Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Update on the organ at Biddulph Moor

The dismantling of the Samuel Renn organ at Biddulph Moor in north Staffordshire is now complete and it is in storage awaiting restoration and a new home.
Now you see it......
... now you don't!
Notice that a fair bit of plaster work has come away from the wall at the lower right-hand side. This wall was incredibly damp and many of the screws on this side of the organ were badly corroded and taking them out really slowed things down. Much of the plaster came away when we removed the pedal bourdon pipes from that side.

Notice also the heating pipes that were under the organ. At some point the entire organ had been raised about a foot so that the pipes could be placed underneath. The organ had been slowly cooked for many years!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Something different

I haven't posted anything for the past few days because:- 1. My laptop notebook has given up the ghost, and 2. I have been in north Staffordshire taking out an organ. I am hoping that our local friendly PC technician can at least recover the contents of my hard disk, if unable to revive the computer itself. With regards to the second excuse, well, that it part of my business.

The organ that I am removing is a rather interesting example of the work of Stockport/Manchester organ-builder Samuel Renn (1786-1845). Firstly, the rather impressive gothic front of the case has survived more or less intact as well as one of the side panels. Secondly, much of the original Great pipe work is intact as is a lot of the Swell including a 'choir bass' that allowed the tenor C Swell to have some notes in the octave below. Although the facade pipes do speak, they do so on small pneumatic chests which were installed when the case front was moved forward sometime during the 20th century. Mercifully, this is all reversible and when the facade is moved back to its original place directly in front of the Great windchest the pipes can be directly winded by short conveyances. The two pedal windchests retain their original mechanical action. The scale of the bottom pipes of the Bourdon is a sight to behold and easily merit what was probably their original title of 'Grand Bourdon'. Even more interesting was to find that the case has been cut somewhat at the top - not just the missing tips of the pinnacles, the loss of which local knowledge attributes to a previous incumbent, but also a corner of each side of the centre panel. If my current best guess about the origins of this organ are correct then this older mutilation dates back to the 1850s when the organ was fitted into an upper gallery in St Lawrence's Parish Church in Chorley, Lancashire. Around 1859 the architectural historian Sir Stephen Glynne visited the church and noted that the case of the organ there had been cut to fit it in. Once again these alterations can be reversed.

One footnote here: as I dismantled the organ I came across various bits that were broken, all of which could be fixed by anyone with basic tools and materials. This is in stark contrast to my laptop, which, however helpful it is to me, is a complete blackbox that has defied all my efforts to fix it. I will be interested to see what the problem is, but I am prepared to bet that it will involve either. the use of a special bit of software, or, replacement of a bit that cannot be repaired. Spoken like a true Luddite!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Lower frame - Part 2

One other thing that I needed to do on the frame was to cut and fix four upstanding boards on which the lower mahogany panels will sit. This being done it also afforded an opportunity to check that my measurements were OK and that I had left enough room for the retracting keyboard to pass between the two side panels and below the two small stop jambs. So I clamped the panels onto the front of the frame where they will go as shown here and measured the relevant gaps

I know from past experience that it pays to check things like this as you go along. The earlier you spot a mistake the easier it is to fix! One way for errors to creep in is that I am drawing the plans at 1:2 scale and it is the easiest thing in the world is to take a measurement from the plans using a ordinary ruler rather than the scale ruler.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

A new lower frame for the chamber organ

Here is the lower frame for the Flight and Robson chamber organ. For the moment is is only fitted together 'dry' i.e. I haven't yet glued the mortise and tenon joints that hold it all together. The frame will provide a base for the casework as well as supporting the windchest and pipework. The bellows will fit inside the frame and they are the next thing to make.

 This is the frame turned over so that the rollers can be seen.

This is a close-up shot of one of the rollers. These will eventually be hidden by a plinth made of mahogany to match the rest of the casework.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Removing paint from a mahogany organ case

Once the extraneous pedal pipes and mechanism were removed from the Flight and Robson organ the extent of the 'vandalism' done to the mahogany case was apparent. This photograph shows the upper part of the case temporarity reassembled in my workshop so that I could get dimensions for reconstructing the lower part of the case. The lower right side panel is what the original case looked like.
I decided to use a heat gun to soften the paint and to gently scrape it off. This seemed to work reasonably well. Since most of the panelling frame joints had opened up it was also fairly easy to take the panels apart and to gently remove the applied carved details. The real advantage of this is that paint in the otherwise inaccesible corners can be readily removed. All of this work is something that can be done in old woodwork that has been assembled with animal glue. It would be quite a different proposition with modern synthetic adhesives. The panels will be reassembled using hot animal glue and the carved details reapplied in a similar fashion

These are the two surviving panels of the lower part of the case during the first stages of paint removal. The original sets of square holes for the stops on each side can be seen. The later holes cut into the case will be filled in, as will the rather crudely cut slot for hand pumping. The organ will be pumped using a foot pedal that can be fitted into one of two positions, one for the player to use and another for an assistant. That is most likely the original configuration.

Friday, 28 October 2011

1811 Flight & Robson chamber organ - Restoration from the bottom up!

Access to the action is at the rear of the organ. The transmission of the action from the keys to the pallets is through a set of splayed backfalls with curved ends that engage with sloping ramps at the rear of the key lever. This simple mechanism is identical in many respects to that developed by Samuel Green in the second half of the eighteenth century but certain features indicate that it is based on Green's work rather than being by Green himself.

In order to gain access to the rear of the chamber organ to adjust the mechanism it is likely that the lower frame would have been fitted with either wooden rollers or wheels (of wood or metal) to allow the whole instrument to be moved away from a wall. As the whole of the lower frame of this organ needs reconstructing it seemed logical to begin from the bottom up.

Having drawn out plans of the lower frame so that it will support the upper case and windchest, as well as providing room for the feeder and bellows. I decided to make a set of four rollers from beech and to use iron pins for axles. The rollers are 100 mm long and 50 mm in diameter. The pins were made from 8 mm iron rods to which I threaded half the length so that they can be firmly fixed into blocks at either end. It is not very sophisticated but the rollers only have to allow for a limited movement of a few feet or so once in a while. As the frame itself is taking shape the rollers will be fixed on and I will be able to move organ around in the workshop while I make the lower panels and the bellows.

Restoration of an 1811 Flight and Robson chamber organ - beginnings

For more than a hundred years a church in Leicestershire used a small chamber organ to accompany its services. In the 1920s the organ was extended to include a rank of pedal pipes and an additional keyboard stop. Some time later the whole organ was painted in an alarming custard coloured paint which concealed a solid mahogany case.
The retracting keyboard was fixed in place to allow coupling to the pedals and a music desk made of veneered plywood replaced the orginal mahogany panel above the keyboard. Most of the lower case had been removed to allow for provision of larger bellows and all that remains are the two original pilasters with the square holes for the stop shanks. Despite these alterations, all eight of the original small stop knobs have survived and match the surviving pipework (of which more in a later post).

When the organ was removed from the church (not by me) the lower frame containing the bellows and pedal board was discarded as it was heaviliy infested with woodworm.

When I acquired the organ in May 2011 it had been in storage for a few years and had been dismantled. This had been done professionally and all the pipework carefully packed.

I began by looking for any evidence of the origins of the organ in the instrument itself as the history of the organ prior to 1896 was not known. It is not at all unusual for old organs to have no indications of the maker/date. However, in this case the underside of the lowest key lever (and hidden from view unless the key is lifted from the frame) had the following inscriptions in ink: "A D 1811" and "F&R", clearly suggesting that the organ had been made by Flight and Robson in 1811. These two inscriptions are accompanied by more recent lettering in white by an organbuilder active in Leicestershire in the 1960s.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Entering the Blogosphere at last!

Now that my move to a new premises in Kent is all done and more or less dusted it seems a good moment to let folks know how work is progressing.

I have been working as a restorer of pipe organs for four years now. It is a second career for me and not a retirement project. Although the move to Kent was a major upheaval it did create an opportunity to build a workshop area more suited to the work I do. In a nutshell, I rented an empty barn and, with the help of my brother who is a professional carpenter, built an inner floor, walls and ceiling that should enable me to work all year round in relative comfort.

From time to time I will post progress reports on various restoration projects. In the meantime here are some before, during and after photos of the new premises.
The Grain Store Workshop when I took it over at the beginning of June 2011 
 The level floor begins to go in.
 My brother, Robin, at work on the office end.
The 'shop front' complete with new sign. The weeds have now gone and some painting has been done. I shall find some more recent photographs!