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Restoration of the ex-Irvin's Marenghi

Façade decoration

The façade appears perfectly clean and respectable in the "before" picture here, but on close inspection it was very rough indeed. There was an incredible amount of flamboyant amber, where it would have originally been gilded. This had probably been applied by Jimmy Williams in the late 1970s, but Benny Irvin himself touched up some of it at the time I was working on the organ in early 1983. Flamboyant is a transparent lacquer applied over silver (or in this case, aluminium) leaf and, to be perfectly honest, shoddily done.

I had recommended a good local sign-writer and showman's decorator, Colin Dundas. His initial brief was to restore the façade to its appearance when new. The work was to be mainly cosmetic, with a minimum of repair work to the carvings. There had been many holes drilled in various parts of the carvings to accommodate light bulbs. Some of these were still open, but most had already been plugged and painted over. These plugs were showing signs of shrinkage and had to be re-done. There were also several splits in the carvings and lots of minor handling damage. In fact, as the work progressed it was evident that much more time was needed to make a good job, worthy of this well-known organ. As there was no easy way to determine the original colours it was agreed to use basically similar colours to those used most recently, and this included the colour scheme of the pipework. Colin made some alterations to the colouring for more consistency in the overall scheme.

While I fitted pipes, Colin worked on this fabulous façade. The main proscenium arch was done first, with the removal of the "IRVIN" lettering which had been screwed onto the panel. It was found that there had been nothing below this, which was surprising, as the organ was not new when Irvins acquired it. Perhaps the previous owner had screwed on his own panel in one piece, and some of the IRVINS (individual) letters had used the same screw holes. It was later discovered that the previous owner, probably from new, had been Pat Collins. The word "Walsall" was revealed while removing paint which had lifted when the new coat had unexpectedly reacted with it. Following this arch piece, the drum-cases were tackled, and then the top proscenium, in three pieces. Lastly came the end wings, used to conceal the keyframe, operator, and the music books at one end, and the blower and motor at the other. These wings had not been with the organ from new, borne out by the different carving style.

It was decided to use gold on those parts that had latterly been in flamboyant. 23½ carat gold leaf was chosen as the medium, not varnished but left clear so the real gold sheen would show. In all, over 70 books were used. Some rich colours were incorporated which, at first glance, looked too strong, but during a clean-up of one patch, a similar scheme was revealed underneath. The overall effect is very strong and bright, which is how these façades would have looked when new around 90-100 years ago. The picture here shows the completed organ, for comparison with the one at the top of the page.

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