Robert Hope-Jones: The evolution of his organ actions in Britain from 1889 to 1903
by Colin Pykett
Revised: 9 August 2022
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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