The history of Hull City Hall concert organ
The City Hall organ was built by the Hull firm of Forster and Andrews for a cost of £4,328 and completed in March 1911 ready for the opening recital by Edwin Lemare on Thursday 30 March 1911. Philip H Selfe planned and designed the organ for Hull City Hall including the outstanding organ case.
Mr J A Meale, organist of the Queens Hall Mission, Hull and later of the Central Hall, Westminster, drew up the specification for the organ for which space had been provided at the rear of the stage. His proposals were vetted and approved by Mr Alfred Eyre, Organist at the Crystal Palace, London, but the design proved controversial. The inclusion of drums and steel bars drew condemnation from certain musical quarters whilst some leading organ builders declined to tender considering the instrument unnecessarily large and also too big for the allocated space. A government enquiry was launched which found in favour of the scheme and the contract was awarded to Forster and Andrews, not on account of submitting the lowest tender, but because they were situated in Hull. It remains their magnum opus and their most famous organ.
Philip H Selfe, who joined Forster and Andrews in 1897 solved the accommodation problem by planning the organ on three vertical levels - reservoirs at the bottom, Solo and Choir boxes on the middle level with the enormous Swell box filling all the available space above. The unenclosed soundboards are placed forward of the boxes at both upper levels, being cantilevered out beyond the proscenium arch. The Pedal pipes are distributed on either side of the organ.
Honduras Mahogony and Canadian Pine are used lavishly in the construction of the slider and other soundboards. Spotted metal is used in the construction of many of the ranks of pipes using plain organ metal for the rest and zinc for the basses.
The resulting instrument is best summed up by the late Norman Cocker (of Tuba Tune fame) in this quote - 'It is not a concert hall organ at all, but it is one of the most ravishing cathedral organs imaginable, it has dynamic force, flexibility, immense variety, seemingly endless colour and certainly possesses distinction, but it lacks one thing – the power to get across the footlights all because it is too fastidiously voiced. A shade more courage Mr Selfe and a lot more showmanship and your name would have gone down to posterity'.
During the war, Hull was subjected to intense aerial bombardment and the City Hall roof was extensively damaged resulting in the closure of the building in May 1941. The organ was affected by water and the elements as the Hall and organ remained exposed to the sky until 1946 when restoration commenced. The Hall was reopened in 1950, followed a year later by the completion of the restoration and enhancement of the organ.
The rebuild was entrusted to the John Compton Organ Company. The tonal scheme remained the same, though the original criticisms of lack of power were rectified. The organ was enlarged by the addition of a Positif division on a new Compton Kegellade chest, the duplication of some manual reeds on the Pedal, the addition of the Great Cymbal (mixture) and the addition of rank of tibias in the Solo Box. Unfortunately the addition of the Tibias meant that the Orchestral Trumpet and 12 drums had to be moved out of the Solo Box. In general the wind pressures were raised to a minimum of six inches and higher, especially on the Tuba, Tromba and Bombarde. A brand new console was designed with patented ‘Luminous Stops’ instead of draw stops, together with a new capture system. Pneumatic duplexes were replaced with relay switches and unit chests.
The reopening recital was given on Tuesday 27 February 1951 by Fernando Germani and Norman Stafford.
Between 1985 and 1991 Rushworth and Dreaper of Liverpool carried out some essential restoration work. They rebuilt the console with drawstops, installing solid state coupling and combination action. The console was also placed in its present fixed position at the top of the stage. They re leathered all the double rise reservoirs and all the power motors in the slider chests to which they fitted slider seals. All primary magnets to the slider soundboards were replaced.
The above restoration comprised stages one, two and three. Unfortunately stage four could not be carried out because funding was withdrawn. This stage planned to replace all the rotten leatherwork in the 1950’s Compton unit chests and percussion units and any other 1950’s leather elsewhere in the instrument. Now in 2015 much time and effort is being expended in replacing the 1950’s leatherwork as and when each motor develops a hole thus creating a dumb note.