Hope-Jones: Organ Actions 1889-1903
Home Up Other Publications Contact Me About the Author About this Website Prog Organ - a VPO Sitemap What they say


Robert Hope-Jones: The evolution of his organ actions in Britain from 1889 to 1903


by Colin Pykett


Revised: 9 August 2022


Abstract.  This article shows that Hope-Jonesís organ of 1889 at St Johnís, Birkenhead was the first in the world whose action was designed from the outset as an integrated system by a gifted professional engineer, using electricity to control not only the key action but the speaking stops, couplers, pistons and swell shutters as well.  One of the key elements facilitating the integration was Hope-Jonesís action magnet, whose design was subtle and which is discussed at length in the article. 


The article also traces the evolution of Hope-Jonesís subsequent thinking and practice until he left for America in 1903.  His key actions remained fairly static, consisting of pneumatic amplifiers controlled by his action magnet.  However his speaking stop actions evolved progressively from organs in which all stops were on slider chests to those in which some ranks were conceived on the unit principle.  The progression was nevertheless fairly slow considering that Hope-Jones had completed his paper design for the fully unified organ by 1890 at the latest, and the article suggests that this was due to a mixture of technical and commercial considerations.  There is little doubt that the power supply limitations of the day prevented him building the power-hungry unified organ with its hundreds or thousands of individual pipe actions, and he was probably not in a position to have manufactured them economically in any case.


Hope-Jones introduced several techniques for coupling, of which his electropneumatic ladder relay was undoubtedly the prototype for that used in the Wurlitzer theatre organ many years later.  The article discusses the design features of this in detail.  However he must also have used electromagnetic (direct electric) relays in his mobile consoles because wind would not have been available.  Likewise he must also have used both electropneumatic and electromagnetic stop combination actions which are also discussed. 


Although the organ at St Johnís used a dynamo to supply the action current, Hope-Jones devoted much subsequent effort to minimising the power consumption of his organs and some of his techniques are described in the article.  This was forced on him because of the need to establish a customer base in the majority of the country which did not enjoy access to mains electricity, town gas or high pressure water for blowing the instruments and thus for driving a dynamo also.  In these cases he had to use accumulators and some of his later organs would also have run for limited periods on a battery of dry cells, though definitely not on a single cell as he loudly and frequently claimed.  In all of this he was at a disadvantage because of the low resistance of his action magnet and thus its high power consumption relative to those of his competitors.  It is unfortunate that he degraded himself by the shrillness and mendacity with which he insisted the opposite was the case.


With the exception of unit chests and their means of control which he introduced only a few years later, the 1889 organ at Birkenhead contained all of the action, switching and circuit techniques which were immediately taken up and applied in electric actions worldwide.  They were not displaced until electronics began to appear in organ building in the 1960ís, and even today they remain in wide use.  This remains the measure of Hope-Jonesís legacy and achievements.



Because of the length of this article it is posted as a separate PDF download rather than as an HTML page. However the contents list is shown below for information.


Click here to download the article (3 MB, 99 pages)


From time to time you should check to see if you are using the latest version which is:


 Version 2.8 dated 9 August 2022






Some historical landmarks

Generic Issues:

Contact design:

Contact resistance

Contact redundancy

Magnet design:

Electromagnet basics

Windway augmentation Ė the ďpepper potĒ

Magnet resistance and operating voltage

Magnet efficiency


Corrosion prevention, release time and spark suppression

Automatic power shutoff:

Temperature rise in the action magnet

Power supplies


Organ actions at a system level

Were Hope-Jonesís actions unreliable?

Key Actions

Coupler Actions:

Electropneumatic coupler relay


The absence of through-coupling

Coupling in the organ at St Johnís, Birkenhead

Speaking Stop Actions:

Double-acting sliders and the Stop Switch

Automatic power shutoff

Combination Actions:

Mechanical combination actions

Electric (electromagnetic or direct electric) combination actions

Pneumatic combination actions

Electropneumatic combination actions

Pistons, composition pedals, compound composition keys, etc


Suitable Bass

Reversible stops

What systems did he actually use?

Swell Shutter Actions

The 'Master Reset' problem


Notes and References

Appendix 1 - The Hope-Jones organ at St Johnís, Grange Road, Birkenhead, 1889

Appendix 2 - Detailed analysis of a Hope-Jones organ action when powered by dry cells

Appendix 3 - Light Relief!

About the Author