Condition Report of the organ in 1952

A copy of a report which described the condition of the 1922 organ in 1952, surfaced in June 2020
      The 1922 organ in situ         A recent view of the choir gallery  

26th FEB.1952

Further to my inspection of the church and the existing organ, I now have pleasure in putting forward a considered report and recommendations.

Were it not for the existence of the present pipe-organ, I feel there would be no doubt whatever in your minds of the suitability of an Electrone Model 347, as heard by your people on their recent visit to London.  The acoustics of the body of the church are of quite a favourable kind, for both speech and musical tone, but there is an appreciable cut-off of any tone produced towards the back of the choir-and-organ gallery.

Consequently the noticeable failure of the present organ-tone to carry well towards the back of the church and under the galleries could be remedied by a replacement in the form of the Electrone, equipped with two tone-cabinets on the church-side of the arch and a monitor speaker at the back of the gallery, mainly for choir usage.  However, since the pipe-organ is of 3-manuals, whereas the Electrone has two, one is not entitled to treat replacement glibly, without a full examination of the instrument and all its circumstances.  As you observed, I conducted a detailed examination of the organ, and am therefore in a position to discuss it from every aspect.

The organ is entirely of German manufacture by a firm of part-makers (Laukhuff of Wurtemburg) whose method was to supply a number of stock items which were then assembled and tubed-up by the English firm whose name-plate is on the organ.  There is nothing wrong in this procedure, of course, except that some of the timber was insufficiently seasoned, while the manner in which the tubing-up was done was pitifully poor.  The present unsatisfactory behaviour of the mechanism in almost all parts of the organ is due to these two faults, of shrunken timber and poor tubing.  Because no supports were provided for the quite considerable weight of the lead-tubing, a great many of the bends have become flattened, so that an insufficient supply of wind will pass.  If this alone were the source of trouble, it would not be unreasonable to consider replacement of the tubular-pneumatic action by electro-pneumatic mechanism, for most of the interior soundboard pneumatics appear to be in decent order.  Unfortunately, however, it is in the very heart of the instrument – the soundboards themselves – that the most serious faults have occurred, and these can only be remedied by a complete dismantling of the organ and its conveyance to workshop premises for treatment.  (I am aware that few of you will be conversant with the details of slider soundboard construction, but I have demonstrated to you the way in which the fillings between the bars, ahead of the pallets, have shrunk to such an extent that a dangerous amount of wind leaks into the groove without the pallet being opened.  A great many pipes would speak unbidden had not quite large-diameter holes been bored into these grooves to release the surplus wind.  I demonstrated, if you remember, that the holes are fully 5/16” in diameter and the escaping air is sufficient to blow a match out at once).  It would be absolutely futile to attempt to remedy these defects with the soundboards in their present positions.  They must be inverted for proper access, the pallets must be removed from the bars and new fillings of seasoned timber must be inserted, if the leakages are to be reliably corrected.

Even this major operation might be worthwhile if the tonal scheme of the organ were basically better.  As it is, the number of stops used is only enough to fit a reasonable 2-manual organ, and they have been split-up to make a very ineffective 3-manual.  The alleged Choir-organ has but four stops, and one of these even has no bass octave, while the Swell-organ has to be content with the mere six stops and the Great eight.  The rather fantastic titles of some of these stops exhibit a pretentiousness that a study of the material and workmanship does not authenticate.  Frankly, there is a somewhat catch-penny air about the whole instrument.

The console is, naturally, of a German Style, and the piston-combinations are therefore “blind”, while the pedalboard bears no resemblance in shape and dimensions to any normal English board.  If one were going to undertake the complete reconstruction of this organ to permanently reliable form, a new console would be required, together with the new electric-action already discussed.  The cost of such work would be rather more than £3000 [£86,889 in 2020] and, in all honesty, we cannot recommend such an expenditure.  We do not feel that the resulting tonality of the instrument would justify the cost, even if it could be afforded, and we should regard the provision of mechanism for the third keyboard as something in the nature of an extravagance.

We have undertaken a great deal of reconstruction work, and we strongly advocate this treatment where the existing material and pipework are basically good, and where completion of enlargement of the tonal scheme will make a fine organ without incommensurate cost.  In this instance, we feel most urgently that you will be ill-advised to spend the large sum necessary to such relatively poor effect.  Even as it stands, the present organ could be sold for some profit, if it were advertised on its present site.  It is obvious that any organ-builder undertaking the removal and re-erection elsewhere would need to dismantle the instrument completely, and the major treatment referred to above would then be far more readily carried out.  Any buyer would understand perfectly well that the purchase price to you would only be a part of the total cost of the organ erected on its new site, and you will see at once that transfer of this kind would offset the restoration cost in quite a different way from a complete dismantling and re-erection on the same site.

If an Electrone were decided upon, the console would with great advantage, be placed on the side-gallery, where the player would have a direct view of the Minster and of the choir, while his hearing of the general balance of tone in the church would be accurate.  Much valuable space would be gained on the gallery by removal of the present organ and its bulky console, and beyond doubt there would be an immense improvement in the general appearance of the church once that extremely ugly pipe-front was taken away.

An increase in the total cost of the Electrone to £1715 [£51,450 in 2020] for a monitor tone-cabinet would be justified fully by the enlarged facilities.

I trust that the above points will be of value to you and will enable you to reach a decision in due course.

Yours faithfully

Arthur Priestley
Assistant to the Technical Director