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Pipe organ

Category

Musical instruments, devices and recordings

Date

1846

Materials

Metal, Oak, Silk

Measurements

1375 mm (Height); 1070 mm (Length)

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Collection

Cotehele, Cornwall (Accredited Museum)

NT 348046

Summary

Four and a half octave single console organ (pipe organ) in oak case with pleated gold coloured silk front. Now converted to be powered by electricity.

Full description

This organ was formerly operated manually by a foot pump, but was converted to electric pump shortly after it arrived at Cotehele. According to Mr West it was being built by W and J Hayward, but recent research by organ historian, researcher, and restorer Christopher Gray suggests otherwise: ‘[This organ is] of national significance, and a rare survival of a portable domestic instrument…A contemporary handwritten label on the underside of the instrument (originally inside the reservoir feeder, but exposed since its removal) details the builder: “H. Ayton. Drummond Mews adjoining the London and Birmingham Railway Station, Euston Square, London.” Henry Ayton (1791-1869) is shown on the 1841 census as being at Drummond Mews, as an organ builder, with his son, also Henry (at that date 18 years old, showing he was born in 1823). Henry Senior married Margaret Gray on 27th April 1812 (she was the daughter of William Gray, a known organ builder and a very distant relative of mine)….adjacent to the paper label underneath, there is in (modern) pen a date of 1843, where a previous label has been. I am somewhat sceptical about this date, given that the two original draw-stop knobs I know to be from the 1830s (I have further examples in our workshop). William Cubitt’s Euston Station was not constructed until 1837, which given Ayton’s label, meaning that this must be the terminus anti quem for this piece. 1843 is just possible, but if it is correct, Ayton must have used some knobs made a few years earlier. It is however certainly no later than mid-1840s. Originally the organ was foot-blown via a lever, but the feeder and mechanism have been removed. The wind reservoir now sports modern bellows weights, and the wind pressure is way too high for the pipes as originally voiced. The holes cut into the case for the slide valve (regulator), and blower switch disfigure the case considerably. Some thought should be given to the provision of a smaller internal blower which would not require regulation, and could be much more sympathetically applied, allowing the damage to the case to be restored. The blowing installation also impinges on the key action mechanism – the slide valve and pulley are now in the way of the keyboard, and this will not allow it to be raised and the case front closed. This is an alteration in itself…originally the keys slid back – they have now been raised so that this is not possible. It would be relatively easy to restore this to its original method of operation once the modern wind-system components were removed. As well as the wind pressure being wrong the pipe regulation (volume from pipe to pipe) is also extremely inconsistent with some pipes speaking poorly. There are some split wooden pipes which are barely speaking. [If the problem of pressure was resolved, these issues would also be easily remedied].’ Drawing on information held on file at Cotehele, volunteer Malcolm Baker described it as: 'A four and a half octave single console organ in oak case with pleated gold coloured silk front. Now converted to be powered by electricity. This organ was formerly operated manually by a foot pump, but was converted to electric pump shortly after it arrived at Cotehele in 1966. The organ is particularly compact, having a keyboard spanning only 4 octaves and 4 notes rather than the more usual 5. In addition, while it is common for the larger pipes to be mitred through 90 degrees to save space, in this case they are double mitred though 180 degrees. Finally, there is only a half rank of metal pipes, stopping at middle C – though whether this is to save cost or space is not clear. Together, these factors inevitably reduce the power and tone of the instrument, particularly in the lower registers. Also unusual is the folding keyboard which suggests either a desire to minimise the size of the instrument, or to make it as unobtrusive as possible. The keyboard is now fixed open by brass stays. It is thought that the bellows were originally worked by hand, but later converted to foot action. This was replaced in 1966 when the NT arranged for a Discus electric blower to be fitted. There appears to be no maker’s plate or signature, though a faded rectangle (60 mm by 40 mm) above the keys on the right hand side suggests a former location. Overall, construction appears to be of good, though not perhaps the highest quality. The back panel is almost certainly a later replacement, as a ‘swell’ or volume control arrangement is thought to have been fitted sometime after construction, though this has since been removed. Dimensions are: height 1375mm, width 990mm, depth 575mm or 712 mm with the keyboard folded out. The relative complexity of the instrument (double-mitred pipes, folding keyboard) together with the sacrifice in musical quality is intriguing. Such complexity would have come at a price, so it is probable that this was not a “standard” piece. Shortly after its receipt in 1966, the organ was overhauled by Hele and Sons, Plymouth. Work included removing the existing bellows feeder and fitting a Discus electric blower to replace what is understood to have been the pedal blower. In addition, the swell pedal action was “overhauled, with new and larger centres inserted to take up the wear and tear.” (00987/C2/COT.MU1). The organ was restored again by Hele’s in 2004/5. Martin Wightman G.R.S.M., F.R.C.O., A.R.C.M. Organist, Cotehele Chapel, describes the organ from a player’s point of view: “The Case: The whole instrument when 'folded' away gives the impression that the case simulates a piece of anonymous furniture made of (…...) which may have been constructed for a smaller 'home' – pure surmise – but there must have been room for a 'pumping assistant' in the original design. In particular, the height required for the stopped bass pipes to have been housed vertically (and in order to have produced the best possible tone and promptness of speech ) the case would have needed to be nearer 6ft. (1830mm) than the actual height of (…....feet). The fabric covering the upper front may or may not have emanated the original - but does little to allow the full splendour of unimpeded pipes (stopped or open ) both visually and tonally. The back of the case has a plain panel without vents which appears to have replaced 4 moveable slats (pedal activated) possibly converted by Mr West, the donor, which would have given some degree of volume/tone control over the bottom set of wood bass pipes nearly at floor level and horizontally mounted) This arrangement of louvres produced a 'swell box' effect. It is interesting to note that the only method for the pipes to vent their voices now, is achieved almost solely through the fabric frontal To hear this organ in its carcass condition without casework is a better experience! One wonders if the instrument was intended to be played after dark as no candleabras are present. Keyboard: One could write many tomes about the development of the musical keyboard, but suffice it to say that the keyboard as seen now has been 'fixed' (and unable to fold away )so that there is now permanent contact with the 'push-rods' (ending in wooden trackers going to the pallets at the foot of the pipes to admit wind). Although there has been some replacement bushing the mechanical noise on both the downward and release stroke of the key can produce a high amount of clatter particularly during brisk passages of music (e.g. Baroque) This means that the low wind pressure used (about 2inches water gauge ) does not require more than the lightest strike of any key and the pressure depth of touch is about 2mm to sound! A very delicate finger action is therefore required. The compass of 4 octaves and four notes would have been quite usual for a smaller instrument although the five octave keyboard for church organs had been in existence for a while before this build. Obviously limited in top range for 'romantic' or 'modern' compositions – the compass is fine for renaissance to baroque and early classical. It is interesting to note that some historical organs have measured distances between noted of a similar pitch (the octave): Cotehele organ, c.1840: 163mm; Alexandra Pere, c.1859: 163mm (a harmonium); Avery, c.1782: 161mm; Byfield, c.1766: 164mm. Many Clementi Pianos of 1815-1825 have octaves 161-165mm A modern Yamaha Keyboard is 160mm. Pipes and Stop Control: From middle 'B' to bottom 'C' there is a half set of wooden stopped (stopt) diapason which is not contolled by stop knob and sounds permanently when the lower keys are depressed giving the instrument a 'bass'. One does feel, however, that the lowest octave is under-powered and does not complement the upper registers. The lower rank is continued upwards completing the other half set using the same scaling and material. This makes a full rank. The pipes are all stoppered so that the bottom 'C' (approx 4 feet in length) is at concert pitch and in organ terms would be labelled an 8 foot. (You would require a pipe of 8feet long to produce the same pitch if it DID NOT have a stopper!). Dulciana – a half rank (mid 'C' upwards) made from metal (lead/tin) with a 'new' set of tin tuning collars added to each pipe for ease of tuning. The original pipes were 'cone' tuned. Octave Coupler – is now not functioning and it is not clear if it was added after the original build or indeed when it was removed from an action point of view. It would, in any case, have had limited effect on a short keyboard in that it would have stopped short an octave below the top note. Perhaps it might have had some use to add to the general volume and tone colour when accompanying hymns or such music of the period. Pitch: The present pitch of the instrument at 13.1 degrees Celsius and relative humidity of 75% is A 438Hz. Blower: The present DISCUS blowing equipment housed under a bench adjacent to the instrument, is very silent and controlled by a switch the left of the keyboard on the front lower panel.'

Provenance

The organ was donated to the Trust by Mr. A.G. West of Teignmouth, Devon in June 1966. Michael Trinick, then the Secretary of the Trust’s Committee for Devon and Cornwall, decided that the chapel at Cotehele would be the most appropriate home for it.

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