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John Compton

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Mention of W C Jones harks back to my interest in whether Compton might have met Hope-Jones as mentioned in previous posts in this thread, and hence whether there might have been an element of technology transfer between them.  Like Compton after him, Hope-Jones had earlier employed Jones's voicing skills (despite their names they were not related as far as I know, although 'Jones' is a particularly difficult name to trace for obvious reasons) and there remain to us a number of testimonials to the excellence of the reedwork in H-J's organs.  For his part, Jones was supportive of H-J's work.  In response to those who regarded him as a charlatan (some of the most strident rants originating from W T Best), he replied after H-J's death that "whatever else he might have been, he was certainly no charlatan".  Perhaps Compton might have taken that view as well?  It would be nice to know more.

CEP

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It has sometimes crossed my mind to wonder if there had ever been a meeting of John Compton and Hope-Jones and the sharing of technological thoughts. Whenever I've looked at the relay system on the Hull Minster organ (still working reasonably well after 80 years), early telephone technology is very evident.

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Remembering the Forster and Andrews origin of several large Comptons (Hull Minster and City Hall, St.George's, Stockport) leads me to suggest that Compton's work in such cases could have been the making of the instruments.  F&A organs are sometimes reticent to the point of being gormless, especially the larger ones.

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8 hours ago, David Drinkell said:

Remembering the Forster and Andrews origin of several large Comptons (Hull Minster and City Hall, St.George's, Stockport) leads me to suggest that Compton's work in such cases could have been the making of the instruments.  F&A organs are sometimes reticent to the point of being gormless, especially the larger ones.

 

I couldn't agree more. F & A were wonderfully made instruments, but not exactly thrilling tonally, even if they never sound at all bad. I've always regarded the idea of F & A  being "disciples of Schulze" as a bit of a joke. Charles Brindley was infinitely better at it!

It is known, that both the Minster organ and the City Hall organ in Hull, were revoiced substantially when re-built by Compton, and W C Jones was certainly involved in some of the reeds, if not all of them.

I forget who the voicer was at Compton's when they did Hull City Hall, but he did say to an organ enthusiast, that every pipe in the organ "passed through his hands".

I know that when I used to play the beast in my Uni Organ Scholar days at Hull, the Swell organ at the City Hall was quite a pathetic affair as compared with the rest of the organ. That was remedied to a large extent by the fitting of additional swell shutters by R & D when they re-built it.

Now, after a century or so, the organ sounds absolutely superb, but it took a while to get there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On 2/24/2018 at 10:38, Colin Pykett said:

Mention of W C Jones harks back to my interest in whether Compton might have met Hope-Jones as mentioned in previous posts in this thread, and hence whether there might have been an element of technology transfer between them.  Like Compton after him, Hope-Jones had earlier employed Jones's voicing skills (despite their names they were not related as far as I know, although 'Jones' is a particularly difficult name to trace for obvious reasons) and there remain to us a number of testimonials to the excellence of the reedwork in H-J's organs.  For his part, Jones was supportive of H-J's work.  In response to those who regarded him as a charlatan (some of the most strident rants originating from W T Best), he replied after H-J's death that "whatever else he might have been, he was certainly no charlatan".  Perhaps Compton might have taken that view as well?  It would be nice to know more.

CEP

The evidence is quite compelling Colin.

For a start, John Compton's work attracted a lot of interest, even while he was very young. Stephen Bicknell suggested that Compton was experimenting with extreme harmonics even in the 1890's, and while at Brindley's, he was already a voicer and finisher, which covers the period 1898 to 1902 or so. At that time, Brindley's were startiing to introduce more "orchestral" sounds, while retaining good, solid chorus-work. It is very likely, that Compton had a hand in the big 4-manual replacement organ for the one dstroyed by fire at Pietermaritzburg Town Hall in South Africa, which was completed in 1901. Not the best quality, but there are a couple of YouTube videos played on this magnificent instrument......well worth hearing in spite of the recording limitations.

Still in his 20's, Compton seems to have had his admirers, and when J Martin White, the wealthy industrialist, had the house organ at Balruddery House re-built by Hope-Jones (whom he supported financially in his many failed ventures), his next choice of beneficiary (when Hope-Jones eloped to America) was John Compton, whom he regarded as being closest to the Hope-Jones style. Martin White continued to support Compton when Compton went solo around 1904, after Fred Musson wandered off to Conacher's. I think it was 1911, when Martin White became a director of the John Compton Ltd., so he was involved, one way or another, over a considerable period.

After that, it gets a bit obscure, but A H Midgley seems to have been the dominant influence in London after 1925 and the tie-up with the J W Walker & Sons firm.

 

Compton also had the approval of James I Wedgwood (of the pottery family), who spoke in glowing terms about the beauty of the pipe voicing.

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On 2/24/2018 at 12:43, Barry Oakley said:

It has sometimes crossed my mind to wonder if there had ever been a meeting of John Compton and Hope-Jones and the sharing of technological thoughts. Whenever I've looked at the relay system on the Hull Minster organ (still working reasonably well after 80 years), early telephone technology is very evident.

Barry, the relays would almost certainly have been designed by A H Midgley initially, even though he left the Compton company in 1937. The man was a complete genius with all things electrical, and had done design work in telephone systems at GEC. By the time he became a director of the Compton firm (and poured a lot of cash into the company) he was probably worth (in to-day's money) many millions of pounds, having helped found CAV, which became CAV-Lucas Industries.

 

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4 hours ago, MusingMuso said:

The evidence is quite compelling Colin.

For a start, John Compton's work attracted a lot of interest, even while he was very young. Stephen Bicknell suggested that Compton was experimenting with extreme harmonics even in the 1890's, and while at Brindley's, he was already a voicer and finisher, which covers the period 1898 to 1902 or so. At that time, Brindley's were startiing to introduce more "orchestral" sounds, while retaining good, solid chorus-work. It is very likely, that Compton had a hand in the big 4-manual replacement organ for the one dstroyed by fire at Pietermaritzburg Town Hall in South Africa, which was completed in 1901. Not the best quality, but there are a couple of YouTube videos played on this magnificent instrument......well worth hearing in spite of the recording limitations.

Still in his 20's, Compton seems to have had his admirers, and when J Martin White, the wealthy industrialist, had the house organ at Balruddery House re-built by Hope-Jones (whom he supported financially in his many failed ventures), his next choice of beneficiary (when Hope-Jones eloped to America) was John Compton, whom he regarded as being closest to the Hope-Jones style. Martin White continued to support Compton when Compton went solo around 1904, after Fred Musson wandered off to Conacher's. I think it was 1911, when Martin White became a director of the John Compton Ltd., so he was involved, one way or another, over a considerable period.

After that, it gets a bit obscure, but A H Midgley seems to have been the dominant influence in London after 1925 and the tie-up with the J W Walker & Sons firm.

 

Compton also had the approval of James I Wedgwood (of the pottery family), who spoke in glowing terms about the beauty of the pipe voicing.

Thank you for this, MM.  Most interesting, especially the J Martin White aspect of the story.  Forgive my making a perhaps picky remark, but although Stephen Bicknell thought Compton "was experimenting with extreme harmonics" early on, it's worth bearing in mind that 'experimenting' costs money, generally a lot of it, which might not always be appreciated by those who haven't tried it themselves.  So I wonder about the source of funds that the young Compton was able to draw on so early in his career without the problem dragging him down as it did for some others.  This was one of the hurdles which helped to bring Hope-Jones down, because although he was initially probably bankrolled with venture capital from the likes of Thomas Threlfall and White, eventually they would have expected their money back with a return. 

Doing research into novel technologies means you have to first set up the necessary facilities which cost money, the facilities require space somewhere to house them which adds to the total, additional staff costs might be involved, and then there is the time involved in doing the research which to a businessman inflates the total still further (time equals money).  I'm not saying anything you won't know, but maybe not everyone will be comparably aware of the realities.

CEP

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6 hours ago, MusingMuso said:

 

I couldn't agree more. F & A were wonderfully made instruments, but not exactly thrilling tonally, even if they never sound at all bad. I've always regarded the idea of F & A  being "disciples of Schulze" as a bit of a joke. Charles Brindley was infinitely better at it!

It is known, that both the Minster organ and the City Hall organ in Hull, were revoiced substantially when re-built by Compton, and W C Jones was certainly involved in some of the reeds, if not all of them.

I forget who the voicer was at Compton's when they did Hull City Hall, but he did say to an organ enthusiast, that every pipe in the organ "passed through his hands".

I know that when I used to play the beast in my Uni Organ Scholar days at Hull, the Swell organ at the City Hall was quite a pathetic affair as compared with the rest of the organ. That was remedied to a large extent by the fitting of additional swell shutters by R & D when they re-built it.

Now, after a century or so, the organ sounds absolutely superb, but it took a while to get there.

 

 

I feel sure that the revoicing of the Hull City Hall organ when rebuilt by Compton's, certainly the superb reeds, would have been done by Frank Hancock, the company's then chief reed voicer. As you also say about Forster & Andrews and the excellent quality of their work, their tone was rather gentle and modest. I know Compton's opened up the City Hall F&A pipework to make it the magnificent organ it is today and I reckon he did the same at Hull Minster (Holy Trinity) when he rebuilt it in the late 1930's.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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9 hours ago, Colin Pykett said:

Thank you for this, MM.  Most interesting, especially the J Martin White aspect of the story.  Forgive my making a perhaps picky remark, but although Stephen Bicknell thought Compton "was experimenting with extreme harmonics" early on, it's worth bearing in mind that 'experimenting' costs money, generally a lot of it, which might not always be appreciated by those who haven't tried it themselves.  So I wonder about the source of funds that the young Compton was able to draw on so early in his career without the problem dragging him down as it did for some others.  This was one of the hurdles which helped to bring Hope-Jones down, because although he was initially probably bankrolled with venture capital from the likes of Thomas Threlfall and White, eventually they would have expected their money back with a return. 

Doing research into novel technologies means you have to first set up the necessary facilities which cost money, the facilities require space somewhere to house them which adds to the total, additional staff costs might be involved, and then there is the time involved in doing the research which to a businessman inflates the total still further (time equals money).  I'm not saying anything you won't know, but maybe not everyone will be comparably aware of the realities.

CEP


My distinct impression of John Compton is that of a quiet, rather reclusive workaholic.

There is evidence....lots of it.

It was Compton himself who wrote about tonal experiments going back to 1896.  Somewhere, I came across a reference to the voicing shop, and a rank of pipes being out of tune, because JC had been in there experimenting with different temperaments  late into the night.

There is a patent for an enharmonic organ

Compton wrote about a Tibia rank he created......"I made and remade the pipes many times"

Then there are the 32ft cubes, based on the Ocarina and Helmholtz resonators, the bi-phonic pipes, the Harmonics of 32ft, the synthetic registers....it's quite a list, and they couldn't have happened overnight.

I think it was at Northill in Bedfordshire, where Compton used a sliding mouth arrangement to get the speech of bi-phonic pipes right.

He experimented with Diaphones, and wrote a quite lengthy article about them.

I suspect that a lot of this was done late at night, when everyone had gone home, but I can't prove that.

What I do know, is that Compton was a tonal genius, and that's where his real interest lay.

As for 'venture capital', I don't think Martin White needed the money. I suspect that he was a passionate amateur with a bee in his bonnet about orchestral organs.

I would also add, that alongside the partnership of Compton and Harry Smith Mills during the period spent at Measham, there was another coompany known as "The extension organ company" operating from the same address. I think there was one organ bearing the name, but nothing much else. I suspect, but cannot know for certain, that this was the "experimental division" operating separately from the partnership with Mills, possibly as a way of distancing the partnership from the work of Hope-Jones, which was highly controversial at the time.

MM

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HELP!

I am just tidying up a section of writing about St Bride's, Fl;eet Street, and to my horror,  came across several conflicting reports.

The BIOS entries are inaccurate, and so too is the St Bride's web-site specification. Then there is a Phoenix Organs site, which claims that the organ was virtually destroyed by lightning. (I suspect that the damage wouldn't have extended to the entire instrument.....perhaps just the computerised transmission)  (Hope spring eternal if you make electronic organs, I expect).

It's quite a while since I gathered all the information, which now seems to be a bit problematical.

The latest NPOR entry seems to show that a Tuba Clarion has mysteriously appeared once again, and the spicy Fanfare Trumpet removed!!!

Can anyone who knows, put me on the correct path?   Malcolm R perhaps?

 

 




 

 

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I just did a word count of my "tome", and it now stands at 53,000 words. I now need to expand the cinema-organ side of things, because that is the thing which will have most appeal to a great many people. Then I need to include a bit about the "Solo Cello" device, which used a real string and a rotating wheel acting as a bow. The notes were selected by big EP fingers, and each one made a real clunk as it clamped the string.    (Ridiculous idea!) 

I need to write a bit about the last days, something about the stop-combination action,as well as the awful waste of the organ at Wolverhampton, then it should be somewhere near complete, other than checking for accuracy etc.

I'm quietly dreading all the layout and  tidying up the formatting (etc), but it has to be done, boring though it may be.

So many people have helped with information and specific points, and it would take another decade to acknowledge them all, but I am extremely grateful to everyone who has followed the Compton thread and kept me honest.

MM

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Looking back through this thread, a question was raised as to how John Compton could afford to carry out so many experiments.

I did a few rough sums....they need to be polished up.....but to give board members some idea, a three manual  WURLITZER 260 with  15 ranks and 32ft Diaphones, cost £15,500 in the UK in or around 1930 at the tjme of the great depression.

That translates to about £749,000 to-day, which in turn, works out at a mere £49,993 PER RANK!!!!!

Compton organs were less expensive, but I think it would be fair to suggest that around the same time, a 15 rank Compton cinema organ would be, in today's money, about £600,000, which means that each rank could be yours for the bargain price of  £40,000 per rank.

In the best years of the Compton firm, they were churning out something like 35 cinema organs a year....not all of them 15 ranks, but usually 5 to 10 rks plus a Melotone Unit and/or a piano attachment. Some of the big ones were up to 20+ ranks.  Even if we drop the price to an average of £400,000 across the board, that means that the income from the cinema organs must have been in the order of £20,000,000 in the peak years, to which may be added any number of classical organs; some of them quite large, as we know.

I reckon that the total turnover was therefore around the £30,000,000 per year in today's money, with profits probably around £2,500,000 nett, and that doesn't include tuning and routine maintenance work.

It's very easy to see why the company ran into difficulties when the war ended, and the cinema organ market collapsed!

MM



 

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Although your magnum opus has yet to appear, I'd like to congratulate you on the obvious amount of effort and sheer dogged perseverance that you've put into it.  It will certainly fill a yawning gap in the literature and I look forward to being able to peruse it.

Your costings are certainly food for thought.  However the figures do not seem to tally with the reality which I found when I was interviewed for a job at Compton's (it would have been my first) prior to graduating in physics.  (Forgive me if I've said these things before - I think I may have done somewhere or other but it might have been on another forum).  This was probably in 1966.  The background was that I happened to go to some technical event staged one evening at the Royal Institution and, to my surprise, a small 2M&P Compton Electrone was being demonstrated beforehand in the lobby.  I tinkered around on it and the youngish guy in charge seemed astonished that anyone could (a) play it and (b) was even remotely interested in it.  Of course, a vaguely-interested group of people then clustered around, attracted by the sounds presumably.  This obviously suited his purposes because he invited me to join in his sales-type patter with my own 'physics' angle on the instrument.  He then asked whether I would be interested in joining the firm as a demonstrator.  I indicated that my preferences lay more on the R&D side, so was invited for interview at the north London factory.  During that occasion I was shown a door into what they grandly called their 'R&D Department', and expected to walk into some brightly-lit, spacious facility complete with people in white coats.  Imagine my astonishment to find that it was hardly more than a large wardrobe, devoid of activity and personnel, and smaller and no better equipped than my own audio/musical 'research facility' then housed in my indulgent grandfather's garage.  I was then led into the vast main factory space, almost empty but for a large 4 manual Electrone drawstop console feeding a Rotofon speaker high on one wall.  I played this but was not much impressed other than by some nice flute sounds.  So I came away with the feeling that I had just visited a dying ghost firm which hardly offered the type of career prospects I was looking for.

The main point of this otherwise inconsequential diatribe is to point out from first hand recollections that, if Compton's did ever have a large R&D setup which your figures suggest they might have been able to support, there was certainly no evidence of it in the decaying rump of the firm which existed in the mid-1960s.

CEP

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Still on the subject of Compton's R&D, the question also arises exactly what R&D would have been needed.  Something as ground-breaking and complex as the Electrone could not possibly have been brought to the standard required for it to be marketed (and which it achieved) without very substantial prior R&D investment in time, facilities and therefore money.  I have no idea how it was done in the sense of issues like whether it was all done in-house or whether there were significant extramural (contract) elements as well.  Leslie Bourn and Wally Fair seemed to be associated with it from the outset until they retired if I'm correct.  I know the former then did various organ-related things in his retirement, including being either the chairman or president of the Electronic Organ Constructors' Society in the 60s (might have been the early 70s), and I have some of the EOCS magazines from that time in which he wrote on one occasion words to the effect that "I will have to get to know more about these little electronic thingies called transistors", which suggested to me that he realised that the electrostatic additive synthesis-based Electrone had pretty much run its course.  Somewhat later I met Wally for the last time in the 80s when he was very frail, and he was then interested in electronic tonal design using subtractive synthesis.  Although this forum is for pipe organs, I hope these electronic reminiscences might be forgiven in that they might conceivably be of interest for MM's research.

As for pipe organ R&D, one major aspect concerns the scaling laws required for successful extension organs.  With his usual pursuit of detail and perfection I doubt John himself would have simply tweaked the odd top or bottom octave here and there on an extended rank during its tonal finishing as other builders did.  Thus, somewhere in the factory, there might have been a dedicated voicing area where these matters were worked on more systematically, at least in the first instance before more experience was gained.  There would also have been a lot of work required on action issues, including the firm's amazing combination capture systems, but I know from private correspondence that MM has a good handle on these.

So forgive me, MM, if you think I'm paddling in your pond, which actually I'm not trying to do.  I'm just intrigued as to how JC came to build the instruments he did, both pipe and electronic.  I'm sure you will supply the answers in due course.

CEP

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4 hours ago, Colin Pykett said:

Still on the subject of Compton's R&D, the question also arises exactly what R&D would have been needed.  Something as ground-breaking and complex as the Electrone could not possibly have been brought to the standard required for it to be marketed (and which it achieved) without very substantial prior R&D investment in time, facilities and therefore money.  I have no idea how it was done in the sense of issues like whether it was all done in-house or whether there were significant extramural (contract) elements as well.  Leslie Bourn and Wally Fair seemed to be associated with it from the outset until they retired if I'm correct.  I know the former then did various organ-related things in his retirement, including being either the chairman or president of the Electronic Organ Constructors' Society in the 60s (might have been the early 70s), and I have some of the EOCS magazines from that time in which he wrote on one occasion words to the effect that "I will have to get to know more about these little electronic thingies called transistors", which suggested to me that he realised that the electrostatic additive synthesis-based Electrone had pretty much run its course.  Somewhat later I met Wally for the last time in the 80s when he was very frail, and he was then interested in electronic tonal design using subtractive synthesis.  Although this forum is for pipe organs, I hope these electronic reminiscences might be forgiven in that they might conceivably be of interest for MM's research.

As for pipe organ R&D, one major aspect concerns the scaling laws required for successful extension organs.  With his usual pursuit of detail and perfection I doubt John himself would have simply tweaked the odd top or bottom octave here and there on an extended rank during its tonal finishing as other builders did.  Thus, somewhere in the factory, there might have been a dedicated voicing area where these matters were worked on more systematically, at least in the first instance before more experience was gained.  There would also have been a lot of work required on action issues, including the firm's amazing combination capture systems, but I know from private correspondence that MM has a good handle on these.

So forgive me, MM, if you think I'm paddling in your pond, which actually I'm not trying to do.  I'm just intrigued as to how JC came to build the instruments he did, both pipe and electronic.  I'm sure you will supply the answers in due course.

 

I don't have my notes and files in front of me, but I can tell Colin that the electronic research was not just down to Leslie Bourn. Albert Midgley was doing all sorts of things, including electrostatic research using vibrating reeds. He also pioneered the idea of a rotating disc tone generator  "unit" which was not, if I recall, an electrostatic tone generator. That came later, and I think I'm right in saying that Bourn used that idea when developing the electrostatic technology. In point of fact, Bourn and Midgley were not just Comptin colleagues, they were also arch Compton rivals, and both patented a number of different systems.

This was the reason for the spat between John Compton and Midgley, and it is said that thereafter, there was an uneasy relationship between them, when JC favoured the Bourn methods. It also explains why Midgley took his own ideas to the J W Walker & Sons firm, to creat the Midgley-Walker electronic organ.

It's quite a murky path, and although I've attempted to plough through all the rubric of the patent applications, I'm still not entirely sure how the "Melotone" was arrived at. Almost certainly, the donkey work was all done in-house, but I suspect that Bourn brought a lot of prior research with him, because he ASSIGNED certain things to the Compton firm as the ASSIGNEE, which suggests that Bourn gave up the rights at that point. Incientally, "Jimmy" Taylor was busy designing amplifiers and things, and had a very good grasp of all thing mechanical....even patenting an automatic gearbox for cars.  They were one hell of a team!  Also, don't forget that Bourn had served in the RAF, so he would have been familiar with production/research methods etc.

When it comes to extension pipe organs, is it really all that difficult?

In romantically conceived instruments, there is a tapering of scales; a 4ft Principal being a few notes smaller than an 8ft Diapason, and a 2ft Fifteenth being a few notes smaller than the 4ft etc.So, with the appropriate switchgear, it is a relatively simple matter to draw on sounds from multiple sources. As I understand it, there was a fairly standard method of doing this; especially in the larger organs, where there are usually three Diapasons at 16.8 & 8. So the 16ft "Double" is quite subtle, and of a scale which leans towards that of a mild string such as a Geigen. The No1 is very dominant at 8ft pitch,, and the typical 2nd Diapason is a few notes smaller in scale. So he would, I think, take his 4ft Octave/Principal from the No.2, and the 2ft from the 16ft Double extended upwards.. The mutations (either separate or as part of a Mixture) would be from the 16ft rank, and the Mixture unisons from the 2nd Diapason or maybe a Geigen. It is common knowledge that the whole process was empirical, and what worked best was best employed, simply by altering the wiring.

I haven't come across much which refers to it, but my understanding is that pipes were of standard Compton scale, and even the nicking was achieved using "jigs", which apprentices used to nick the pipes. After that, it's just a question of regulation, leathering and toe adjustment......this was not neo-baroque!

I reckon that JC spent his entire life fiddling with things and experimenting. He became an expert on Diaphones, when no-one else knew the first thing about them. He invented an en-harmonic keyboard. He experimented with remote harmonics which we would call aliquots to-day, and when everyone had gone home for the night, he would play around with things in the voicing room.

So standard parts, standard pipes, standard winding systems, standard unit chests, standard scales....all devised at the practical level by Midgley. As I say in my tome, Compton looked at how organs COULD be made, rather than how others thought they SHOULD be made, and it worked brilliantly and VERY profitably.

MM





 

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7 hours ago, Colin Pykett said:

Although your magnum opus has yet to appear, I'd like to congratulate you on the obvious amount of effort and sheer dogged perseverance that you've put into it.  It will certainly fill a yawning gap in the literature and I look forward to being able to peruse it.

Your costings are certainly food for thought.  However the figures do not seem to tally with the reality which I found when I was interviewed for a job at Compton's (it would have been my first) prior to graduating in physics.  (Forgive me if I've said these things before - I think I may have done somewhere or other but it might have been on another forum).  This was probably in 1966.  The background was that I happened to go to some technical event staged one evening at the Royal Institution and, to my surprise, a small 2M&P Compton Electrone was being demonstrated beforehand in the lobby.  I tinkered around on it and the youngish guy in charge seemed astonished that anyone could (a) play it and (b) was even remotely interested in it.  Of course, a vaguely-interested group of people then clustered around, attracted by the sounds presumably.  This obviously suited his purposes because he invited me to join in his sales-type patter with my own 'physics' angle on the instrument.  He then asked whether I would be interested in joining the firm as a demonstrator.  I indicated that my preferences lay more on the R&D side, so was invited for interview at the north London factory.  During that occasion I was shown a door into what they grandly called their 'R&D Department', and expected to walk into some brightly-lit, spacious facility complete with people in white coats.  Imagine my astonishment to find that it was hardly more than a large wardrobe, devoid of activity and personnel, and smaller and no better equipped than my own audio/musical 'research facility' then housed in my indulgent grandfather's garage.  I was then led into the vast main factory space, almost empty but for a large 4 manual Electrone drawstop console feeding a Rotofon speaker high on one wall.  I played this but was not much impressed other than by some nice flute sounds.  So I came away with the feeling that I had just visited a dying ghost firm which hardly offered the type of career prospects I was looking for.

The main point of this otherwise inconsequential diatribe is to point out from first hand recollections that, if Compton's did ever have a large R&D setup which your figures suggest they might have been able to support, there was certainly no evidence of it in the decaying rump of the firm which existed in the mid-1960s.

CEP

My understanding is, that the electronic R & D was exactly as described....a small wardrobe. I suspect that Midgley had somewhat larger resources elsewhere....probably at home. (It was a very big house with a huge 4 manual console in the billiard room). In the taped interview with Roy Skinner, an electrical man at Comptons, he suggested that everything was done in-house. Like you, I have my doubts, because even the engineering is quite complex, even before a single squeak emerges from a loudspeaker.

However, I was intrigued to learn that you went to the Park Royal premises for an interview. What a sad, sad description you paint, when the glory years must have been amazing, with well over 200 people working there and the place crammed with organs and parts.

Did you spot any Compton space-heaters or folding caravans?   Apparently, they even made a few juke-boxes, as did the Wurlitzer company in America.  I don''t recall anyone ever crying, "Gee Dad! It's a Compton!"

MM

Edit:  Don't forget Colin, the figures I cobbled together were the modern equivalent, based on 1930's prices.
By the 1960's, the firm was in almost total collapse.

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5 hours ago, Colin Pykett said:

 

As for pipe organ R&D, one major aspect concerns the scaling laws required for successful extension organs.  With his usual pursuit of detail and perfection I doubt John himself would have simply tweaked the odd top or bottom octave here and there on an extended rank during its tonal finishing as other builders did.  Thus, somewhere in the factory, there might have been a dedicated voicing area where these matters were worked on more systematically, at least in the first instance before more experience was gained.  There would also have been a lot of work required on action issues, including the firm's amazing combination capture systems, but I know from private correspondence that MM has a good handle on these.

 

CEP

 

I missed this bit.

John Compton wrote a very eloquent article about the extension organ, which dates back to 1927, if I recall the year precisely.
Even before the move to London  around 1920, he'd built extension instruments; one of the best known being at Launceston Methdist Church, using pneumatic action.

The first extension organ in London was at the home of Albert Midgley, who put a lot of his money into the Compton firm. I cannot prove it, but it looks as if Midgley was as much the brains behind the EP extension organs as JC himself, and in his papers at the IEE (Inst.Elec.Eng) there is the claim that HE helped JC design and develop  the cinema organ. That's not surprising, because apart from his work as a founding partner of CAV automotive, he'd spent some time at GEC working on telephone switchboards etc.

As they say, he was a bit of bright spark!
MM
 

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An interesting factoid about the Strand Lightning Consoles. Apparently Compton did all the console and relay work in their premises.  When the BBC changed over to computerised light consoles (etc) they apparently continued to use the luminious-touch stop technology invented by John Compton, and  after the era of the Strand consoles.

MM

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Another interesting fact re: the price of cinema organs in 1930.

I came across a printed price-list, and the biggest stock-model Wurlitzer cost £22,000, which translates to £1.3 million to-day.    Not bad for 24 or so ranks of pipes!
(About £54,000 per rank)


Comptons cost somewhat  less, but still serious money in anyone's language..

It's not difficult to understand why organ-builders were falling over themselves to get a slice of the market.

MM



 

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Compton provided a 8 rank for Aberdeen Astoria Cinema

opened December 8 ,1934 - first illuminated console in Scotland-positioned on stage railway

cost £2300 

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Another titbit for MM.  I believe that a firm called British Springs and Pressings made, um, springs and similar things for Compton at one time.  The firm was still active in Sturminster Newton in Dorset around the 1980s because I knew someone who worked there and told me, in fact I had some custom spiral springs made by them for an organ at that time.  There is still a firm making springs there today called William Hughes Ltd.  I have no first hand knowledge whether they took over the earlier firm, but it seems somewhat unlikely that two spring-making businesses would have sprung up independently in that part of the country otherwise.  A quick web search also suggests that a third firm, Baumann, might have been involved prior to Hughes.  If you are interested to follow this up I could probably introduce you to my acquaintance, though privately rather than publicly on the forum.  Of course, you may know all about this anyway.

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On 23/03/2019 at 04:39, philipmgwright said:

Compton provided a 8 rank for Aberdeen Astoria Cinema

opened December 8 ,1934 - first illuminated console in Scotland-positioned on stage railway

cost £2300 

It's always good to have a few solid facts to go on, and the price of that 8 rank organ would be about £160,000 today, or about £20,000 per rank.  It's  still a lot of money for not a great deal, but the illuminated console would have jacked up the price somewhat.

The Wurlitzer equivalent around 1926, translates to £400,000 for 11 ranks of pipes and three manuals in to-day;s money.

The cost of the Wurlitzer equivalents was obviously a sticking point for many cinema chains, because various ways of reducing the price were introduced; such as the use of Discus blowers made in the UK, which cut the costs of transportation and import taxes considerably.

It's easy to see why Compton dominated the market if their instruments were something like half the price. I hadn't realised just HOW much cheaper the Compton organs were, so the figure quoted for the Aberdeen instrument is very revealing. It also explains the reasoning behind Wurlitzer establishing a factory in London, to avoid he taxes and transport costs from America.

 

MM

 

 

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Yet for the same price as the 8 rank Compton would cost today, you could buy a brand new Bosendorfer Imperial Grand piano! And there was I thinking that new pipe organs were exorbitantly expensive.......

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Apologies for the digression, but has anyone on this forum any idea of what the cost would have been for an 1898 Casson "Positive." ?

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