As well as Compton organs, I am a great enthusiast by of instruments built by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of Tonawanda in the United States of America. Therefore I couldnt resist the urge to make a section dedicated to the other major builder of theatre organs in the United Kingdom!
The following are a few instruments I have played (or attempting to!) around the United Kingdom:
STOCKPORT TOWN HALL
This, in my opinion, has to be the finest Wurlitzer organ we now have in the United Kingdom. It was built in 1930 for the beautiful Paramount (later Odeon) Theatre in Manchester city centre and has 4 manuals and 20 ranks of pipes plus a piano attachment. In 1975, following the closure of the Odeon , the organ was installed by the Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust in the Free Trade Hall literally up the road from the Odeon. In the mid 1990s, the Free Trade Hall closed and a new home was found in the ballroom at Stockport Town Hall. The organ has been fitted with a computerised action system and some minor modifications made but specification wise, remains almost original. For me this is organ preservation at its very best combining old and new technology but without destroying character.
THEATRE ORGAN HERITAGE CENTRE, PEEL GREEN, SALFORD
This is a first of its kind in the United Kingdom - a museum dedicated to the theatre organ and its origins! The main focus is a splendid 2 manual 6 rank Wurlitzer organ which was originally built in 1927 for the Trocadero in Liverpool city centre. In 1937 it was moved to the Gaumont cinema in the Liverpool suburb of Dingle where it remained until the cinema closed. After several years in private ownership in the Blackpool area, the organ was acquired by the Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust and after a wonderful refurbishment, was opened in 2005 at Peel Green. A computerised action system has been installed along with an upright piano attachment but otherwise, the specification remains original. Like Stockport, this is an excellent example of combining old and new technology without destroying character. Concerts are held every Wednesday afternoon by different organists.
The organ is almost original in specification with a few exceptions. In 1948, the Tuba Mirabilis rank was added and in 1951 the Vox Humana rank was replaced by the present Solo String. In 1956, the console was badly damaged during a fire so was rebuilt using parts from another Wurlitzer instrument originally from the Gaumont in Holloway, London. In the 1990s the original Bechstein grand piano attachment was replaced with an electronic midi module although the original piano is still in situ.
ROYALTY CINEMA, BOWNESS-ON-WINDERMERE
The organ is a 2 manual 7 rank instrument and was opus 1719 built in 1927 for the Almira Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio. After the introduction of the 'talkies' not long after, the organ was shipped over to England and installed at the Rex Cinema in the London suburb of Stratford. It remained here until the 1970s but fortunately was stored by an enthusiast after removal. In 2010, the organ was purchased by the Furness Theatre Organ Project who installed it here at the Royalty after giving it an excellent restoration. The console is on a platform to the left of the screen where in the future it is hoped to install a lift so that the console can 'rise' in true cinema organ fashion! The two chambers are installed under the stage and speak through grilles below the screen. The layout is as follows:
MAIN CHAMBER (facing screen - left)
SOLO CHAMBER (facing screen - right)
Snare Drum, Cymbal, Tambourine, Chinese Block, Castanets, Tom Tom, Sleigh Bells, Bird Whisle, Horse Hoofs, Surf, Fire Gong, Motor Horn, Syren, Steamboat Whistle
CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, BEER, DEVON
The organ at the Congregational Church in the village of Beer just up the coast from Seaton on the beautiful Devon coast, is a 2 manual 6 rank Wurlitzer originally installed at the Picture House in Walsall, West Midlands in 1924. This was the very first instrument of its kind to be installed in a British cinema. It is the oldest surviving Wurlitzer organ in the United Kingdom.
In 1954, the organ was removed from the cinema and after a few years in private ownership, was installed at its present location but minus the percussion and novelty sound effects. By the end of the 1980s, the organ had become in very poor condition but with the help of a local organ builder, the organ was brought back into playing condition.
In 2008, the 'Friends of Beer Wurlitzer; was formed. They have done fantastic work which has included replacing many of the missing percussion and sound effects and run regular concerts and of course the organ is used weekly for church services making it one of the most used Wurlitzer organs after Blackpool Tower!