elsewhere and it shows: the Carrillon tower of the factory, the engineering shop, winding coils, engraving stop keys, bakelite moulding, casting pipe metal, making pipes (looked like a string pipe), voicing reeds, the console area, soundboard area, leathering a single rise regulator, electrone discs being engraved and tested.etc. There are lots of people and it looks cramped which is not to say they did not buy stuff in but they look equiped to do everything in house (but blower manufacture was not mentioned).

PJW

 

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

 

 

Thanks Philip. I actually have the original Video tape, so I'm going to have to dig it out again and take a look. All I know, is that Ian Bell once mentioned pipes being bought in, and others have suggested the same. However, it may well be that they only made the basses at the Chase Road premises towards the end of the pipe organ business when Mr Bell was there as an apprentice, or perhaps they just didn't have the capacity to keep pace with demand. I come back to the actual problem of pipe production on what must have been an industrial scale after 1931 at Chase Road. Compton's churned out 261 theatre organs, of which a majority would be made at Chase Road. (Let's play safe and assume 200!)

 

Get your calculator out at this point, (or just believe what I say), and let's look at the maths from 1931 to 1939

 

200 organs over a maximum of 8 years (wartime 1939-45) = 25 cinema organs per year, or one every fortnight.

 

Add to this an unknown number of church/concert instruments, (a few very large instruments, quite a lot between 10 and 20 ranks and the majority small extension jobs, say 2-5 ranks). I'd hazard a guess that the number of classical jobs was around the same number, judging by the number of entries on NPOR and the fact that an awful lot of small extension organs are not listed, but even if the number of church/concert organs was half that of the cinema organ output, (but usually involved a far grerater number of ranks), I would hazard a guess that the amount of pipes required of both types was probably about equal.

 

So if we take a mean average across the entire organ range of 8 ranks of pipes per instrument, and go no larger than 73 note windchests, the mathematics pans out something like this:-

 

37 organs per year (50 week working year), that works out at about 0.75 instruments per week minimum, and I have heard 1 per week suggested.

 

However, let's sticjk with the ball-park figure of 0.75 organs per week, and take the average of 8 ranks, we get, (with 73 note chests):-

 

73 x 8 x 0.75 = 438 pipes per week, which over a 6 day week, (they worked a lot of overtime) = a minimum of 73 completed pipes per day, ranging from big reed, diaphone and wood basses, to the little ones. It also includes a lot of reed pipes, which are much more complicated to make. I haven't allowed for mitres and haskelled basses, nor have I allowed for polyphonic pipes.

 

(From what I know, I think the real figure was probably in the order of 100 pipes per working day)

 

So in man hours, how long does it take to cut the metal up and make a pipe? I haven't a clue to be honest, because I've never done it, but I checked it out on You Tube, and although the process is slower than normal, due to the commentary, it still takes a long time.

 

We're looking at 7 pieces minimum, (without supports, beards and mitres etc) per flue....body, top lip, two ears,bottom lip, languid, toe to be made or coned, tuning slides or stoppers. (Much the same number for reeds, but rather more troublesome, and let's not forget any leathering to the lips of flues as well as harmonic-bridges and stoppers which have to be made). I reckon about 20 minutes per open metal flue pipe, in addition to casting of metal and getting the pipe to speak properly. In fact, the while process from casting to cutting to forming, MUST take about 30 minutes per pipe minimum, and rather longer for the basses. That amounts to at least 36 - 50 man hours per day.....maybe 5 to 7 people working flat out, and not allowing for any wasted time or careful storing or packing in trays etc. If we add voicing time and metal casting time, I don't think you would do all that with less than 10 full-time, well skilled people working 50 hours a week. That's probably over 500 man hours for 438 pipes.....well over an hour per pipe.

 

The only time-saving aspect I can think of, is the fact that Compton's used a lot of zinc-sheet for the basses, and as Ian Bell stated once, the CCC Compton Diaphone resonator tops were exactly the maximum available from a 3ft wide zinc sheet!

 

Was that level of production possible?

 

Maybe, but they would have been hard pushed to say the least, and if there was sudden peak in demand, (perhaps a larger instrument than normal, or one delayed for whatever reason), they would probably have bought things in, as seems to have been the case.

 

Interetsingly, when Compton were at Turnham Green, they had the magnets/coils made at a small sub-contractor's premises next to the works. Then they bought this little firm, and employed the former owner, thus bringing production "in house".

 

As with all things to do with Compton, the devil is in the detail.

 

Best,

 

MM

 

 

PS: Blowers seemed to be universally 'Discus'. If not, I haven't seen any of the alternatives.

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As I have said before on here, Duncan Booth (Booths of Leeds pipemakers) told me personally a few years back that his Father used to make some string ranks for Compton.

 

I think there could be no doubt that some pipework, and maybe some other items, were outsourced in the height of Compton's production. i too have that video and am well aware that they were able to make everything in house, but the sheer quantity in the early 30s, coupled with info from people like Duncan, surely means they didn't make everything for every one of their organs.

 

Peter

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As I have said before on here, Duncan Booth (Booths of Leeds pipemakers) told me personally a few years back that his Father used to make some string ranks for Compton. I think there could be no doubt that some pipework, and maybe some other items, were outsourced in the height of Compton's production. i too have that video and am well aware that they were able to make everything in house, but the sheer quantity in the early 30s, coupled with info from people like Duncan, surely means they didn't make everything for every one of their organs. Peter

 

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

 

Indeed, and just looking at the church/dual purpose organ from 1928 to 1939, the list includes some big new instruments, but more siginificantly, some big re-builds which must have upset the normal working pattern at the works.

 

Davis Theater 1928

Bournemouth Pavillion 1929

Downside Abbey 1931

St Luke's Chelsea 1932

BBC Radio Theatre, Langham Place 1933

St George's, Stockport 1935

Ealing Abbey 1935

BBC Maida Vale 1936

St George's Hall, London 1936

Southampton Guildhall 1937

Walsall Town Hall 1938

Hull, Holy Trinity 1938

Derby Cathedral;, 1939

 

The last four are especially notable, and Holy Trinity, Hull, (a huge, largely straight instrument), following on from the Guidhall at Southampton, must have kept everyone fairly well occupied on top of the normal output of smaller instruments.

 

Best,

 

MM

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Now here's a bit of a stunner!

 

I was going through some of the Compton patents, and filed by John Compton himself is a very curious type of pipe indeed, which may or may not operate bi-phonically, depending upon what is required. That isn't the important bit.

 

The patent shows a wooden VARIABLE WIND PRESSURE PIPE, using a curious triple inlet valve arrangement snd a double EP action arrangement. Cunningly, there is a sliding top-lip actuated by a pneumatic-motor, complete with a beard, which goes up an down to make adjustment to the pipe speech, according to the pressure delivered at the wind-way.

 

Having invented the thing, one must assume that it found an application somewhere, but I can't say it's something I've heard of previously.

 

The only thing which came close, which I dimly recall from my youthful foray into organ-building, was 16ft bass which supplied a pp and ff bass using the same pipes, but it certainly didn't have the slightest degree of sophistication and may well have been out of tune half the time.

 

Best,

 

MM

 

 

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Now here's a bit of a stunner!

 

I was going through some of the Compton patents, and filed by John Compton himself is a very curious type of pipe indeed, which may or may not operate bi-phonically, depending upon what is required. That isn't the important bit.

 

The patent shows a wooden VARIABLE WIND PRESSURE PIPE, using a curious triple inlet valve arrangement snd a double EP action arrangement. Cunningly, there is a sliding top-lip actuated by a pneumatic-motor, complete with a beard, which goes up an down to make adjustment to the pipe speech, according to the pressure delivered at the wind-way.

 

Having invented the thing, one must assume that it found an application somewhere, but I can't say it's something I've heard of previously.

 

The only thing which came close, which I dimly recall from my youthful foray into organ-building, was 16ft bass which supplied a pp and ff bass using the same pipes, but it certainly didn't have the slightest degree of sophistication and may well have been out of tune half the time.

 

Best,

 

MM

 

St Andrew's Luton has or had wooden pipes, I think pedal basses, with mechanically adjustable cut-ups.

 

MF

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St Andrew's Luton has or had wooden pipes, I think pedal basses, with mechanically adjustable cut-ups.

 

MF

 

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

 

Thanks for that but of information.

 

If this is the same church and organ, it looks like an interesting story!

 

 

http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=D01736

 

 

Best,

 

MM

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The patent shows a wooden VARIABLE WIND PRESSURE PIPE, using a curious triple inlet valve arrangement snd a double EP action arrangement. Cunningly, there is a sliding top-lip actuated by a pneumatic-motor, complete with a beard, which goes up an down to make adjustment to the pipe speech, according to the pressure delivered at the wind-way.

 

Having invented the thing, one must assume that it found an application somewhere, but I can't say it's something I've heard of previously.

 

The only thing which came close, which I dimly recall from my youthful foray into organ-building, was 16ft bass which supplied a pp and ff bass using the same pipes, but it certainly didn't have the slightest degree of sophistication and may well have been out of tune half the time.

 

Best,

 

MM

 

There was a company in Canada, 'The Compensating Organ Company,' that put out hybrid free reed / organ pipe instruments. The mouths had a sliding top lip also and a mechanism that according to the advertising, "and its special device is claimed to keep pipe and reed in perfect pitch in any temperature." (Unfortunately the only local example got squashed and is in storage awaiting the paperwork for its restoration.) I have a vague memory that the regulation of the rank of pipes (wooden Stopped Diapasons) could be altered also from the console - which would mean that the theory and practice goes back to at least 1901.

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First the questions:-

 

1) Did Compton have just three standard (Roosevelt) unit chest designs, as I am led to understand, for which only the top-boards differed?

 

2) Were the unit chests all independently winded, using small regulators?

 

3) Did all the unit chests have ventils, and were they always switchable at the console?

 

4) Did Compton ever use Haskelled basses?

 

1) Broadly speaking, this is the case. the design of the chest was standard (although, of course they were perfectly able to construct 'non-standard' chests when required) being a single stage Roosevelt. From the mid-1930s onwards, with the introduction of the compound magnet, it was usual to use these on the bottom two octaves effectively making these notes two-stage pneumatic. These chests were produced in three widths, known in the factory as String (6 1/2" wide at the top board), Diapason (9") and Tuba (11"). It might also be of interest to know that, as standard, Compton pipework was mitred to fit a 9' 6" ceiling height. Somewhere else in this thread someone mentioned them having built Kegelade chests. The 40 stop concert organ at Wolverhampton Civic Hall is largely on straight, sliderless chests, with a single set of 61 magnets at the front. There were only a couple of ranks on extension chests in the original scheme. I don't know the mechanism involved and assumed they had some sort of ventil stop action, but they may well be Kegelade chests.

 

2) Ranks were occasionally independently winded as required (eg Tubas, Trumpets, or Tibias in cinema installations) but more often than not, ranks were grouped together with usually between 2 and 5 winded from one regulator. These regulators are, roughly speaking, 2' 6" x 2" (exactly speaking they're 31" x 24" - I measured some this morning!) and are internally sprung with strong leaf springs. They are neat, and very efficient at maintianing steady wind. Again, not all jobs had the standard regulators - the BBC Broadcasting House organ, which has around 33 ranks fitted into a chamber about 6' deep, has, I understand, integral regulation within the assortment of odd-shaped chests required to fit such an instrument into such a confined space. I'm guess these are something like Schwimmers.

 

3) As far as I am aware NO unit chests had ventils. The ventil was always fitted to the regulator, which is why the ventil stopkeys or switches often showed a group of ranks affected. This is a less useful applictaion than the Hill, Norman & Beard method as displayed in their 'Christie' cinema organs, where there is a ventil in the end of each main chest, so individual ranks can be silenced in the event of a cipher. On Compton cinema organs you will generally see one ventil marked 'Basses and Percussions' which is for the regulator supplying un-tremulated wind to these. It often also supplies the swell shutters, so use of this ventil can make the instrument even more quiet than expected!

 

4) I believe so, especially in small compact instruments, and residence organs. I'm not sure if they were also used in the Minitura organs, but suspect they were in at least some models, as the early versions of these used a cube bass for the 16' octave, and the chests were also made to a very space-saving design, so it perhaps follows that any other space-saving techniques available would have found favour with Compton and Taylor provided the musical result was satisfactory.

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1) Broadly speaking, this is the case. the design of the chest was standard (although, of course they were perfectly able to construct 'non-standard' chests when required) being a single stage Roosevelt. From the mid-1930s onwards, with the introduction of the compound magnet, it was usual to use these on the bottom two octaves effectively making these notes two-stage pneumatic. These chests were produced in three widths, known in the factory as String (6 1/2" wide at the top board), Diapason (9") and Tuba (11"). It might also be of interest to know that, as standard, Compton pipework was mitred to fit a 9' 6" ceiling height. Somewhere else in this thread someone mentioned them having built Kegelade chests. The 40 stop concert organ at Wolverhampton Civic Hall is largely on straight, sliderless chests, with a single set of 61 magnets at the front. There were only a couple of ranks on extension chests in the original scheme. I don't know the mechanism involved and assumed they had some sort of ventil stop action, but they may well be Kegelade chests.

 

2) Ranks were occasionally independently winded as required (eg Tubas, Trumpets, or Tibias in cinema installations) but more often than not, ranks were grouped together with usually between 2 and 5 winded from one regulator. These regulators are, roughly speaking, 2' 6" x 2" (exactly speaking they're 31" x 24" - I measured some this morning!) and are internally sprung with strong leaf springs. They are neat, and very efficient at maintianing steady wind. Again, not all jobs had the standard regulators - the BBC Broadcasting House organ, which has around 33 ranks fitted into a chamber about 6' deep, has, I understand, integral regulation within the assortment of odd-shaped chests required to fit such an instrument into such a confined space. I'm guess these are something like Schwimmers.

 

3) As far as I am aware NO unit chests had ventils. The ventil was always fitted to the regulator, which is why the ventil stopkeys or switches often showed a group of ranks affected. This is a less useful applictaion than the Hill, Norman & Beard method as displayed in their 'Christie' cinema organs, where there is a ventil in the end of each main chest, so individual ranks can be silenced in the event of a cipher. On Compton cinema organs you will generally see one ventil marked 'Basses and Percussions' which is for the regulator supplying un-tremulated wind to these. It often also supplies the swell shutters, so use of this ventil can make the instrument even more quiet than expected!

 

4) I believe so, especially in small compact instruments, and residence organs. I'm not sure if they were also used in the Minitura organs, but suspect they were in at least some models, as the early versions of these used a cube bass for the 16' octave, and the chests were also made to a very space-saving design, so it perhaps follows that any other space-saving techniques available would have found favour with Compton and Taylor provided the musical result was satisfactory.

 

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

 

 

An interesting and informative reply as always Stephen, though I'm not sure it helps with the very early pneumatic unit-chests! (I doubt any still exist as they were origially made, but the Methodist church at Launceston was one of them). The information about the grouping of chests has solved a mystery for me, because I could never quite understand those funny little switches, usually low down at the bottom of the RH stop-jambs. which had a list of things the ventils silenced, when I was really expecting individual switches for each rank). The fact that the ventils were at the regulator makes perfect sense now.

 

Now somewhere in the back of my mind, I associate the name Noterman with compound magnets. Am I right in thinking that he was the inventor?

 

Kegglade chests were indeed used by Compton, and one organ so made is that at St Bride's, Fleet Street, and the late Compton job at St Alban's, Holborn, among others. (I think I can now add Wolverhampton to that list).

 

The BBC job was turned down by everyone else apparently, such was the difficulty of installing anything in that particular space. I suppose another one had to be the Bournmouth Pavilion, where the organ is built into two concrete tubes.

 

I'm interested by the standard height of bass pipes, which seems to be a later innovation. If I understand something Ian Bell wrote elsewhere, all the basses were made to set patterns and used standard templates. They would be, for the most part, metal pipes when they (obviously) were not wood. I suppose the same thing applies to them, thinking about it. However, the bit that surprised me was to learn that the basses were made in the factory out of zinc, to absolutely stock dimensions, and even the nicking used a standard template and was done by apprentices. Even the cut ups were done by (presumably) gauges, but more importantly, even before the ears were soldered on! The Diaphonic basses were made to a scale which was exactly possible, and no greater, than that obtainable from a standard 3ft sheet of zinc. This is a real throw back to Brindley & Foster, who used more or less stock scales once the old man Charles Brindley had shuffled off. Even when he was around, I have found evidence of the same in at least one organ dating from 1878 or so. (Actually a Choir Salicional...which would have been buried under the Swell Organ originally....on which the stamped markings read ....."Op. Diap.2")

 

Now if the above is correct, and I assume that it must be knowing the source, it is another insight into the repetitive, industrial nature of the various components and the manufacturing techniques employed. Other organ-builders may have done similar things, but not on such a factory scale.

 

So much of this is incredibly forensic, but it continues to hold my attention and keep me very busy.

 

Thanks for the reply,

 

Best,

 

MM

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Compton did indeed make some Haskelled basses - Southampton Guildhall has a Haskelled 16ft Contra Viola extension to the Swell 8ft Viola da Gamba. If I remember correctly, so does Wormwood Scrubs organ (ex-Forum Ealing)

 

Peter

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On the subject of Compton strings, I saw Duncan Booth the other day, whilst at Booths collecting the renovated Battersea Tuba, and I asked him again about Compton outsourcing strings to Duncan's Father in the 30s. He confirmed that all Compton string ranks made with black roller beards (as opposed to wood finish) were made by Mr Booth Snr.

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On the subject of Compton strings, I saw Duncan Booth the other day, whilst at Booths collecting the renovated Battersea Tuba, and I asked him again about Compton outsourcing strings to Duncan's Father in the 30s. He confirmed that all Compton string ranks made with black roller beards (as opposed to wood finish) were made by Mr Booth Snr.

 

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

 

 

 

Another small bit of useful information, for which I am grateful.

 

Best,

 

MM

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For those who do not Steve Dunk's mailings I have taken the liberty of cutting and pasting his latest:

JOHN COMPTON PLAQUE UNVEILING MONDAY 20 MAY 2013

An Ealing Civic Society green plaque commemorating John Compton will be unveiled by his adopted granddaughter, Suzy Perkins, at his former home at 37 Audley Road on Monday 20th May at 11am. Compton was the owner of the Compton Organ company, with its factory in Chase Road, Park Royal, which built organs for cinemas, churches and even a few cathedrals. The unveiling will be followed by talks on John Compton and his company, a short recital on the 1947 electronic Compton Organ and refreshments at the Church of the Ascension, Beaufort Road W5. His most famous cinema organ is the 5 manual instrument at the Odeon Leicester Square, with its multi-coloured illuminated console, still used for film premieres and special recitals. Those wishing to attend the unveiling celebrations should contact info@ealingcivicsociety.org by 12 May. The John Compton Organ Company Limited is best known for the 270 cinema organs built during the 1920s and 30s. But the company was established in 1920 to build, repair and tune traditional church organs and continued to do so until its demise in 1964. Notable examples are at Downside Abbey, Derby Cathedral and St Georges RC Cathedral, Southwark. Another important aspect of Compton’s success was the development of electronic organs. We are fortunate to have a 1947 Electrone still in remarkably good working order in the Church of the Ascension, Hanger Hill, Ealing, close to Compton’s former home which will be played by well-known organ virtuoso and Compton enthusiast Richard Hills at the unveiling celebrations on May 20th. The organs were manufactured in a purpose-built factory in North Acton opened in 1930 to cope with the boom in demand for theatre organs. This one-storey building was bombed in October 1940 but rebuilt soon after with a two storey frontage which still stands in Chase Road in Park Royal, now occupied by a firm of fashion wholesalers. The versatile workforce was employed during WWII in building Mosquito planes. Compton himself spent part of the war in Italy as a prisoner of war, having been stranded there at the beginning of the war where he was able to serve the local community as organist and repairer of local organs. The company failed to survive long after its founder’s death in 1957 but this should not detract from its achievements over 40 years: it was the largest organ builder in the country employing 250 workers at its height. John Compton has been described as an “inventive genius”: more patents were applied for by his company than by any other organ builder.

A longer article about the John Compton Organ Company Limited can be found in the May 2012 edition of the Acton Historian, published by the Acton History Group.

Please contact: kelvinmeredith@ntlworld.com

 

Compton Organs in the London Borough of Ealing Church of All Hallows, Greenford has the only Compton pipe organ in the Borough, a 2 manual, 5 rank instrument. It started its life in 1923 as a standard model Compton Kinestra in the Hippodrome, Woolwich. Church of the Ascension, Beaufort Road, W5 3EB: 2 manual 1947 Electrone, still in use in situ Forum (opposite Ealing Town Hall, 1934): 3 manual 9 rank. It is now in the chapel of Wormwood Scrubs Prison in good condition and played regularly. The Lido (1928, previously the Kinema, West Ealing, demolished 2001): 2 manual, 5 rank now believed to be in private hands in the London area. Savoy, East Acton, (1931 demolished in 1996), 2 manual, presumably scrapped. St Benedict’s Priory (now Ealing Abbey) 3 manual (1935), destroyed during the Blitz in 1940.

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This thread has been a bit quiet recently, but I came thought I should contribute after having come across another rather unusual string to John Compton's colourful (literally) bow recently in the form of some extremely bizarre-looking consoles:

vt1c.jpg

This (above) was built in 1940 for the S'Carlos Opera House, Lisbon. Then there is the "organ" at Drury Lane Theatre, which was built in 1950 and was in use until 1975:

x2c7.jpg

and
twly.jpg

In fact these aren't electronic organs at all. They are actually theatre stage lighting desks, invented by a certain Fred Bentham who had the genius idea that an organ console was the ideal way for an operator to control upwards of 200 theatre stage lights, and he took Compton theatre organ consoles and components and hooked them up to control stage lights. Every aspect of the organ console was utilised, right down to expression pedals and adjustable pistons to control different combinations of lights. (Un?)surprisingly the idea didn't really take off, and only 17 were ever built. Further details can be found at websites of theatre lighting enthusiasts:

http://www.strandarchive.co.uk/control/ ... nsole.html

http://www.magmouse.co.uk/research/light-console/

and
http://www.geocities.ws/rolsonline/lightconsole.htm

 

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For those who do not Steve Dunk's mailings I have taken the liberty of cutting and pasting his latest:

JOHN COMPTON PLAQUE UNVEILING MONDAY 20 MAY 2013

An Ealing Civic Society green plaque commemorating John Compton will be unveiled by his adopted granddaughter, Suzy Perkins, at his former home at 37 Audley Road on Monday 20th May at 11am. Compton was the owner of the Compton Organ company, with its factory in Chase Road, Park Royal, which built organs for cinemas, churches and even a few cathedrals. The unveiling will be followed by talks on John Compton and his company, a short recital on the 1947 electronic Compton Organ and refreshments at the Church of the Ascension, Beaufort Road W5. His most famous cinema organ is the 5 manual instrument at the Odeon Leicester Square, with its multi-coloured illuminated console, still used for film premieres and special recitals. Those wishing to attend the unveiling celebrations should contact info@ealingcivicsociety.org by 12 May. The John Compton Organ Company Limited is best known for the 270 cinema organs built during the 1920s and 30s. But the company was established in 1920 to build, repair and tune traditional church organs and continued to do so until its demise in 1964. Notable examples are at Downside Abbey, Derby Cathedral and St Georges RC Cathedral, Southwark. Another important aspect of Compton’s success was the development of electronic organs. We are fortunate to have a 1947 Electrone still in remarkably good working order in the Church of the Ascension, Hanger Hill, Ealing, close to Compton’s former home which will be played by well-known organ virtuoso and Compton enthusiast Richard Hills at the unveiling celebrations on May 20th. The organs were manufactured in a purpose-built factory in North Acton opened in 1930 to cope with the boom in demand for theatre organs. This one-storey building was bombed in October 1940 but rebuilt soon after with a two storey frontage which still stands in Chase Road in Park Royal, now occupied by a firm of fashion wholesalers. The versatile workforce was employed during WWII in building Mosquito planes. Compton himself spent part of the war in Italy as a prisoner of war, having been stranded there at the beginning of the war where he was able to serve the local community as organist and repairer of local organs. The company failed to survive long after its founder’s death in 1957 but this should not detract from its achievements over 40 years: it was the largest organ builder in the country employing 250 workers at its height. John Compton has been described as an “inventive genius”: more patents were applied for by his company than by any other organ builder.

A longer article about the John Compton Organ Company Limited can be found in the May 2012 edition of the Acton Historian, published by the Acton History Group.

Please contact: kelvinmeredith@ntlworld.com

 

Compton Organs in the London Borough of Ealing Church of All Hallows, Greenford has the only Compton pipe organ in the Borough, a 2 manual, 5 rank instrument. It started its life in 1923 as a standard model Compton Kinestra in the Hippodrome, Woolwich. Church of the Ascension, Beaufort Road, W5 3EB: 2 manual 1947 Electrone, still in use in situ Forum (opposite Ealing Town Hall, 1934): 3 manual 9 rank. It is now in the chapel of Wormwood Scrubs Prison in good condition and played regularly. The Lido (1928, previously the Kinema, West Ealing, demolished 2001): 2 manual, 5 rank now believed to be in private hands in the London area. Savoy, East Acton, (1931 demolished in 1996), 2 manual, presumably scrapped. St Benedict’s Priory (now Ealing Abbey) 3 manual (1935), destroyed during the Blitz in 1940.

This is the first time I have come across this posting. I feel that, again, mention has not been made of the 1938 Compton rebuild and enlargement of the organ in Holy Trinity Parish Church, Hull, reputed to be the largest parish church organ in the UK. And there's no mention either of the fine concert organ rebuilt by Compton in the city's City Hall in 1950/51, one of the UK's largest concert hall organs behind the RAH.

 

Perplexing that there has not been any contributions on Compton for some time from MusingMuso?

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I suppose that whoever wrote the original release may not have been particularly organ-minded, or Compton-minded. In any case, Downside was perhaps Compton's most famous organ and remains something of a mile-stone, and Southwark was one of the last brand-new Comptons of any size. Derby is less easy to explain, although I suppose a Cathedral organ will be perceived as being prestigious (I wonder what they were meaning to do at Portsmouth before the organ got blitzed in the Works). Hull, although big, wasn't new, and lot of it is 'straight'.

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Hello,

 

Don't be perplexed Barry, I am still lurking, but this is my busiest time of year.

Good to see that Colin Pykett has become a member of the discussion board. Now HE knows a thing or two about Compton which could be of interest to us.

 

Best,

 

MM

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Thank you, MM, for the welcome and those kind words. I'm not sure I can describe myself as a fully fledged Compton expert though. My interests in that direction start rather narrowly with Robert Hope-Jones's work at an engineering level, and moving on from that, I have been interested for some years in how some of his technical ideas were transferred to Compton (because they surely were), and what Compton did with them subsequently. It's an intriguing thread to follow, though I still cannot see it in its entirety yet. Some of HJ's tonal ideas also got transferred in a diluted form, though in my view that is a rather different matter - it was the fashion then to make organs sound like they did in Britain around 1900, a trend that was taken up for a while by several others including Harrison.

 

CEP

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Forgive this late contribution to the thread, but I don't know whether MM is still interested in Compton reminiscences. However I've just come across some which concern Leslie Bourn's doings post-retirement.

 

He joined the Electronic Organ Constructors' Society (EOCS), which still flourishes, and took part in a meeting in Leicester at which he gave a talk and demonstrated an Electrone. This was in 1967. The talk was summarised in the Society's magazine number 28 of October 1967. He described how he first got into the business as a youngster with several interesting anecdotes, including that he met a clergyman quite by chance in the street who happened to be Robert Hope-Jones's brother Kenyon. (He was the classics scholar who dreamed up the fanciful stop names used by H-J such as Phoneuma, etc). When his interests led him to apply for a job at Compton's, he was introduced to John who said (re developing an electronic instrument) "do what you like but it mustn't cost too much". He was then shown a cupboard which was to be his 'research department'.

 

Subsequently in retirement he became Chairman or President of the EOCS. He was developing a fully electronic transistorised instrument at that time, having said something like "it's about time I started understanding these transistor thingys".

 

I trust the Board's owner will not mind this post on electronic organs, as it is intended only to augment the body of information about the Compton company.

 

I might be able to flesh this stuff out if MM wishes, though it could be time-consuming to trawl through the magazines.

 

CEP

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Hi

 

The recording of the talk Colin mentions is available to EOCS members. I remastered the original recording a few months ago.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Many thanks to Dr Colin Pykett for this information, with which I have just caught up.

Leslie Bourn has been difficult to pin down, though I know where he lived when he was working at Compton's.

I don't know whether Colin knows or not, but there was quite spat between A H Midgely and Leslie Bourn, and somewhere among my files, I have more details. A H MIdgely had also been working on electronic organ technology, and after leaving Compton, he engaged in a bit of a bitter printed diatribe, claiming that Bourn had not developed anything new, but had merely re-worked his (A H MIdgely's) technology and claimed them as his own.

 

I believe Bourn's name and that of the Compton both appear on the patents, and if what A H Midgely suggested was true, it is not difficult to imagine that A H Midgely position was untenable.


It's all a bit vague at the moment, but in due course, I will get to grips with the electronic ventures.

I love the bit about Hope-Jone's brother and the source of those Latin organ-stop names.

MM




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Another member of this forum, who visited me only yesterday as a matter of fact, probably knows as much as anyone about the Electrone story and the personalities involved with it. Though if there is anything he doesn't know, he probably knows a man who does. In fact the purpose of his visit was to relieve me of some related Compton bits and pieces which have been occupying the garage for some while. I could PM MM privately if he wishes, but will not prolong this here because it's getting rather off the topic of pipe organs, even though it is still relevant to the doings of a pipe organ builder. (MM may well know my friend anyway).

 

CEP

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Here we are, a decade and more down the line, and believe it or not, the work on the Compton Co., still continues unabated.

How time flies!

I think it might be fair to suggest that I now have all the information at my fingertips, and writing has not only started, but has now reached in excess of 100 pages. I'm not sure I could call myself an historian; more a forensic scientist! The great difficulty has been to verify everything in an unusual way, which for the most part, involves secondary rather than primary sources; sifting through evidence, anecdotes, known facts, specific instruments, exisiting instruments and a mass of minor details. The research and forensic thread has now been running for over twelve years, but it's now coming together.

A few random points of interest, which may be of considerable interest to such as Dr Colin Pykett.


Having ploughed through a whole virtual encyclopedia of material, I learned something very interesting about the development of the Compton organ style. It was only partially the work of John Compton, who was really the experimental, tonal genius behind it all. Obviously, he knew about organ-building, and so too did Jimmy Taylor, but the REAL mastermind was Albery Henry Midgley, whom I've mentioned before. The discovery of his papers sheds a fascinating light on a fascinating age, when technologists learned their craft the hard way, in the world of work. That is as much a statement of the age as anything, and in the case of A H Midgley, it turns out that he was born in Huddersfield, where his father was a draper and importer of drapery products.A H Midgley showed an early interest in all things electrical and engineering, and went to what was the Bradford Technical school, having won a scholarship to study there. He was an outstanding pupil apparently; winning many awards on the way.

After leaving school, probably around the age of 15 (I would have to check), he started working for an electrical contractor in Bradford, and then moved to London, where he worked in air-conditioning and air-extraction for a well established firm in the Southwark area. From the start, he was inventive and seriously ambitious; so much so, that he was soon establishing his own business and importing tings from Germany. Within perhaps a decade (I haven't the exact dates to hand) he was a founding director of the C A Vanderwell company, serving the needs of the growing automobile industry, and for anyone who knows about vehicles from that age (Cecil Clutton would have known!) the Vanderwell family were the main suppliers of a vast range of automobile equipment. C A Vanderwell became a huge concern in the Acton area; employing thousands of people in due course. It was eventually taken over, to form the nucleus of Lucas Industries, with manufacturing facilities spread across the UK.

An organist and organ enthusiast, as well as a seriously gifted engineer and electrical engineer, it seems that there was some sort of row during the Lucas takeover, and by then Technical Director at C A Vanderville, he resigned the board and went his own way.
Clearly a man to seek out, it wasn't long before Midgley joined the Compton board and acted as Technical Director, and at this point, it was he who put his mind to developing the control systems of the extension organ, which included both cinema theatre-organs and their more classical counterparts, even though they shared a great deal between them. Not only that, he brought the expertise of modern industry to bear, and caused outrage among organ-builders, by adopting mass production techniques and introducing more modern materials such as Bakelite.

In his spare time, Midgley was designing bomb fuses, which he later specialised in after resigning from the Compton firm. The new venture was called Midgley-Harmer Ltd., and whilst the jury is still out as to whether he invented the delay fuses for the bouncing bomb, he certainly was responsible for the fuses of other epic pieces of military fireworks, such as the Tallboy bomb.

To add to the intrigue, Midgley went, in a very limited period of time, from humble servant to highly respected inventor, and in material terms, from a terraced house in Huddersfield, to large, detached properties in London. It was in one of these that his first 100 stop house organ was installed; built by the Compton company of course. That first instrument was superceded by a second instrument, and the first one was to become the still extant organ of St Luke's, Chelsea.

Add to all this the tonal genius of Compton, the electronics genius Leslie Bourn, the genius of Jimmy Taylor and the financial genius of the industrialist J Martin-White (one time president of the Organ Club) and what Compton's had was a dream team of incredibly multi-talented and highly capable people. What a hot-house of ideas that must have been.

So, we plough onwards and upwards, still gathering information, but more importantly, making sense of what I have got, in such a way that the information is verified as true and reliable.

MM

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This is certainly very interesting MM and thank you for posting it. I might add that MM has also provided a lot of historical background to me on a personal basis relating to Compton's work.

 

I also find it interesting to reflect on the wider background to the subject. There seem to me to be two threads running through the development of electric actions for organs. One of them is how national electricity supplies evolved. In the early days, organ builders such as Robert Hope-Jones were severely constrained by the limited availability of mains electricity which was almost unknown outside the larger towns. This meant they had to use batteries for organs in rural areas with all their obvious drawbacks. Even when mains power was available, there was no standardisation of voltage or frequency or even whether it was AC or DC. In at least two important cases, Worcester in the UK (I think - from memory) and Ocean Grove in the USA, Hope-Jones had to cope with a sudden change in voltage imposed by the suppliers after he had already procured the blower motors. And when using the limited power from batteries he was consequently driven to use electropneumatics to operate much of his equipment such as coupler relays and motorised stop key actions in order to get enough force for the mechanisms. However by the 1930s when Compton was active on the scene, the National Grid had arrived in the UK and mains voltages therefore rapidly began to stabilise at the 230V 50 Hz AC we still use today. Similar things happened in the USA once the 'AC - DC Wars' (Tesla vs Edison) were resolved in favour of Tesla. This enabled Compton's to re-engineer some of Hope-Jones's early electropneumatic mechanisms to use electromechanical (direct electric) operation because prime power was no longer an issue. This happened with their coupler relays and stop key units for example, and in particular with their very clever combination capture systems which were also all-electric rather than electropneumatic. I hope he will not mind me saying so, but forum member Lucien Nunes is the world's greatest living expert on this aspect, having recently restored the 80 year old systems at Southampton Guildhall on both the classical and theatre consoles. And when I say 'restored' I actually mean restored in the sense of getting it all to work again at the level of individual magnets and contacts - not just by chucking it all out and fitting a solid state capture system.

 

Standardisation on AC also enabled the Hammond organ and the Compton Electrone to appear because both relied on a stable mains frequency to remain in tune. Both would have been unthinkable until this happened.

 

The other historical thread is the motor vehicle. The Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust in Manchester recently unearthed the fascinating fact that a certain Henry Royce, before he became half of the R-R marque, manufactured magnets and (probably) low voltage dynamos for Hope-Jones in the 1890s. And as MM has shown, this continued with Compton via A H Midgley and his connections with what became CAV-Lucas, a firm well known throughout most of the 20th century in motor vehicle electrical parts as many readers will no doubt recall.

 

In fact the contemporary fascination with automobile engineering in the 1930s even surfaced in Willis III's infinite speed and gradation swell mechanism. Organs get louder more quickly and cars go faster the more you press on the pedal of either, and vice versa. There is also a 'neutral' position in both and an automatic 'decelerator' in the Willis scheme to prevent the shutters audibly slamming shut. These terms were actually used in Willis's patent, and I have long wondered whether the similarities were deliberate or unconscious. There even exists a tenuous analogue of the 'kickdown' feature in automatic gearboxes, which were under development in the 1930s - if the swell shutters were allowed to close completely a subtle mechanism kept them tightly closed after the pedal had returned to its central ('neutral') position, until you next pushed it forward again. Then of course the position of the swell shutters was also indicated at the console using actual car dashboard fuel gauges! All this was invented mainly by Aubrey Thompson-Allen who was perhaps the Willis equivalent of Compton's A H Midgeley, until he left for America and founded his own firm that is.

 

All fascinating stuff. Thank you, MM.

 

CEP

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