The Hope-Jones Organ at Pilton
Home Up Other Publications Contact Me About the Author About this Website Prog Organ - a VPO Sitemap

 

 

The Hope-Jones Organ in Pilton Parish Church

 

by Colin Pykett

 

This article first appeared in Organists’ Review in November 1993, and it is reprinted here because the instrument is one of those which has now been simulated digitally as one of the "vanished organs" which is described in the article Re-creating Vanished Organs.  I should like to record that the instrument was first brought to my attention in about 1980 by Paul Corin, whose musical instrument museum at St Keyne near Liskeard in Cornwall is well worth a visit).

 

Published in Organists' Review: November 1993

Posted here: 2005

Last revised: 9 April 2012

Copyright © C E Pykett 1993 - 2012

 

The last time an article appeared on a Hope-Jones organ in OR was in the March 1991 issue when Relf Clark described the dismantled four manual instrument in St Paul's, Burton on Trent. He concluded by pointing to the rarity of the remaining Hope-Jones organs in this country, and it was therefore a pleasurable surprise when I came across one in which most of the original features still exist and which is still playable. Clearly this was not a discovery in the formal sense of the word; the instrument is known to BIOS and no doubt to others with an interest in Hope-Jones. Nevertheless the organ is of interest for a number of reasons which include its historical value and the fact that after nearly a century it is still a living part of the worship of the church which contains it. Therefore a description of the instrument for a wider audience did not seem an unreasonable objective.

 

Pilton is a small village on the Lynton road out of Barnstaple in North Devon. Its parish church of St Mary the Virgin stands at the top of a hill and is the oldest in the district, having roots in a Priory of the tenth century. The present building was dedicated in 1259 and it is full of historical interest, the Rood Screen of 1430 (currently undergoing restoration) being particularly noteworthy. Of no less interest is the musical history of the church. In the Vestry there is still to be seen the pitch pipe used from the 1700's until a barrel organ was installed in 1843.  After some modifications this was turned out in favour of the latest Victorian ecclesiastical technology - a new organ by Robert Hope-Jones. This was built in 1898 and whilst it has been modified since, the great majority of the original Hope-Jones pipework remains.  

 

Pilton - main case

 

The casework and console are also substantially unaltered. The reasonably handsome case (illustrated) faces west and speaks into the North aisle under the tower; all the front pipes are dummies. It was built by the local firm of Shapland and Petter which is still in business in Barnstaple today. The console is close by in the nave, just west of the screen and in full view of the congregation, though originally it was in the chancel south of the altar. The move to its present position took place when the chancel was re-ordered in about 1913. The console still has the label bearing the builder's name. By the time the organ was built Hope-Jones called his company ‘The Electric Organ Company Limited’, the second one he founded. Unfortunately there is little to be gleaned from the British Organ Archive in Birmingham since this organ, contract number 119, falls between the contracts covered by the two Hope-Jones books preserved there. (I am indebted to Relf Clark for this piece of information and indeed for much else in this article).  

 

  

 

Pilton - console

 

The detached console is remarkably small and open in design (see illustrations), giving a sense of lightness which makes even present-day detached consoles look like Behemoths in comparison. The legends on the motorised stop keys (actually they are tilting tablets) pre-date cinema organ custom, having abbreviated names in larger letters at the base and a horizontal black line to enable the couplers to be quickly identified whilst playing. This console, like the organ itself, must have become quite celebrated in the area and perhaps farther afield: it is a typical example of the Hope-Jones "electric organ" and it is most gratifying that its essentials have been so well preserved and that it still functions. At the time of its installation Pilton had no mains electricity supply and gas lighting had only just been installed in the church. Consequently the organ was hand blown and its electric action powered by batteries, which former parishioners recall having to be recharged at a shop in the village.

 

It is interesting to speculate why a church in this isolated rural community a century ago opted for a Hope-Jones organ. Advice may have been sought from relatively local sources such as Dr D J Wood, then the organist of Exeter Cathedral, who might have acted as a Diocesan organ adviser. A few years before the Pilton organ was built Hope-Jones published a number of testimonials 1 by important organists, Wood among them, extolling the virtues of his Worcester Cathedral instrument completed in 1896. Another possibility is that enthusiasm may have spread from Yeovil where a Hope-Jones organ was installed in St John's church in about 1894.

 

LIST 1

PILTON PARISH CHURCH

THE ORIGINAL HOPE-JONES ORGAN  

(from Musical Opinion 2 )

 

 

Pedal Organ

 

 

 

Great Organ

 

 

 

Swell Organ

 

1.

Contra Bourdon

32

 

5.

Rohr Gedackt

16

 

9.

Diapason Phonon

8

2.

Diaphonic Diapason

16

 

6.

Open Diapason

  8

 

10.

Viol d’Orchestre

8

3.

Bourdon

16

 

7.

Hohl Flute

  8

 

11.

Phoneuma

8

4.

Flute

  8

 

8.

Viol d’Amour

  8

 

12.

Celestina

8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13.

Quintadena

4

 

Great to Pedals

 

 

 

Octave

 

 

14.

Cornopean

8

 

Swell to Pedals

 

 

 

Swell to Great Sub

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swell to Great Unison

 

 

 

Sub Octave

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swell to Great Octave

 

 

 

Octave

 

 

Accessories

3 combination pedals to great and swell

Stop Switch (key and pedal)

 

The original specification appears in List 1, taken from a brief description of the organ which appeared in Musical Opinion the year it was built 2 and just after the opening recital had taken place. The instrument as it exists now has been enlarged and modified, as will be described later, but it is easy to discern the nucleus formed by the original instrument. However, it is possible that even before the extensions and modifications some small changes were made resulting in the specification in List 2, or perhaps the information in Musical Opinion was not entirely correct. In either event we see that the swell Celestina (possibly one of the two beating ranks of the present Phoneuma) was removed and a tremulant was added. Moreover, there is now no sign of the famous stop switch (which enabled a new combination to be set up whilst playing, to be brought into operation when the switch was activated). In addition, Musical Opinion states that the console was moveable when in its original chancel position, implying that the swell shutters must have been controlled electrically. In its present position in the Nave the swell pedal is mechanical.

 

 

LIST 2

PILTON PARISH CHURCH

THE HOPE-JONES STOPS IN THE PRESENT ORGAN

 

 

Pedal Organ

 

 

 

Great Organ

 

 

 

Swell Organ

 

1.

Contra Bourdon

32

 

5.

Rohr Gedact

16

 

9.

Phoneuma (double touch)

8

2.

Diaphonic Diapason

16

 

6.

Open Diapason

  8

 

10.

Diapason Phonon

8

3.

Bourdon (from Great)

16

 

7.

Hohl Flute

  8

 

11.

Viol d’Orchestre

8

4.

Flute (from Great)

  8

 

8.

Viol d’Amour

  8

 

12.

Quintadena

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13.

Cornopean

8

 

Great to Pedals

  8

 

 

Octave

  4

 

 

 

 

 

Swell to Pedals

  8

 

 

Swell to Great Sub

16

 

 

Sub Octave

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swell to Great Unison

  8

 

 

Octave

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swell to Great Octave

  4

 

 

 

 

 

Manual compass: CC to C (61 notes)

Pedal compass: CCC to F (30 notes)

3 combination pedals each to Great and Swell (marked P, F and FF)

 

Notwithstanding these minor uncertainties, the fact is that the Pilton organ as represented by List 2 is still a small but complete Hope-Jones instrument. In it, we see a well developed example of his style of tonal design, with almost nothing above eight feet pitch and with a large number of couplers. We know that his intention was for the one to compensate for the other to some extent. There is plenty of tonal variety available for playing the Romantic works so beloved of the era, though there is considerably less extension, borrowing and duplication than that which appeared in his later work in the USA when his concept of the unit organ matured. The pipework appears to be in remarkably good condition, with only a few notes on various ranks here and there revealing its age. All ranks are on slider chests except for numbers 1, 3, 4 and 5, the pedal and great flute rank, although even here the top 19 pipes (used only by the great flute) were originally controlled by a separate slider. The bottom octave of this flute unit is quinted (with itself) to obtain the bottom octave of the 32 feet pedal stop. The derivation of the pedal flutes from the great is actually indicated on the stop keys themselves, just as in the specification reproduced here, suggesting not only Hope-Jones' delight in his new-fangled technology but also indicating a degree of honesty which would not go amiss today!


Tonal Effect

The temptation to describe my impressions of how this organ sounds has been impossible to resist. Generally speaking such accounts are pretty worthless, depending as they do on so many subjective factors. But in this case the rarity and idiosyncratic nature of the instrument have provided the excuses. If it had been recorded and the recording was widely available it would be a different matter, but such is not the case.

 

All the pipework speaks on 6 inches of wind, making the effect of full organ smooth and powerful, and it sounds (not surprisingly) rather like a cinema organ played without the tremulants. Playing on individual stops quickly revealed their strong tonal differentiation and lack of blending properties to the extent that it is probably best, with such a small instrument, to describe them individually. Starting with the pedals, the lowest few notes of the acoustic Contra Bourdon are quite effective though the transition between 16 feet C (the lowest note of the rank) and the quinted B below it is rather painful. Hope-Jones cannot be blamed for this any more than all builders who elect to use a resultant bass. However we perceive his hand in the Diaphonic Diapason which is simply a pervasive diaphone, far too loud for anything other than full organ. Compared to it the Bourdon is insignificant though even this is overpowering when used as a bass for most soft combinations.

 

On the great, the Open Diapason has had its footholes constricted to reduce the power although it still speaks with a commanding voice. The Hohl Flute is bland and powerful, like a tibia. The Viol is surprisingly reticent, being more like a swell salicional on conventional instruments of the era. The Octave is a coupler, not a four foot principal, and the diapason and the flute have pipes going up to A above top C for use with it. This is also true for all the swell stops though these extra pipes were not a feature of the original instrument.

 

A characteristic H-J stop on the swell is the Phoneuma, which has a double touch stop key bringing on a second undulating rank when pressed again. Its tone quality is mildly quinty, quite different from the Viol which is loud and pungently stringy. The Diapason Phonon is now louder than the diapason on the great (!) as a result of the emasculation of the latter stop, but with less harmonic development because of its large scale and leathered lips. The 4 foot Quintadena, one of Hope-Jones' favourite stops, is not the strident voice one associates by hearsay with those on other of his instruments. In fact it is quite useful, particularly when coupled to the great when a unison off and other effects are possible. In particular, the Quintadena can be used to simulate a mixture, no doubt as intended by Hope-Jones. For example with an octave coupler one gets pitches at intervals of 8, 15, 19 and 26 above unison. Using it in this way coupled to the great flute with the octave coupler (to get a 4 foot flute as well) provides something akin to the "dulciana mixture" chorus that could be derived more straightforwardly on many a conventional Victorian instrument. In matters of registration such as this on a Hope-Jones organ one becomes aware of the need to understand the interactions between the speaking stops and the couplers at a detailed level, and it is not surprising that a large section of the church music establishment of the day was swept off its feet by such novelties. Whilst we may not approve of this tonal design strategy there can be little doubt that a strategy existed in the mind of this most ingenious organ builder. (It was intriguing to browse through other numbers of Musical Opinion of the same era; virtually every one had some reference to Hope-Jones, usually in the correspondence columns, all illustrating the controversy which raged from the start around this fascinating figure).

 

The remaining stop, the Cornopean, sounds relatively normal with a bright trumpet tone, perhaps because it has been revoiced relatively recently. The swell pedal is now mechanical as mentioned above, though its effect when closed is probably degraded by a sound tunnel from the swell box into the chancel, about which more will be said later.  

 

Reflections

Robert Hope-Jones has suffered more opprobrium at the hands of later organ pundits than any other builder, a fact which adds poignancy to his sad later years and subsequent suicide.  He was a man of his time and clearly built organs to meet the demands of his champions, some of whom were influential and important. Yet even against the most benign yardsticks we can apply his tonal ideas still seem devoid of an ultimate rationale.  Some aspects are understandable: the music favoured at that time, such as orchestral transcriptions, did not need mixtures and mutations if one followed the argument that orchestras do not have them. Moreover, those which were provided by other builders were often insignificant in the context of the total sound architecture or they screamed away and destroyed it.  Hope-Jones was by no means the only organ builder who did not understand the place of these pivotal stops both acoustically and musically so he simply ignored them other than, perhaps, providing the possibility of residual makeshifts derived from quintadenas as outlined above. Then, having made this decision, it was a logical step for a man with his electrical engineering background not to provide much above unison pitch either; other pitches could be derived by using the exciting relay techniques then being developed for ever more sophisticated telephony.

 

Beyond this, however, it is less easy to read his thought processes.  For example, it is difficult to understand why the swell diapason and viol at Pilton needed to be so loud and strident, why he perceived a need for such a powerful pedal organ even in the smallest instruments, and what led him to choose his particular tonalities in the first place.  Some electronic organs suffer from similar defects in design and effect, though in these cases one is probably right to ascribe ignorance of all matters musical to their designers. Hope-Jones, though, had an enthusiastic backing from some of the luminaries of his day and we cannot adopt such an easy ripost in his case. No doubt we all have our own answers to these and similar questions, and in one sense this is a fitting tribute to the man. He left a legacy which continues to generate perplexity tinged with admiration a century on. If his work had indeed been as worthless as some still insist he would have been forgotten long ago. To play the Pilton instrument is to experience a translation back to the time when Victorian science and engineering was burgeoning and unstoppable in its progress, and transforming every sphere of life. I found it a moving experience.

 

Later Additions

It is not surprising that the Hope-Jones organ was subsequently modified at the hands of several builders, partly to make it a more generally useful instrument but also probably to keep it working at all. It is fortunate, however, that the original instrument remains intact and clearly identifiable amongst the additions. It is not the intention of this article to follow the details of its more recent history save to say that minor work appears to have been carried out on more than one occasion by Norman and Beard, interspersed with a more major intervention in the 1940's by, it is thought, Hele of Plymouth. A sum of £800 was disbursed on this occasion according to church sources.  It is easy to assume on the basis of precedents set by other Hope-Jones organs that the action needed much attention by this date. He had a penchant for using unsuitable leather or even rubberised cloth to construct his pneumatic motors, and residual magnetism sometimes built up in his electromagnets. The potential consequences of such defects in the middle of a service cause this author to shudder! Nevertheless, the action of the Pilton organ may have survived better than many others of the marque before major renovation was called for. There is evidence that the magnets and relays may have been renewed at some fairly early stage, though the pneumatic leatherwork almost certainly survived longer and may even still exist, at least in the slider engines.

 

A curious feature was incorporated over this period which is not without usefulness and, in its way, it accords well with the attractively eccentric nature of the original instrument. In order to understand what follows, reference must first be made to the sound tunnel running from the rear of the swell box to the chancel. Made of wood and several square feet in cross section, it runs diagonally across the vestry to emerge over the door in the north wall of the chancel. Thus the choir can benefit from a degree of direct support from the swell stops which is clearly not provided by the main instrument in its case around the corner. The Musical Opinion article shows that this was built in from the start, though it is called an 'inert reflector' in the reference. The feature of interest to which I now refer is a rank of unenclosed flute pipes on a separate chest, arranged at the mouth of the tunnel and now playable from either manual. Literally a choir organ, and this is how it is designated at the console, this rank provides extended stops at 8 and 4 feet pitches. There is evidence that the pipes originally planted on this chest were of string rather than flute tone.

 

In the 1970's the organ was again restored, this time by Johnson of Cambridge. Since then it has been maintained within tight budgetary constraints by the present organist working with Mr William Isaac of Pilton who has continued an intimate association with the instrument for many years. The main feature of the instrument today resulting from this recent work is the new upperwork on all departments. To achieve this a unit chest has been placed m the main case from which mixtures to great and pedal are derived. A second smaller chest in the swell box provides a mixture to the swell. In addition, the 16 feet Gedact on the great was extended upwards to provide a second 8 feet flute, and a quiet 16 feet reed now exists on the pedal organ. Solid state transmission has replaced the earlier electro-magnetics, and thumb pistons with a capture system are also provided.  

 

Most of these additions have been made by using, in the main, stop tablets which are visually identical to those of Hope-Jones. It is worth remarking at this juncture on yet another fascinating feature of this organ in that the Hope-Jones legends on the tilting tablets were not engraved by cutting into the material. Rather, they appear to be formed by some process, probably photo-chemical, which nevertheless possesses evident longevity. This enables the newer additions to be readily identified from their conventionally engraved names. The stop list as it is today is shown in List 3.

 

 

LIST 3

PILTON PARISH CHURCH

THE ORGAN AS IT IS TODAY

 

 

Pedal Organ

 

 

 

Great Organ

 

 

 

Swell Organ

 

 

Choir Organ

(in Chancel)

 

1.

Contra Bourdon

32

 

8.

Rohr Gedact

16

 

17.

Phoneuma 

(double touch)

  8

23.

Gedackt

8

2.

Diaphonic Diapason

16

 

9.

Open Diapason

  8

 

18.

Diapason Phonon

  8

24.

Nason

4

3.

Bourdon (from Great)

16

 

10.

Rohr Flute

  8

 

19.

Viol d’Orchestre

  8

 

 

 

4.

Flute (from Great)

  8

 

11.

Hohl Flute

  8

 

20.

Quintadena

  4

 

 

 

5.

Octave Flute

  4

 

12.

Viol d’Amour

  8

 

21.

Scharff

II/ III

 

 

 

6.

Rauschquint

IV

 

 

 

 

 

22.

Cornopean

  8

 

 

 

7.

Bombarde

16

 

 

Octave

  4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sub Octave

16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13.

Principal

  4

 

 

Swell Unison Off

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14.

Fifteenth

  2

 

 

Octave

  4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15.

Mixture

II

 

 

Choir on Swell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16.

Cymbale

II

 

 

Tremulant

 

 

 

 

 

Great to Pedals

  8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swell to Pedals

  8

 

 

Swell to Great Sub

16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swell to Great Unison

  8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swell to Great Octave

  4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgments

Grateful thanks are due to Relf Clark of the British Institute of Organ Studies for his scholarly advice and assistance during the preparation of this article, and to the organist at Pilton, John Piper, who also read the manuscript and corrected some errors. A fascinating correspondence was entered into with William Isaac which, in my mind at least, enabled the organ to be convincingly integrated into the background of the community in which it stands. Those who have worked so unstintingly to maintain this historic instrument have rendered a service not only to their Church but to all who have an interest in its musical heritage. 

 

Notes 

1. British Organ Archive, communicated by Relf Clark;

2. Musical Opinion, June 1898