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Restoration of the ex-Irvin's Marenghi

The home straight

While working at home one of my tasks had been the cleaning of the drums and their action parts. The bass drum was brass, which needed polishing. There were two cymbals with the organ, so it was obvious that a replacement had been acquired some time previously. The one on the organ when the job was started had work hardened and cracked, so the other one was cleaned ready for use.

The snare drum had been replaced in the past with a modern one of dubious quality. Its snare actuation lever had been badly distorted, so this needed some major restoraton which entailed re-forming its operating cam. The drum had been fitted with a modern wire snare, so this was discarded in favour of traditional gut. The heads were modern, too. However, the fitting of vellum was impossible without wood hoops, so the snare side was fitted with a transparent plastic head I happened to have in stock, spray painted (inside) with an off-white cellulose. I fitted the beater side with a fibre head, giving a more traditional sound. I had already dismantled and thoroughly tested the drum's action,

As the drums had been last on my list of restoration tasks, re-assembly had not been done by the time Judith Howard arrived to check out the pipes. She agreed to stay on-site to help out, and undertook the task of re-assembly of the drum actions.

Worst nightmare scenario unfolds
While the last of the action was being fitted, during the August bank holiday weekend, both Graham Atkinson and his local representative Trevor Johnson were on hand. I asked if Mr Atkinson had received my fax, and he said not, so I handed him a copy - extract reproduced . He said "Don't worry - I always pay my bills".

Trevor had visited several times during the previous few weeks and expressed his keenness to help, but as he's not skilled in organ building there was nothing he could do. On one occasion, about two weeks before the organ left the yard, he undertook to paint the lorry's roof white - very welcome, but a little late. He had insisted that the organ would attend the Great Dorset Steam Fair regardless of its condition. I made it very clear that I was not happy with that idea, confirming my view that it should stay where it was until I was satisfied that it was in first class condition and ready for public scrutiny. My reputation and that of Graham Atkinson himself depended on it.

Panic was beginning to set in - not recommended for a serious job of this nature. Hurrying usually fosters more problems. Colin was struggling with the final pieces of the façade - the proscenium and side wings - despite having had enlisted help to speed things up. I asked Trevor to help mount the two drums into their respective side-cases. He exclaimed that he knew nothing about drums, but Judith came to his aid. I discovered later that the bass drum had been fitted back-to-front, compared to a photo I had taken when working on the organ before - there was a black mark in its centre at the front made by the beater. To be fair, it was the same on my photo of the organ just before being dismantled, but Judith hadn't seen that. Also, one of the two snare drum actions was making a whirring sound, quickly identified as an indecisive movement of the operating valves. I rectified this by the application of an additional card disc on the puff.

Final testing
While others were fussing around the organ I was trying to concentrate on the tubing of the main action. Any mistakes would further delay the completion of the job. We were working frantically to get the organ ready for its public debut, but the complete absence of time for final tuning and prolonged testing was very worrying.

Although the sub-head above is "Final testing", that never took place. A few books of music were put through the keyframe, accompanied by a steadily increasing number of ciphers (unwanted continuous playing of notes). I believe these were caused by the afore-mentioned sticking keyframe levers, and one lone baritone action mis-behaving. This latter was cleared by simply pulling its action tube out, curing the symptom. At this stage there was nothing else I could have done. Treating the cause would have meant removing the baritone case from the front of the organ for access to the bottom of the chest.

Also, I realized that the springs on both drums and glockenspiel beaters were not being stretched to their fullest extent. At the outset, with six reservoir springs the wind pressure was not enough to raise the reservoir. The blower had been on the organ since the early 1990s - not the one in use during my previous work on the organ, but it should have been adequate for the job. I had removed two of the springs to lower the applied pressure to 9½ inches w.g., which was about right, so the obvious remedy now was to decrease the percussion spring tensions. This was quickly done with the drum springs, but to get at the glockenspiel would have necessitated accessing the back of the baritone case as mentioned above.

The ultimate solution, according to the Atkinson crew later, would be to fit a more powerful blower. However, that would become the problem of the Atkinson crew when they had the organ back, along with additional problems associated with the resulting higher pressure being too much for the re-adjusted pipework, and possibly more ciphers.

Despite its problems the organ was driven away after I had been given a cheque for the outstanding balance, and a promise that it would return later for completion. I believe it was driven straight to Blandford, where it did indeed attend the Great Dorset Steam Fair. The side wings had not been completed by Colin at the time the organ left the yard, but were fitted later. The cheque mentioned above was returned by the bank, unpaid.

I am still waiting for the organ's return to the yard for completion of the job.

Watch this space for further developments...

Epilogue added, August 2007

The completed side wings were reunited with the organ at Old Warden a week after the GDSF finished. However, the panels on the wings were not accepted and were repainted.

The organ never returned, although it was worked on by Graham's own staff and helpers. It now plays very well, and is well-received wherever it appears.

My story ends with some final comments from a few organ enthusiasts.

If you would like to comment further, please


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