Organs of distinction John Page, Organ Builder



48-key Fair organ, "The Princess"


12th Street Rag
, played on this organ

Not long after I had joined forces with Judith Howard and established the firm of "Page and Howard" with a workshop under a railway arch in Brixton, London, we had an enquiry about building a new fair organ. I asked what sort of size was wanted, so the man took me outside and pointed to a van standing in the yard. He said "Something that would go into that van."

So, for several weeks we worked on ideas and drew up plans for our first new organ. It just so happened that the last new organ to go out from the works (1992 in Pembroke Dock) was a sister 48-key organ. Not many pictures were taken of the building of this one, but some relating to the later organ are relevant, see details below.

Working between our overhaul jobs the project gradually evolved. Judith suggested getting someone she knew to make the pipes, as neither of us had made flue pipes before, although I had had some experience with reeds. She got in touch with him, and a deal was struck for all the flue pipes we needed except for the largest basses. Those would be made by modifying old church organ pipes we happened to have in storage - old seasoned timber is far better for working with for organ action and parts.

By the spring of 1985 the 48-key organ, job number 48 (pure coincidence) was taking shape. We decided to use the Gavioli scale as there would be a plentiful supply of music for it. We had just completed the restoration of a 46-key Marenghi for John Forrest, so our organ would have a similar pipe specification, but our larger organ would also have a trombone. The 46-key scale didn't have registers, so we opted for the 48-key, with the trombone in the bass and trumpet on melody being brought into play with the forte register. The construction was based around a main bar chest with Gavioli-style push-rod action (see picture above). The trumpet and trombone were operated via a combined membrane action running across the width of the case, mounted horizontally to save height. The picture just shows some of the trombones sitting on top of that. There are 144 pipes in all, please see specification.

The wind supply was by blower into a single reservoir through a butterfly control valve operated by cord and pulleys from the reservoir top, church organ style. We managed to obtain a second-hand blower, and we had the big long-arm torsion springs made for us by a company in Leeds, recommended by Mike Dean of Dean Organs - thanks Mike.

Above left: The trombones were made straight and, for the picture, fitted into the roofless case along with the trumpets. The picture shows just how long the trombones are before mitring. The six top notes of the trumpets were made "harmonic" with double-length resonators. That makes tuning more stable. There's nothing worse than out-of-tune trumpets!

Above right: The accompaniments (one side) installed into the organ, clearly showing the two different style ranks. The cellos were made with "dead-length" tuning, as most Dutch pipes are made. The tuning is far more stable than pipes with movable tuning slides, but more tricky to get right in the first place. I know what an organ owner would prefer!

Above left: The trombone pipes laid out on the ground to show where they were mitred. One cut at (just a little) more than 45 degrees (the pipes are tapered and I wanted the top face of the upper pieces to be level with the case top) and the top section twisted 180 degrees makes the perfect mitre. Mitring pipes in this way doesn't affect speech. (Narrow scale pipes such as violins need two 22½° mitres for one right-angle turn.) Above right: The trombones now fitted into the case.

The façade was modelled after an illustration of a 50-key organ in a facsimile Gavioli catalogue. It was made and decorated entirely by myself and Judith Howard. The organ's first few appearances were without side cases. The drums were mounted on each side on shelves, similar to some small Limonaires, but eventually two side cases were made for it. The organ then appeared as shown in the picture below.

From the time we were asked to build this organ to the time it was sold to an enthusiast, (after 18 months of touring around England) we never heard from the original enquirer. Our buyer was an enthusiast who toured it for about a year before it was sold to another enthusiast, this time in Manchester. Eventually it was acquired by an Essex showman who was looking for an organ to take with him to Tasmania, where he set up a small fair, and presented the organ with his gallopers.

The Four Seasons

My second large 48-key organ was built to the order of the late Chris Edmonds. Internally it was identical to The Princess, but delivered without a façade. Chris pulled out all the stops to make this organ into a first class presentation - no expense spared. Naming it "The Four Seasons", he commissioned some great music, and presented the organ at many rallies.
Above left: I  set the trumpet on my voicing machine, which was only suitable for church organ ranks. For fair organ pipes I placed a spare Mortier unit chest on top of the machine and tubed up to the wind supply. Using the Mortier push-rods I was able to test the pipes' speech and tuning. Note the trebles with harmonic resonators. Above right: the trumpet pipes in position in the organ. Just in front of it is the "tent-shaped" block. This is for the violin, which stands in front of the 16-foot cello. The longest pipes of the violin needed to be raised to make the three-rank melody set look right.
Above left: Now all melody pipes are in position it's easy to see why the violin basses in the centre needed to be raised. In the front is the rank of 4-foot piccolos. These are harmonic (double-length with nodal holes in the middle, and overblown), so are physically very similar in length to the violins behind them. Above right: proud  Chris Edmonds admires the new organ he bought for his wife, Sally.

Below: The Four Seasons, as it looks now. Chris decided to make the organ grander, so he fitted a super-sized bass drum, two more ranks of melody pipes in a "belly" case, more pipes behind the trombones, and a set of very small pipes below the snare drum - I've no idea what they are! I think the two brass trumpet bells showing above the snare drum are just for show. There are a few videos of this organ out there; just go to Youtube and search "48 key page & howard".


© 2017, John Page
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