Organ matters - Organs matter!

Organs in danger => Pipe organ gravestones and plaques => Topic started by: Contrabombarde on February 06, 2019, 10:46:09 PM

Title: Wolverhampton Civic Hall's four manual 6200 pipe organ goes to landfill
Post by: Contrabombarde on February 06, 2019, 10:46:09 PM
Sadly this spectacular theatre organ has been scrapped after the (understandable) failure to raise £2 million to restore it. As it was not removed prior to the commencement of building work in the hall the pipework became irredeemably contaminated with asbestos and it has just been announced that it has been removed and scrapped as contaminated waste.
Title: Re: Wolverhampton Civic Hall's four manual 6200 pipe organ goes to landfill
Post by: krubia on February 11, 2019, 06:14:26 PM
The organ was not a theatre organ, it was concert organ, the vast majority of it is a straight instrument, capable of being used for both classical and popular music. The organ was installed in 1938 when the hall was constructed. The organ included a melotone unit as part of the specification. This was rumoured to be down to John Compton's insistence that the organ had theatre ranks, however, the organist responsible for specifying the organ did not want theatre ranks/percussion on the organ. So a melotone was added. This was soon removed by Arnold Richardson very early in the history of the organ.

In the work done by Hawkins in 2001, a new transmission system was added to the organ, 4 theatre organ ranks and percussions were added to take place of the missing melotone. Three of the new ranks added were constructed new by Booths of Leeds, Brass Saxophone, English Horn and Kinura, as well as a Moller Tibia Clausa – which was of an enormous scale and sufficient to carry the other 56 ranks of the instrument when used in “theatrical” mode. It could be argued that these additions made the instrument more along the lines of what John Compton had intended in 1938. They certainly have been much appreciated by visiting organists as it allows for a much more flexible specification without destroying what was there originally.

Let me make this clear – No changes were made to the original specification other than additions/borrowing. Nothing was removed and the original specification of the instrument was present (minus the long removed melotone). There was no new console, the console is original. The Ex Blackpool Empress Ballroom Wurlitzer console was purchased in 2004 to be connected to the organ as a secondary console. This never transpired. The Ex Empress Ballroom Wurlitzer console is now back in the Empress Ballroom.

In 2015 it was decided that the organ would be removed from the hall. According to the council, reports showed that in the event of a fire on the stage, the organ prevented effective smoke extraction and it would not be re-installed, but it would be placed into safe storage until funding and a home could be found for it. The hall closed in late 2015 – the organ was still in use up till this point. The council had been advised by Historic England that the organ be removed before any asbestos work was carried out in the building, and for its safety during the ongoing building works in the hall. The council did not carry this out despite offers of removal to storage at no cost to the council. They chose instead to leave the instrument in situ.

In August 2018 after a long silence with regards to the future of the instrument, the council approved planning permission for the disposal of the instrument due to the assumption that the organ may possibly have been contaminated with asbestos. The pipework was apparently in poor condition and it would apparently cost £250 per pipe to test each pipe for asbestos and the council was not willing to go to this expense.

I'll add here that the pipework was in no worse condition than that of any pipe organ of 80 years of age, it was in pretty good condition, albeit a little dusty.

Information supplied to Historic England by the council/contractors made out that the organ was not unique, that it was a run of the mill cinema organ of which there are many examples of and that the original console had been replaced in 2004, when in actual fact it was still on the organ up till 2015.

It was also said that the audible and visible elements of the organ had been removed (if so how were organ concerts possible right up till the hall closed?) and because of that, it held no historic value.....

It has also been stated that when approached, that the council were advised by Heritage Lottery Funding that the organ would be unsuccessful in any application for funding because HLF were only interested in more visible, less expensive organs, and not expensive enclosed instruments and because of this, it was deemed not worthy of preserving. Historic England gave the all clear for the instrument being disposed of. The reports quote £1.29 - 2.5 million for the restoration of the organ are completely off the mark, you could probably have built two or more organs of the same size for those figures. I have read elsewhere by organ builders that the lowest quote received was actually more in the region of £600k for restoration. By my own calculations, worked out at around £10k per rank, I'd have said that figure too.

I would also add to this, to keep in mind that the scrapping of the organ was nothing to do with lack of money. Indeed, the council are spending £38.1 million (plus losses since the venue closed in 2015) on adding 400 new seats and a fly tower (with the organ now conveniently out of the way) in order to turn the venue into a theatre. That's around £100k per seat.....damn expensive seats!

Title: Re: Wolverhampton Civic Hall's four manual 6200 pipe organ goes to landfill
Post by: MusingMuso on February 17, 2019, 02:39:05 PM
Thank-you for this very informed reply. My sources are a little sketchier, but seem to be in accord with your own.

As I am drawing the the end of writing the Compton Story (a mere 12 years down the line) the loss of Wolverhampton is particularly unfortunate.

If I may prevail a little, may I use bits of what you have contributed in the "book"?

I would have to use general terms and not fall foul of the law, so I wouldn't be quoting names and sources as such, for fear of being prosecuted or getting anyone else into trouble. There are ways of telling the truth which avoids all that, without recourse to lies, deceit and misrepresentation.

It's very convenient that the organ (which had apparently been sealed against damage, and was in two large swell boxes) somehow managed to suck in so much contamination! It wouldn't have got there by itself!

Right after Steve Toivey's death, the organ was suddenly a fire risk. It was isolated from the mains supply, but that wouldn't have been enough to condemn the instrument. Asbestos carries the full weight of primary law, so that was the best route to take, for those who wanted to create a pop venue.

The loss to Wolverhampton is bad enough, but the wanten destruction of the instrument borders on criminal negligence, considering that there were and are people who could have utilised either the whole instrument or many of the parts and pipes.

As for "heritage" England, I wonder if they actually know what heritage means!

I am disgusted by the whole saga, but I'll make sure it goes on record for all time!!


Title: Re: Wolverhampton Civic Hall's four manual 6200 pipe organ goes to landfill
Post by: krubia on February 17, 2019, 05:39:20 PM
The information is all public information anyway, it's on the councils planning department website, news articles, organ related websites, and social media. If I sound as though I am bad mouthing Historic England, that's certainly not the case. Historic England can only judge by the information they are given. It's a tragic and short-sighted set of circumstances. I can understand from the council's point of view that the organ was in the way of them creating a more financially viable venue, it should never have happened like this though. It seems that no organ building body has been involved since Steve Toveys passing.
Title: Re: Wolverhampton Civic Hall's four manual 6200 pipe organ goes to landfill
Post by: MusingMuso on February 17, 2019, 08:22:55 PM
Even more disturbing, because Steve Tovey was not a professional organ-builder, and from the Council's point of view, he was therefore unqualified. (Which is not the same as saying that he didn't know anything!)

I never met Steve Tovey, but he seems to have been a bit of a character and very well liked.

In effect, the Wolverhampton Council are admitting to total negligence and wanton destruction of a public asset, by failing to involve professional opinion; either from an organ-builder or a professional consultant. I would have thought that an organ such as this could have been removed and re-built for considerably less than £1 million; more probably around the £600,000 mark, considering the position of the organ.

However, thanks for the information about "the information", which makes my task that much easier and would probably save me from the gallows.

Reading between the lines,my guess is that there were lawyers involved in what amounts to skullduggery, because the presence of toxic asbestos or even a suggestion of it, is a very convenient smoke-screen, behind which they can do almost anything "to protect the public and council employees".

I shall have to get hold of the information and look through it in detail, but it will be taken with a very large chunk of rock-salt.

Title: Re: Wolverhampton Civic Hall's four manual 6200 pipe organ goes to landfill
Post by: krubia on February 17, 2019, 09:18:25 PM
He may not have been a professional organ builder, but he was employed as City Organist, so from a council point of view, I'd imagine he would have been the man to go to when it came to the Civic Hall Organ.

The restoration of the organ would appear to have been put out to tender, so from what I can gather, professional organ building firms were involved at the start, and I'm pretty sure the big three are mentioned in some of the write-ups on WCC's planning department. I think the plan was that Steve would work with them to see the restoration through which would have been a sensible idea, then it was announced that the organ would be removed, restored, and re-homed, again which Steve would have seen through by all accounts. After his death, it all just seems to have fallen flat on its face and from there on, from what I have seen, it has all been left down to architects.....
Title: Re: Wolverhampton Civic Hall's four manual 6200 pipe organ goes to landfill
Post by: David Pinnegar on February 28, 2019, 04:58:12 PM
This is the sorriest of sagas. It's a pity that those responsible could not be contaminated with asbestos and dealt with accordingly thereby.

Best wishes

David P