2015 saw us receiving an order from the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) for 20 single manual instruments. This was certainly the largest order by instrument numbers we had ever received if not the largest by value! In this post I share more about our valued relationship with this customer.
Background to the work at UGLE
In the same year of us receiving the order for the 20 instruments, UGLE was also completing the restoration of the fine Willis Pipe Organ in the Grand Temple. I was fortunate to be one of the guests invited to the opening recital given by Thomas Trotter, the organist of St Margaret’s, Westminster and visiting Professor at the Royal College of Organists.
It was a pleasant surprise to receive a further invitation in 2016 from UGLE to provide a proposal to install a Regent Classic instrument for Room 10. The Willis III organ which was in situ was decommissioned in 1964 and replaced by an electronic organ which was no longer fit for purpose, hence our invitation to provide a new digital instrument.
Room 10 and Room 1 had both been fitted with Willis 2 Manual instruments in the past, although Room 1 used much of the old Gray & Davison instrument originally in the Grand Temple and was removed in 2004.
Finding the right supplier for UGLE
A small group including David Robert-Jones, Dr. Simon Lindley, (lately Leeds Parish Church) and Carl Jackson (Chapel Royal Hampton Court) were tasked with the job of selecting the right organ supplier (and solution) for the venue.
They were keen to explore the virtues of our Viscount Regent Classic instrument and hear more about our team, our service and what we do as part of our installation process. They seemed impressed and, some weeks later, we were delighted to get approval to go ahead with the order for the new instrument for Room 10.
We had an unusually long lead-time for this instrument, as Room 10 was undergoing a complete refurbishment and our work had to fit into the bigger schedule. So, it was not until a whole year later, in November 2017, that we arrived to fit the instrument into the newly refurbished space.
Willis was himself a Freemason and member of UGLE. All in all the Willis Organ Builders provided 3 pipe organs for the building – only one of which is now in playing order. The Room 10 organ fell silent many years ago and you will see from the pictures that I managed to get of some of the pipe work that it is in need of substantial work if it were to play again.
From what I could see of the pipes, I couldn’t help but wonder if it were ever a really good sounding instrument as the chambers were very cramped and only feet from the listeners on one side of the room which has almost no acoustic. Nothing seemed to be under expression so those who sat close by must have had an uncomfortably loud impression of the instrument with a lot of pipe work just a few feet off ground level.
For the installation of our instrument, we could comfortably ignore use of the lower pipe chamber. A second larger chamber is about 10 feet above floor level and you can just see some speakers placed in this chamber in the photo below.
But we were also able to use the space above the Dome, some 40 feet above the center of the room. Great, pedal and 3 solo stops were placed in this space including of course a solo Tuba. What organ can ever be considered complete without a solo Tuba!
The seating in Room 10 is on a slightly raised dais, which provided a cavity for the wiring to be laid unseen from the organ console across to the pipe chambers on the opposite side. A nearby room provided a very accessible space for the organ amplifiers. Old cable ducts were re-used to take the cables up some 20 feet to the dome.
Installations often present unforeseen challenges and in this case finding the old cable routes was one that was eventually solved by UGLE’s own resident electricians. An alarming event on the second day of our work was however totally unprecedented in the many years of carrying out similar work.
And then there was a loud crash
On the second day of our installation project – it seems someone, who was later arrested and sectioned, gained access to the roof from the adjacent Grand Connaught Rooms and from there into the roof space above the dome of Room 10. He then proceeded to try to scrape off the newly applied gold leaf on the metalwork of the central dome boss. You can guess what happened next…
While carrying out this “work” by accident or malicious design he knocked out the pin that held the boss to its central support and it proceeded to fall the 30 feet to the ground missing Jeremy, my business partner, and fellow installation colleague, by a few feet.
We have been in a hardhat workplace before but had this been one, and it was not, the hat would have been of little use as we think the boss weighed upwards of a couple hundred pounds in weight. Had this happened the day before it would have fallen right onto the new organ. Oh my word. We were remarkably lucky that this bizarre act avoided both work team and instrument. Someone was looking out for us that day.
Eventually, later on day 2 than planned, the instrument was connected up to all 16 external speaker cabinets and Jeremy could begin the process of voicing which carried on well into the Friday.
We are really proud of the work we have been pleased to produce so far for the UGLE and value the relationship we have with them. We like to incorporate in all our console designs something that resonates with the customer or location or both. In this case you can just see on the glass music desk up stand in the picture above an engraved square and compass which is of course a very significant Masonic Symbol. We trust the instruments will see many a recital and use over the years to come.
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