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John Compton

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This thread has been silent for a while but is probably an ideal place to introduce myself and make a few noises about the very specific aspect of Compton's work with which I am familiar. I'm an electrical engineer and conservator of electrical technology, with a long-standing interest in the organ in both classical and theatrical guises. Perhaps inevitably, I have ended up spending an increasing fraction of my life inside Comptons, with and without soldering iron in hand. It is impossible to avoid drawing comparisons between Compton's electrics and other electrical equipment of his era, for example telephone apparatus and industrial switchgear. Even comparing a few details of Compton's actions with Hope Jones' also reveals a few chinks in the otherwise ingeniously-woven fabric of Compton electromechanical design. But I will save these observations for a later post.

 

On the subject of a history of the firm, MM suggests that details of the electronic side of the business are fairly well pinned down. As I am actively researching this it will be interesting to compare notes (which I fear we will find lacking in upper harmonics) although I suspect that I am going for a more trainspotterish level of detail than would be appropriate here. In case I should later be found out as a traitor to the cause of the pipe organ I will admit now that I have a large collection of these electrostatic contraptions, some of which sound every bit as dull as my playing, purely for historical and research purposes you understand.

 

Returning to the electric action of pipe organs, I would be most interested to hear opinions regarding the concept of Compton's patent luminous stop, one of the most visible (although inaudible) of his signature inventions. Ignore for now the foibles of its practical realisation e.g. the reliance on a relatively frail lamp, the ease with which the second touch can sometimes be engaged by accident, the erratic behaviour of incorrectly adjusted reversers. Is it a convenience or merely a gimmick? Is it evidence of MM's theory that invention at Acton sometimes ran ahead of necessity - a concern that Willis was quite vocal about in connection with action developments generally? I wonder about it during the long hours of reverser-adjusting and lamp-replacing!

 

Lucien

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...Returning to the electric action of pipe organs, I would be most interested to hear opinions regarding the concept of Compton's patent luminous stop, one of the most visible (although inaudible) of his signature inventions. Ignore for now the foibles of its practical realisation e.g. the reliance on a relatively frail lamp, the ease with which the second touch can sometimes be engaged by accident, the erratic behaviour of incorrectly adjusted reversers. Is it a convenience or merely a gimmick? Is it evidence of MM's theory that invention at Acton sometimes ran ahead of necessity - a concern that Willis was quite vocal about in connection with action developments generally? I wonder about it during the long hours of reverser-adjusting and lamp-replacing!

 

Lucien

 

I would tend to agree with MM. From my researches Compton's patent luminous stops fall into like or dislike categories. Quite some years ago I was at one time fairly conversant with the overall reliability of the system at Holy Trinity, Hull. From memory I can only recall rare occasions of lamp replacement (can you still get them from new?). The late Norman Strafford liked them because of the double-touch facility, the only criticism at one time being the effect of strong sunlight negating the bulb illumination. But this was remedied by detaching the actual stop head and inserting a circular piece of brown paper that gave the stop a warm glow. The organ at Holy Trinity, now 74 years old, has never been touched apart from tunings although some ranks no longer speak and wear and tear is causing other undesirable problems. But at Hull City Hall, the late Peter Goodman had the Compton console modified by the introduction of conventional drawstops. As he once said to me, "I like something to hang onto."

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I can only recall rare occasions of lamp replacement (can you still get them from new?)

 

I agree that overall they are pleasantly reliable as small lamps go, the filament is generous, adequately supported and underrun, however a console loaded with hundreds of aged lamps is in aggregate significantly at risk of a failure during performance. Some original lamps still exist but in order to minimise accelerated ageing of the stopheads by heat I am generally in favour of converting to LED, for which purpose we are testing a new substitute that is almost indistinguishable from the filament lamp, even in its speed of response. In the theatre organ world double-touch stopkeys are de rigueur, indeed it is quite possible to make a drawstop with a second touch, so I am not sure that this benefit attaches to the luminous stop in particular.

 

Regarding the visibility, some consoles were equipped with a dimmer switch that permitted a low setting using resistances in series with each lamp. One might infer that on the normal setting they were made as bright as Compton considered practical, which tended to dazzle in a darkened auditorium. I have not seen the effect of sunlight falling directly on a luminous stop jamb but imagine it could be quite disconcerting, losing all indication of what is drawn.

 

Lucien.

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This thread has been silent for a while but is probably an ideal place to introduce myself and make a few noises about the very specific aspect of Compton's work with which I am familiar. I'm an electrical engineer and conservator of electrical technology, with a long-standing interest in the organ in both classical and theatrical guises. Perhaps inevitably, I have ended up spending an increasing fraction of my life inside Comptons, with and without soldering iron in hand. It is impossible to avoid drawing comparisons between Compton's electrics and other electrical equipment of his era, for example telephone apparatus and industrial switchgear. Even comparing a few details of Compton's actions with Hope Jones' also reveals a few chinks in the otherwise ingeniously-woven fabric of Compton electromechanical design. But I will save these observations for a later post.

 

On the subject of a history of the firm, MM suggests that details of the electronic side of the business are fairly well pinned down. As I am actively researching this it will be interesting to compare notes (which I fear we will find lacking in upper harmonics) although I suspect that I am going for a more trainspotterish level of detail than would be appropriate here. In case I should later be found out as a traitor to the cause of the pipe organ I will admit now that I have a large collection of these electrostatic contraptions, some of which sound every bit as dull as my playing, purely for historical and research purposes you understand.

 

Returning to the electric action of pipe organs, I would be most interested to hear opinions regarding the concept of Compton's patent luminous stop, one of the most visible (although inaudible) of his signature inventions. Ignore for now the foibles of its practical realisation e.g. the reliance on a relatively frail lamp, the ease with which the second touch can sometimes be engaged by accident, the erratic behaviour of incorrectly adjusted reversers. Is it a convenience or merely a gimmick? Is it evidence of MM's theory that invention at Acton sometimes ran ahead of necessity - a concern that Willis was quite vocal about in connection with action developments generally? I wonder about it during the long hours of reverser-adjusting and lamp-replacing!

 

Lucien

 

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

 

 

I haven't had time to check, but I wonder if the Compton patent isn't actually later than the Estey patent in America?

 

Estey were certainly producing luminous stop consoles in the 1920's, and there is some suggestion that William Haskell may have been the originator of this, and other remarkable ideas.

 

Of course, as compared with the Estey lumionous "cash register" controls, the Compton equivalent is far more elegant.

 

I'm quite sure that further research will reveal quite a number of ideas and concepts which flowed back and forth across the Atlantic.

 

MM

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That is a good point - in 1930 Whitworth gives the date of the Estey design as 1923 but makes no mention of it in connection with any other builder. I had not realised they were this early. Must dig out some of the Compton patents when time permits. What about Compton's adjustable pistons? The all-electric selector action is ingenious but is it Compton's? Hill, Norman and Beard used a similar device that more closely resembled a crossbar telephone switch, Willis had something entirely different. But the work of American builders might reveal a forerunner of the Compton that was both entirely electric (not relying on the mechanical motion of stop controls to set or recall the combination) and laid out as a matrix with the elements at the crosspoints simplified to the greatest possible degree. Interestingly it more closely resembles a current-day memory IC than the memory systems used in electromechanical computing devices of the time.

 

Lucien

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Some original lamps still exist but in order to minimise accelerated ageing of the stopheads by heat I am generally in favour of converting to LED, for which purpose we are testing a new substitute that is almost indistinguishable from the filament lamp, even in its speed of response.

Lucien.

 

And, of course, they are much less likely to fail than incandescent lamps.

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Whilst searching for somewhere else on NPOR I noticed that HMP Wormword Scrubs chapel has a Compton organ. See http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=N17521

 

I suppose that if one has to go to prison then this might provide a tiny bit of consolation... I wonder if it's much used or even still there given that the survey date is 1962?

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Whilst searching for somewhere else on NPOR I noticed that HMP Wormword Scrubs chapel has a Compton organ. See http://www.npor.org....ec_index=N17521

 

I suppose that if one has to go to prison then this might provide a tiny bit of consolation... I wonder if it's much used or even still there given that the survey date is 1962?

 

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

 

 

 

I note that this is a rebuild of the ABC cinema-organ from Ealing.

 

It's a pity they removed all the traps and effects. I could just imagine a quick burst of "Jailhouse Rock" as the final voluntary.

 

However, the thing which most fascinates me is the stop marked 'Acoustic Contra Tuba 32ft,' which is also marked as being derived from the Tuba rank.

 

I just wonder if it isn't actually the same as the Harmonics 32ft, but wired to draw the 16ft Tuba and the compound pitches as one register. I don't think Compton, (or whoever re-built the instrument), would stoop to simply quinting the 16ft reed, which would not be a good effect at all, surely?

 

Thanks for drawing attention to this.

 

MM

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There were one or two ex-cinema organs that were rebuilt for church purposes. St. Francis, Ashton Gate, Bristol was one (ex-New Palace Cinema). It had an HN&B plate but the organist used to refer proudly to 'My Christie'.

 

http://www.npor.org....ec_index=T00625

 

Martin Renshaw rebuilt the Compton ex-Warner Theatre, Leicester Square for Christ Church College, Canterbury in 1964, to a rather daring (for those days) specification. (I see that NPOR has only a precis of the spec - I will send them the full list). I believe that it was replaced by a toaster so that people could practice with headphones and not disturb everyone else, and re-erected somewhere else with a return to something closer to its original character. I thought it was rather good, but I was only 14 at the time.....

 

Colchester Institute had a 3m (2+coupler) Compton from I know not where, installed by Cedric Arnold. I don't think the spec was altered but the whizz-bangs were removed and I don't remember the Vox ever working. It was never used much and only survived because a technician who was also a local organist kept an eye on it. I think it's long gone, now. (It was actually larger than the town's only cinema organ, a 5-rank Wurlitzer at the Regal, gone before my time but still going somewhere on the south coast).

 

I'm sure there are a good few others. Rayleigh Parish Church, Essex, had one. It's been rebuilt/replaced since, but I think that there are still some Compton pipes and parts in it.

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Various theatre organs were plundered for parts rather than being re-built, and perhaps one of the best uses of an old theatre rank is the Tuba at Leeds Cathedral, which came from the former Davis Theatre, Croydon, built by John Compton, and which found its way to Leeds when the N & B instrument was re-built by H,N & B.

 

It's a good Tuba.

 

MM

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The Irish Organ Company 'Cosgrove' organ in various sizes appears all over Ireland. I believe a lot of them used recycled material from theatre organs. Typically, they had a diapason, a flute and a salicional, sometimes with a trumpet which occasionally went down to 16' on the Pedal (but sometimes stopped at 4' C on the manual). The best of them, in a good acoustic, were quite effective.

 

The Davis Compton was supposed to be a particularly fine one. I can well believe the Tuba was worth recycling. I've usually found Compton reeds to be excellent of their type.

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The Wormwood Scrubs installation is still in service, I think you are right about the Contra Tuba but don't have notes here to confirm this. With my specialism being action and electrics, what interests me most about this instrument is that it has one of the relatively few Compton electropneumatic relays.

 

Lucien

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i can confirm that the Wormwood Scrubs Compton is still there and in good form - I am the organ's tuner and keep it maintained. It was installed by Compton's themselves in the early 60s and originally was a cinema organ from the Forum Ealing. The ranks were altered a little - extra diapason added, salicional added, vox removed, tibia (wooden and complete with 16ft biphone pipes) shifted to form a pedal sub bass, acoustic 32ft bass derived from tuba traps and tuned percussion removed except chimes which are still there. Console woodwork was reworked to look more 'churchy'. Generally a very good organ with lots of punch (needed to fill the vast chapel) and quality pipework.

 

Peter

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Although I may appear to be a "new boy" I have been reading for years these pages.

A relatively new computer has not helped one bit as all previous details of this project have been lost.

 

However, I am making an appeal, as for years I maintained a wonderful Compton (3 man/Pedal) in Aberdeen, St Nicholas Church.

Due to a re-development plan and the need to excavate for historical reasons the entire internal church floor, I was invited to remove the console which was downstairs, many hundreds of feet from the organ proper in the gallery.

 

This was duly done but ten years later many things have changed.

 

There now seems little chance that the organ will ever be restored, but having never been cleaned or altered since installation, this would be a tragic loss.

The reeds are extremely fine, being 2 complete families of oboes and trumpets.

 

However the 3 manual dark oak console complete with stool, pedalboard,and ivory key covers is still in my store The stops are the illuminated type, but quite a few bulbs are " blown".

 

At present I am looking for advice as to a possible Compton museum.

Are there any interested parties who may be able to help ??

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Although I may appear to be a "new boy" I have been reading for years these pages.

A relatively new computer has not helped one bit as all previous details of this project have been lost.

 

However, I am making an appeal, as for years I maintained a wonderful Compton (3 man/Pedal) in Aberdeen, St Nicholas Church.

Due to a re-development plan and the need to excavate for historical reasons the entire internal church floor, I was invited to remove the console which was downstairs, many hundreds of feet from the organ proper in the gallery.

 

This was duly done but ten years later many things have changed.

 

There now seems little chance that the organ will ever be restored, but having never been cleaned or altered since installation, this would be a tragic loss.

The reeds are extremely fine, being 2 complete families of oboes and trumpets.

 

However the 3 manual dark oak console complete with stool, pedalboard,and ivory key covers is still in my store The stops are the illuminated type, but quite a few bulbs are " blown".

 

At present I am looking for advice as to a possible Compton museum.

Are there any interested parties who may be able to help ??

 

Over the years I have submitted a number of posts to this forum, enthusiastically praising the work of the great John Compton. I would rather that Compton's work be put back into service rather than sit silently in a museum. As a boy chorister and along with my fellow choristers we were fortunate to be accompanied by the largest church organ built by Compton, the magnificent four-manual at Holy Trinity Church, Hull. It's not been touched since it was built in 1938 and is in dire need of restoration that's likely to cost an enormous amount of money in these cash-strapped times.

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Dear Barry,

Thank you so much for your reply.

You have hit the nail squarely on the head.

It seems that in Aberdeen, oil is the most important thing to worship !!!

I suspect that all these wonderfully made reeds (complete with brass wedges) and everything else will be sent to the scrapyard.

I do wonder when people will wake up and see their heritage before it is too late.

On another matter Aberdeen also houses a nearly working Compton cinema organ, once again in great danger of destruction.

 

 

 

The Hull organ I have played, and agree with you entirely.

( Incidentally, did you ever know a Nigel Hart, fine bass voice and a good friend ??

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I do wonder when people will wake up and see their heritage before it is too late.

 

This, of course, is a problem that affects not only organs but classical music generally. This lack of appreciation will only really be addressed by a fundamental shift in education and culture. Even then classical music will only ever remain a minority interest, as it always has been, and, since the higher arts are seen as economically insignificant, this shift just isn't going to happen. Frankly, I despair.

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Sadly, and being the cynic that I am, I wonder whether there is more chance of a foreign buyer for such instruments.

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In reply to "Mixture of Aberdeen"

 

My knowledge and enjoyment of the Holy Trinity, Hull, Compton goes back to 1949 when it was in a pristine state, having only been completed some 11 years earlier and when, as a boy, I sometimes watched Jimmy Taylor do a spot of tuning. I also saw Hull's City Hall organ undergoing restoration and rebuilding only 12 months later. But Nigel Hart? I suspect he is from a more recent generation.

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I suspect that all these wonderfully made reeds (complete with brass wedges) and everything else will be sent to the scrapyard.

 

 

Dear 'Mixture500'

 

RE the Aberdeen organ, obviously the best thing would be for it to be restored and returned to use in its original building. However if the organ is no longer required and the church authorities just want rid of it, then it would be best to advertise it and try to find a good home for it. Being of electro-pneumatic action it might be easier to rehouse than a tracker (simply due to its flexibility).

 

There is no way at all it should be allowed to be scrapped!!!

 

I maintain its larger brother at Southampton Guildhall and it was my team who undertook the resurrection of this amazing instrument in 2008. I would welcome any opportunity to rehouse and refurbish the Aberdeen Compton. I will do some asking around to see what chance there might be of an interested party, Putting it on Ebay is also another good source of advertising these days.

 

Please contact me directly on mail@taylor-hammond.com if there is anything to discuss.

 

Regards

 

Peter Hammond

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And by the way, if ever there was opportunity to restore or work on the Aberdeen cinema organ I would also be most interested. My team and I have restored several of the UK's Compton cinema organs, including the superb Hammersmith Odeon (Apollo) Compton.

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... However, I am making an appeal, as for years I maintained a wonderful Compton (3 man/Pedal) in Aberdeen, St Nicholas Church.

Due to a re-development plan and the need to excavate for historical reasons the entire internal church floor, I was invited to remove the console which was downstairs, many hundreds of feet from the organ proper in the gallery. ...

 

Whilst I hope that you have some success in your project, I was slightly surprised at one detail. For the record, how large is this church? Saint Paul's Cathedral (London) is a little over five hundred feet in length. The console above the South Choir Gallery is probably less than one hundred feet from the North East Quarter Gallery (which contains the Dome Pedal and the pipes for the fifth clavier). It is also perhaps around four hundred feet from the West Diapason chorus and the Royal Trumpets.

 

Are you certain that the console of the organ is Saint Nicholas, Aberdeen was to be moved 'many hundreds of feet'?

 

I simply ask for clarification.

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Sad to hear about the St. Nicholas, Aberdeen organ. It was a fine job, less well-known than some other large Comptons. The church would pass for a cathedral anywhere else (cruciform, central tower, et al), and was divided at the Reformation into three portions, East, Middle and West Kirks (St. Giles, Edinburgh was similarly divided, and St. Mary's Dundee still is) . I presume that they are concentrating worship in the West Kirk with its Willis (very similar to that in St. Magnus Cathedral before the latter was rebuilt by Willis 4), but it really is a crying shame that the Compton can't be kept up. (Maybe if Sheffield Cathedral don't get the Parr Hall C-C.....).

 

Another sad loss in Aberdeen, was the Compton theatre organ in Powis Academy, which came from the Astoria Cinema and was re-erected in the school by pupils. It was a great success, but was unfortunately destroyed in a fire.

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