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modern mechanical action jobs

I wondered if between us we can draw up a list of tracker organs from the last thirty years that have already had to have therir action replaced.

I trained as an organ-builder with R.H.Walker of Chesham, Bucks and one of the standard sales pitches in those days was 'mechanical actions go on for ever'. This has proved to be somewhat short of the mark in several cases.

Let me start with a few, please add to this list (or, of course correct me if I am mistaken).
St.David's Hall, Cardiff - Peter Collins - replacement action by Walkers
St.Peter's Eaton Square - Kenneth Jones - has received new action by Trevor Crowe (I think)
St.John's Wolverhampton - J.W.Walker rebuild with new action - recently replaced by Trevor Tipple
Sherborne Abbey - John Budgen - action completely replaced recently by Kenneth Tickell

Re: modern mechanical action jobs

You're certainly right about St. David's Hall, Paul. In fact not only the mechanical parts of the action but most, if not all, of the console was replaced as well, with the possible exception of the pedalboard. There does seem to be embarassment all around with this one, as the Council kept the work very quiet, as have the company who installed the new action. Having said that, the company who built it in the first place don't actually mention it in their publicity either! I suppose it's historic as Ralph Downes' swansong, but there are a number of smaller but more satisfying instruments within a mile or so that are far nicer to listen to or play.

Coming back to your original post though Paul, it does seem bizarre that some modern actions using (presumably) the latest wisdom of physics and technology, and state of the art materials do not appear to be able to stay the course, when many built a century or more ago are - with careful maintenance - still very servicable.

In respect of those instruments R.H. Walker had it about right!


Re: modern mechanical action jobs

Nobody adding others?
Let me....!

Brasenose College, Oxford - another Collins action now replaced. I believe the single-stop third manual (this was a Regal, of all things) has also gone.

Re: modern mechanical action jobs

Sherborne Abbey is actually on its third mechanical action - or at least, coupling chassis, since 1987. The action which it has now (together with new soundboards) I find is uncomfortable and heavy. Personally, I would have fitted a new electro-pneumatic action, put a new console back downstairs (in a loft in the North Choir Aisle and enlarged the main organ, moving the case forwards again. I would also not have bothered with a Nave division.

Re: modern mechanical action jobs

I played it in it's J.W.Walker incarnation: downstairs console, opposite side, several stops only prepared for. I never played it after that great artist John ('let's-voice-everything-louder-and-louder-until-it-squeaks-and-call-it -a-German-name') Coulson rebuilt it.

What you're saying is that tarted up another time, (maybe re-voiced once more by sympathetic hands) it could have been pretty good? I gather that a local 'expert' a Mr.Patrick Moule was behind the disposal of this job and the commissioning of the Bishop scheme, mechanically and tonally masterminded by John Budgen. I must look out his article. At the time I thought 'they're going to regret this' - it was the way in which an organ unable to do the job already seemed to get quite a bit smaller! Not a lot of logic there...not without moving the case and where else could that (rather interesting thing) go?

I do know where the J.W.W. Sherborne console surround ended up. After the ditching of John Coulson's Magnum Opus at the hands of the sainted Mr.Moule, it went to Wisbech Parish Church, Cambridgeshire where it replaced the surprisingly plain and temporary-looking outside of a 50s H&H console. Very nice it looks.

Mind you, they're clearly not short of a bob or two down there in Sherborne; if they want a rebuild every twenty years, they seem to be able to get one! What will they go for next? My money is on a big Klais (as seen and heard in Bath Abbey - and across the road outside), I'm afraid.

Re: modern mechanical action jobs

I would agree with your thoughts, Paul.

I was interested to learn of the eventual destination of the console case. H&H consoles did occasionally look a little functional on the outside. The console for Coventry Cathedral (before it gained its outer skin of dead cow) looked very plain. The RFH console is also quite ordinary - perhaps befitting the clean lines of its surroundings.

You are correct regarding Sherborne - it is simply not loud enough. I am also concerned about the quality of the voicing - particularly the new work. This is one of the reasons why I am still apprehensive about the new organ at you-know-where. Having played Sherborne and Honiton and having heard Dulwich (and the report of a friend who has played the new organ at Eton College), I find the voicing to be undistinguished - even 'rough' in places. Joe Sentance also made clear to me his feelings on the new work at Sherborne.

I, too, am amazed at the apparent ease with which the Sherborne congregation came up with £350,000 for the latest attempt. If only we could find that sort of money at my church! However, if we did, I can assure you that there will be no question of ruining the instrument - and no nonsense about tracker action. I could tell you an interesting story about this - however, probably not on an open board!

Re: modern mechanical action jobs

Spoil sport.
Do tell........!
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