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History of Hull City Hall
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Hull City Hall

Hull City Hall concert organThe history of Hull City Hall concert organ

The City Hall organ was built by the Hull firm of Foster and Andrews for a cost of £4,328.00 and completed in March 1911.

The first recital was given on 29th March 1911 with the public opening on March 30th by Edwin H. Lemare. Further recitals in the opening year were performed by Alfred Hollins.

The specification was drawn up in conjunction with Mr A.J.Meale, Organist at Queens Hall Hull and vetted by Mr Alfred Eyre, Organist at the Crystal Palace in London. Much controversy was aroused by the specification of the instrument, and it was actually made the subject of a Government inquiry. The application was opposed to on several grounds including "it is too big for the space allocated", "The cost can be reduced without reducing its efficiency", "The sensational adjuncts such as drums, steel bars, Etc.", indeed a letter from Dr E.C. Bairstow of York Minster stated:
" The tubular bells and steel bars on the Solo organ are effects which do not come into legitimate organ music. They are chiefly affected by organists who debase their art to gain applause from ignorant people. Surly a body like Hull Corporation, who watch over the interests of such a great and famous town, will not put their seal upon or countenance this sort of thing".

Thankfully the original scheme was passed to provide us with a unique romantic organ. Norman Cocker (of the famous Tuba Tune) was heard to say:
" 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 and glorious colour and certainly posses distinction and meticulous regulation, but it lacks one thing - the power to get across the footlights all because it is too delicately toned and too fastidiously voiced. A shade more courage Mr Selfe and a lot more Showmanship and your name would have gone down for prosperity".

It was the largest organ ever built by Foster and Andrews and the case was undoubtedly the best designed by Philip Selfe.

There was also a unique feature on the organ to give an appropriate Pedal combination depending upon the stops drawn on a particular manual. The building frame was made of heavy Pitch Pine. The tables, sliders and upper boards were made of Honduras Mahogany, bars and cheeks were made of Canadian Pine and Canary wood, Pallets were made of best Sequoia covered in felt and leather, wood were made in Canadian Pine to 4ft. C painted in Halls Distemper and Thereafter in Canary wood with 2 coats of varnish. The scaling of pipes was 30% tin, 70% lead from 4ft up with Zinc basses. Spotted metal was used for the Gamba, Viol d'orchestre and small reeds. From pipes were of hard rolled Zinc, silvered and gilded by Bay leaves. The console and case were of Oak. The keys were of Ivory and Ebony draw stops. The pedals were birch, Wesley Willis scale.

During the war the organ was damaged, mainly due to the elements, as a result of bomb damage to the roof above the organ chamber. The console was written off largely because it had been left open after the concert the night before. Temporary repairs were not allowed by the Government and so it took until 1951 for a full rebuild to be undertaken.

The rebuild was entrusted to the John Compton Organ Company with Mr Strafford as the consultant. 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 direct electric action 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 6" 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 opening recital was on 27th February 1951 and performed by Norman Strafford and Fernando Germani.

Little work was done on the organ until the 1970's when two humidifiers were installed to help the wood timbers, and the console was moved to the top of the stage to shorten the badly fraying cable connecting the console to the organ interior. During the late 1970's the reliability of the Compton relay boxes and luminous stops was starting to deteriorate and by 1983 the action problems were taking up half of every tuning visit therefore the City Council began discussions regarding the restoration of the organ.

The firm of Rushworth and Dreaper, who had looked after the organ since it took over the Compton Organ Company were engaged to draw up a specification of works with the City Organist, Mr Peter Goodman. After the initial consultation, due to the high cost, the work was divided into three phases, the first of which stated in 1985, concentrating on replacing the console and coupling systems. The luminous stop touches were replaced by traditional draw stops and a new eight level capture system from Solid State Logic was installed with additional registration aids. This phase greatly improved the reliability of the instrument, but it was still obvious that the pipe work and internal leatherwork was deteriorating at a fast pace.

The late 1980's was a difficult time for local Authorities, government spending limits and grant cuts made large capital projects like organ restoration very difficult. Fortunately the Cultural Services Committee of the Council had the foresight to allocate the monies needed to complete the final phase of the restoration, before the deterioration became irrecoverable.

In total £300,000 was spent on the complete project.

The work schedule was drawn up in consultation with Canon Geoffrey Hunter, York Diocese Organ Consultant. In 1989 work started to clean all pipe work and install slider sealers on all soundboards. From summer 1990 to summer 1991 the remaining leatherwork was re-covered and all wind leaks were sealed. Completion of tonal regulation and action adjustment was undertaken by Mr John Walls the local Rushworth and Dreaper representative who is largely responsible for the meticulous regulation and finishing of the completed restoration (he also looks after the organ on a monthly basis).

The organ was completed on 17th September 1991 by David Liddle.

In 2003 Dr John Pemberton was appointed Honorary Curator of the Hull City Hall concert organ. Part of Dr Pemberton's role will be to act as an informed intermediary between the Hull City Hall management and the firm of Rushworth and Dreaper of Liverpool who are responsible for maintaining the 92 year old instrument in order to keep the organ in is current immaculate state of preservation. Dr Pemberton will also be responsible for devising a plan to re launch organ recitals at the Hull City Hall by international artists.

Hull City Hall

Hull City Hall
Hull City Council
Queen Victoria Square

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