The School Organ

Norman Barnes playing the new War Memorial Organ, 1950

The school organ is of increasing interest as an unaltered Walker five rank extension organ of the early 50's. It is also a war memorial (purchased for 2020 via an Old Edwardians' Association appeal in 1949) dedicated to the memory of those Old Edwardians who lost their lives in the two world wars. See eg The School Notes in http://oldedwardians.org.uk/nlc/mags/51July.html and the Old Edwardians' Association War Memorial Appeal in http://oldedwardians.org.uk/nlc/mags/49March.html.

The organ has not been in regular use or in full working order for some time [since 1991, according to reliable sources]. A number of Old Edwardians became aware of this after attending the centenary celebrations in October 2005, and resulting from a few conversations over the Internet have suggested it should be a worthwhile restoration project.

Andrew Carter (of A J Carter, Professional Organ Building Services, of Wakefield) has made 2 visits to the school, in Jan and Apr 2006. On the second visit after a day's work 'the whole organ is working apart from a very few notes'. However he recommends various improvements and repairs, as the original design appears flawed and the organ is not likely to be in daily use. Fuller details are below; prices have been omitted as several estimates will doubtless be required; the total is of the order of £15K.

The intention is to seek funding for these improvements via a grant, although some proportion (perhaps 1/3) might well have to be raised privately.

If you are interested in keeping in touch with the progress of this project, and at some stage in the future might consider making a donation, please contact:-
walker*at*oldedwardians.org.uk or

Dr. David Cook (KES 1956-63), 20 Woodville Road, Lemington, Newcastle upon Tyne NE15 7JZ, 0191 267 7953; or
Rev Drummond Gillespie (KES 1955-61), 40 Tom Lane, Sheffield, S10 3PB; 01530 832 411.

Letter from Andrew Carter of Jan 2006

" ... being of an early 50's vintage has unfortunately still got the pneumatic `Birds Eye' couplers as they were known. These are basically a column of wires mounted on a frame, which floats in and out on a pneumatic bag. These were usually made out of a fabric material and not leather, which is why over the years this fabric used to go stiff and slow or stop the frame going in and out. A series of four coil springs helps the action on when the bag is deflated.

Unfortunately in this case the stops are stuck on and the frames won't seem to return to their open or off position. This at the moment is the main fault and is basically causing all the problems.

When going up and down the keys the actions seem to be responding well, it's quite prompt and acceptable, but we did hear quite a few note runnings and notes chipping through. This is either contacts or wires touching each other or a failure in the cotton covered insulation on the cabling. This is not easy to trace or cure but it can be done if there is not too much of it.

Generally the pipework is all in place, even though dirty, still seems to produce a decent sound, the leatherwork on the bellows will still also keep the Organ going for a few years yet.

My experience with these jobs and with these couplers is that they are not really reliable, the seasons affect the performance of the couplers, due to varying humidity, and it is debatable after so long without use as to whether they will be reliable again.

Certainly if the Instrument is not going to be regularly played then this will be the main stumbling block.

[...]

We have established that the internal actions are basically working so the next stage would be to replace the wiring and electric's.

This would mean that we would need a Solid State Transmission system to do all the note switching and manual coupling and a simple Solid State Piston Action to do the pistons etc. Key and Pedal Contacts would need renewal and all new wiring throughout. New modern DC Rectifiers would be required. This would not include the stop Key units at the moment, although it would be nice to replace these eventually."

Letter from Andrew Carter of April 2006

" ... we managed to get the whole organ working apart from very few notes, and on your visit you heard the results. Amazingly by just after dinner, with a lot of adjustment and physically working the couplers by hand we managed to get all the stops working. The feature where the wiring loom goes onto the coupler rail is going to be one of our biggest problems.

Basically, this group of wires has hardened up and is stopping the couplers moving and I wonder if you go back in a week's time whether or not after being rested they will work.

Really the Organ needs much playing or even just turning on, because when the Organ is off the couplers go to the ON position and the longer it is left they basically get stuck.

Obviously because the Organ is not in regular use this is going to be a major problem.

I can only say that you will still need to work to modernising all the electrics as per my letter in January. I would however just add [...] to that Estimate to cover a new pedal jack action to the Pedal Board and a full overhaul to this at the same time. The pedal felt is almost gone, the pedals travel too far and the contact mechanism is not suitable to modernise.

So for around [...]. you will have a reliable Instrument.

After that pipework, magnets, bellows and internal leatherwork (very little) need all considering."