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I first became interested in organs after my younger brother became house organist at his school. Having an engineer father and a music teacher mother, it was really "no contest". I had begun a career in precision engineering with an apprenticeship in a plastics mould-making company, and part-time college studying mechanical engineering. I spent several spells in the design office followed by spells in the factory working to my own drawings. A change of employer in 1965 saw me working as a full-time designer, and soon joined my father in his design office, with some time spent with his long-time hobby in the printing trade. I naturally gravitated into the design department, and became expert in graphic arts and typesetting.
After visiting some interesting church organs with The Organ Club, I was itching to begin taking church organs apart and restoring them, and so in 1973 I started a long-term hobby with the help of an enthusiastic friend. Our first few jobs were with organs threatened with demolition.
After several successful organ jobs working from home, including one large fair organ, I was ready to go professional. My first real workshop (in partnership with Judith Howard) was a railway arch at Loughborough Junction in south London, opened in 1983. The arch was big enough to assemble a decent-sized church organ, and could house two full-sized 89-key fair organs at the same time. Our first employee was Andy Tidman, related to the Tidmans who produced fairground rides in the age of steam. We soon grew to a maximum staff level of six, working on fair organs and church organs.
In late 1989 we were forced to look for alternative premises when British Rail decided to increase our rent by 95% at short notice. By that time Judith had found herself another workshop in which to continue making and restoring organ pipes - her speciality, and I had a relatively new apprentice, Anna Herbert, fresh from Cape Town, later to become Anna Page. We were extremely fortunate to be offered a few days at a guest house in Pembroke Dock, West Wales, and during that time found the ideal place. It was right beside the Cleddau River in a brand-new business park. It actually had windows - with a fabulous view of the river, a double bonus. We became the park's first tenants in April 1990, as sole trader, "John Page, Organ-builder". During our time there we employed one other trainee craftsman.
There was not much work for church organs in that area, but most of our new mechanical organs were built in the new two-storey workshop. This was short-lived, however, mostly due to a devastating recession. The business closed in October 1992. Our equipment was then moved into storage while a new workshop was being found, and six weeks later Anna and I had bought a house in north-west Milton Keynes. During that time I worked for my brother in graphic arts. It wasn't long before a new "garden" workshop was established - I am eternally grateful for the friend who provided this new organ-building home. I carried out several fair organ restorations there before moving everything into a new workshop in my own garden.
It was fortunate that Cosgrove, home of Keith Emmett & Sons, was very close by, where I was able to make use of more space for work on larger organs. At last I was able to spend some concentrated time on a long-term project, initiated in Pembroke - the 32-keyless street organ, which was eventually completed in 2017.
© 2019, John Page