The Organ
The Alexandra Palace Organ Appeal
Registered Charity No.:285222, London N22 7AY
"The 1875 organ was a glorious effort." - Henry Willis III, 1930

The 1875 Instrument

The 1873 instrument was completely destroyed, with the Palace, in a fire three weeks after the opening. “Father” Willis was at the Palace at the time and vainly, at great risk to his own life, tried to save some part of it.

The second (1875) organ, the contract for it, it is said, was signed before the molten pipe metal was cold. It was built to a specification very similar to that of 1873; there were slight changes to the Manual and Pedal compass, and to the Swell and Great mixtures are described below.

These spectacular pictures show the 1875 console, case, and hall. Click for a larger version.
Here are close-ups of the historic photos. Click for a larger version.

In The Musical Standard, 28th October 1899, it was written: "It is unnecessary to particularize as to the qualities of tone of the various stops for they are uniformly excellent, and though the building is of immense size, yet the tone of the quieter registers is audible and apparent in all parts, and the full organ, though very powerful, is by no means oppressive."

The following is condensed from Henry Willis III's article in the March 1930 edition of "The Rotunda":

"To enable the performer to command these stops and accessories, there are six pneumatic combining pistons to each clavier, which arrange in fixed selections the stops of each organ by the mere pressure of the finger. The wind is derived (as in the Liverpool organ) from bellows placed in the basement ; two of these are blown by a steam engine of 12 horse power, and supply ordinary pressure of air. Another bellows is of prodigious strength and blown in connection with a vacuum apparatus by a second engine of eight horse-power."

This is a picture of the 5 ft Double Beam engine air compressor plant which supplied the “wind” for the Royal Albert Hall Organ in 1871. Two steam engines were used, one of 12/13hp (9 KW) the other 8hp. The manufacturer was John Penn & Son of Greenwich. A similar pair were made for the Alexandra Palace of 12 & 8 hp, which were used until 1915 when concerts ceased. On only one occasion did the engine let off steam! This happened when no engineer was present. 24 hours notice had to be given to raise steam.

Since 1921, the Royal Albert Hall beam engine has remained care of the Science Museum, London. We can find no other record of the Alexandra Palace engine, but its space at the Palace existed until after the 1980 fire.

"From the bellows in the basement the wind passes into 24 reservoirs placed in the localities of the various sections of each organ. Each manual is furnished with a pneumatic lever of the most approved construction, as an intermediary power, between the keys and the valves of the organ and the pedale has two pneumatic levers interposed for the same purpose.

Everything has, therefore, been done to secure the greatest precision in all the movements, and that noiselessly. The whole draw stop movement is upon an entirely new principle, each stop being drawn and withdrawn by a pneumatic lever of peculiar construction, in connection with a reciprocating apparatus commanded by the ordinary draw stop rod, the moteur being highly compressed air for the one and highly attenuated air for the other. By this means the ordinary draw stop movements, such as levers, shafts or iron rods, centres, etc., are entirely got rid of. For this invention, and for some other contrivances in connection with the wind the builder has obtained patent rights. It should be noted that the second instrument was built to practically the same specification, the only improvements and additions being the extension of the manual compass to C making 61 notes, of the pedal compass to G, 32 notes, the addition of two more pistons to each department. Also, the two Mixtures on Swell and Great of 3 and 5 ranks, became, in the second instrument, three Mixtures of 2, 3 and 5 ranks respectively.

The 1875 organ was a glorious effort. It is said, and truly according to family tradition, that my grandfather looked upon his Alexandra Palace instrument as his finest concert organ, excelling even the famous ones in the Royal Albert Hall and St. George's Hall, Liverpool. In my early voicing days I spent an entire week noting the scales and voicing of the organ-an experience which impressed itself upon me indelibly.

At the time the instrument was being built there was a very real fear that it might suffer the fate of its predecessor, not in the Palace but in the factory itself! My father, Henry II, with an assistant, slept at the old "Rotunda" works for months during its manufacture, armed with revolvers and other lethal weapons. During this period several attempts were made to break into the works; but whether arson was the object or an attempt to steal pipe metal it is impossible to say! For its time the instrument must have been an "eye-opener" to the organ enthusiasts of the day: the boldness of the tonal treatment, the lavish use of high pressures, the remarkable perfection of the mechanism and the (for 1875), abundant provision of "controls" must have created a sensation indeed. The most interesting features of the organ in the matter of mechanism were:

Drawstop action. This was tubular pneumatic on a double system, pressure and exhaust. The drawstop knob operated a two-way cock, which admitted air at high pressure to the pneumatic which moved the slider "on," or placed the pneumatic under the control of high suction (27in.) which sucked the slide "off."

Pedal action. A highly ingenious tubular pneumatic system was introduced of a then novel type. The player operated a pneumatic primary on a chest, which, by means of governing sliders, played the various sections of the Pedal. It is interesting to note that a logical system of Pedal extension was used-the 32 ft. wood being an extension downwards of the small Open (named Contra Basso) and the 32 ft. Bourdon an extension of the 16 ft. A most interesting feature was the two couplers "Pedale in Octaves"-which effect I have retained and will refer to later.

Pistons. The provision of no fewer than eight pistons to each manual department was a notable one for the period, and indicated a standard of control far in advance of other organs of its day."

The specification here is taken from The Musical Standard, 28th October 1899, and is at present the only known source which gives the 1875 specification as opposed to that of 1873. This specification shows the stops in a different order to the 1873 specification, but the order here is 1873 for comparison. The Appeal is grateful to Roger Firman for his research on these early specifications.

Four Manuals from CC to C 61 notes
Pedals CCC to G 32 notes 

1. Violoncello (imitative) 8
2. Viola (imitative) 4
3. Flute Harmonique 8
4. Flute Octaviante 4
5. Concert Flute (imitative) 4
6. Piccolo 2
7. Claribel 8
8. Bombardon 16
9. Trumpet (harmonic) 8
10. Ophicleide 8
11. Bassoon 8
12. Oboe (Orchestral) 8
13. Clarionette (Orchestral) 8
14. Clarion 4

1. Double Diapason 16
2. Bourdon 16
3. Open Diapason 8
4. Open Diapason 8
5. Salicional 8
6. Lieblich Gedact 8
7. Flute Harmonique 8
8. Flute Octaivante 4
9. Fluto Traverso 4
10. Principal 4
11. Twelfth 3
12. Fifteenth 2
13. Sesquialtera 3 ranks
14. Furniture 5 ranks (1873: "Mixture")
+.  Mixture 3 ranks
15. Contra Posaune 16
16. Contra Fagotto 16
17. Cornopean 8
18. Trumpet 8
19. Hautboy 8
20. Vox Humaine 8
21. Clarion 4

1. Double Diapason 16
2. Bourdon 16
3. Open Diapason 8
4. Open Diapason 8
5. Open Diapason 8
6. Viol Di Gamba 8
7. Claribel 8
8. Quint 6
9. Principal 8
10. Flute Transversiere 4
11. Quinte Octaviante 3
12. Super Octave 2
13. Piccolo 2
14. Furniture 5 ranks (1873: "Sesquialtera")
15. Mixture 3 ranks
+.  Sesquialtera 3 ranks
16. Trombone 16
17. Bombarde 8
18. Trumpet 8
19. Possaune 8
20. Clarion 4

1. Contra Gamba 16
2. Viol de Gamba 8
3. Salicional 8
4. Claribel 8
5. Flute Harmonique 8
6. Lieblich Gedact 8
7. Vox Angelica 8
8. Flute Octaviante 4
9. Genshorn 4
10. Viola 4
11. Lieblich Flute 4
12. Flageolet 2
13. Mixture 3 ranks
14. Corno di Bassetto 8
15. Trompette Harmonique 8
16. Cor Anglais 8  (1873 shows "prepared for")
17. Clarion 4

1. Double Diapason Open wood 32
2. Double Diapason Open metal 32
3. Sub Bourdon 32
4. Open Diapason Wood 16
5. Violon Metal 16
6. Bourdon 16
7. Contra Basso Open Wood 16
8. Octave 8
9. Octave 8
10. Super Octave 4
11. Sesquialtera 3 ranks
12. Mixture 3 ranks
13. Bombarde 32
14. Trombone 16
15. Ophicleide 16
16. Clarion 8

1. Solo to Great Organ
2. Solo Sub Octave on itself
3. Solo Super Octave ditto
4. Solo to Choir
5. Swell to Great Unison
6. Swell to Great Sub Octave
7. Swell to Great Super Octave
8. Choir to Great
9. Pedale in Octaves on Nos. 14, 15 and 16
10. Pedale in Octaves on Nos. 10, 11 and 12
11. Solo to Pedals
12. Swell to Pedals
13. Great to Pedals
14. Choir to Pedals