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Restoration of a Chamber Organ


The case

My first task was to strip off the outer layer – the case. Here was my first encounter with a real problem, to hamper my work at every turn – damp. My hygrometer indicated a relative humidity of almost 80%. This level doesn’t damage timber or the lead/tin alloy of metal pipes, but all the screws in the construction of the organ (and other steel bits) had rusted to an alarming degree.

The case took me a week of struggling with rusted screws – some rusted in their threads, welding them to the timber too far down to reach with the normal release agents, and some rusted on their shanks. Trying to unscrew the former caused many to break off at the top of the threads and the latter caused some to break at the heads. The whole job should have taken no more than a couple of hours.

When I came to the shutter front, with its swell louvres, there was no way to get the shutters out without first removing the entire shutter frame, which in turn needed most of the decorated frontage removed first. This meant the organ was almost impossible to tune without major dismantling.

As I worked I made notes of what needed improvements when the time came to re-assemble the organ. The first item was that missing stop-head. Second was the lean-to-the-right appearance of the entire organ – not good for the pipes or aesthetics.

Six of the pedal bourdon pipes are seen here - three on each side. There was no room for the seventh one there, so it had been mounted horizontally deep within the organ.

Once I had access to the pipes, it was clear that they would need major restoration. Most of the metal pipes had been badly damaged by reckless tuning over time. Lack of access may be partly to blame.

The action

Above left: The action "stickers” - stickers push, and trackers pull. When a key, pivoted in the centre, is pressed the back rises, lifting the sticker rod causing a roller on the roller-board above to turn, transferring the key's movement to a backfall which, in turn, pulls down a tracker at the back of the organ to open a pallet, letting wind to pass to the appropriate pipes. Note the rather odd layout, with almost random notes going to the left side, and all others in consecutive order, apart from a few basses running to the right via the small roller-board at the top. Above right: The pedal roller-board, after the trackers had been removed. Six of the pedals actuate the big wood pipes at the front of the organ, and eight actuate the bottom of the manual keyboard via the stickers still in place behind the roller-board. One pedal pipe is positioned at the rear of the organ, lying horizontally. It has its own action, shown later.

I found evidence that the organ started life as a barrel organ. There are marks at the back showing where the crank handle would have been, and some odd shapes carved into some of the acton levers indicating parts no longer in the organ. It was originally 31 notes, with 20 added later, together with the keyboard and pedalboard. The odd layout of the pipes may have been dictated by the original compass, which could have omitted certain bass notes and sharps. I decided to take out the organ’s action first, leaving the pipes in place for as long as possible. They would have to be stored in an up-stairs gallery, and I wanted them to be there no longer than necessary.

Here (right), the front action has been removed. The two 3-note pedal chests have been opened up, but stubborn screws prevented their removal. I decided to take them out still attached to the stop-jambs, and work on the assemblies at home. Showing in the picture are the front ends of the horizontal “backfalls” – horizontal levers transferring the key action from the front to the back of the organ, where they connect to the chest action “trackers”. They are pushed upwards at the front and, being pivoted in the centre, the rear ends pull the chest action downwards. (Stickers push and trackers pull.) The centre backfall assembly is shown below left.

Below right: This is just about as far as I could go before removing the pipes. The next page describes that operation rank by rank.

The chest

Once all the action and pipes had been removed, it was the turn of the chest, followed by the upper support frame, seen here in the foreground standing on the floor. This left only the lower frame containing the reservoir, and the blowing apparatus - the angled leatherwork beneath the reservoir are the original wind feeders, no longer in use. What looks like a chimney on the right is the wind trunking taking wind from the reservoir up to the chest.

Note the house-bricks used to provide the correct wind pressure, on the reservoir top. These are replacements for cast-iron weights which would have been used originally. It’s a pity they were not still there, as initials engraved on them may have indicated the organ’s original manufacturer.

This was as far as I needed to go with dismantling. The only issue remaining was to find an effective way to level the instrument so it looks reasonably upright. I decided to place packing under the footings on the right and adjust outer panelling to suit on re-assembly later. On inspection, I discovered a fatal flaw in the box containing the wind regulator, an addition when the electric blower was installed. I'll go into that in more detail later. My work from then on is continued on page 4.

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