The Unique HiLSDON Unit Orchestral Pipe Organ

The Story of the Organ in the New Palace Theatre Organ Heritage Centre.

Henry Hilsdon Ltd, Glasgow Organ Works.

A brief history of the man and the company, who built a handful of both orchestral and unit organs for Scottish cinemas.  Regarded by many as the 'Rolls Royce' of Scottish pipe organ builders, Henry Hilsdon began life as an apprentice for Norman and Beard Ltd, during the period when Robert Hope Jones worked with that company.

The Hilsdon organ of the Edinburgh Playhouse

A complete website could be devoted to the erection, then use, of the Playhouse, Edinburgh, from 1927 to 1985, but here is a potted history of its organ.  Had it not been for the Society's interest in the instrument, the Playhouse itself would have been a long demolished dusty memory, instead of the UKs largest, vibrant live theatre.

It was Back When it All Began . . . .

The Story of the Organ in the New Palace Theatre Organ Heritage Centre and how it came to be there.

Just when things were going well, an unexpected development, and an accident (didn't!) make it happen. . . .

The Society is donated the largest theatre organ in Scotland and plans have to be completely rethought.

The existing console was enlarged and a new control system bought

Trying to tame a monster, the original 4 manual console of the Unique Hilsdon was enlarged.

The New Console

The background to the design concepts, with pictures of its manufacture and wiring, and all the reasons 'why'.

The List of Pipe Ranks and Percussions to be controlled by our new console

The full list of all pipe ranks and tonal percussions to be included in the 'Final Rank List' of the organ.  With no means of controlling them, several sections of the organ are already installed and ready to play.

Our new 5 manual console

The complete list of Stops, Couplers, Controls and Accessories fitted to our new 5 manual console.  With almost 1500 registers, it's not a short list, but the console is surprisingly compact and will be (relatively) easy to play.

Once the new console and organ are fully playing, it is the intention to add a smaller 3 manual console for teaching purposes, which will only play on ranks in the Main Organ's Solo Chamber. A third console, of four manuals, will then be added, which will have its stops arranged in classical format, to allow the classical and straight sections to be played in 'concert' or 'recital' style. However, it will not draw on any ranks from the Main Organ's Solo Chamber, allowing the classical console and 3 manual theatre console to be played in duets.

Organ Maintenance

It is important that the temperature and humidity both of the organ and the building as a whole are kept within certain limits.

To assist us in maintaining this, the building is continuously monitored electronically and alerts are automatically generated if the temperature or humidity should either fall below, or rise above predefined thresholds.

In winter when the building is not in use, it is not so important to maintain an even temperature, but excessively low or high humidity can cause problems, so we need an alert should either of these situations arise, when prompt remedial action can be taken.  We do however need to know if the temperature of the building or organ chambers, including the blower room, fall to near 'freezing' as the heating system is a pressurised hot water system, and in the event of freezing temperatures being reached, the heating system will automatically be switched on at a low level.

Whenever the organ is required to be played, the three pipe chambers and auditorium must be at the same temperatures as they were when the organ was tuned, to ensure that the different divisions are all in tune with each other.  The tremulants, or 'vibrato' will however, cover minor variations in pitch between divisions if the temperature varies by up to 2 degrees.

Humidity, that is, the level of water vapour in the air, can be problem.  If the air is too dry, as in the humidity is low, then wooden parts can shrink, causing splitting of timbers in the worst case.  If the air is too moist, then the water based hide glues used throughout the instrument can soften, causing joints to blow apart because of the high wind pressures used in some sections of the wind system, or can cause woods to warp.

Excessively high or low humidity in the auditorium would cause problems with the piano and exposed percussion units.

We are lucky, in that the design of the blowing system means that the main blowers can run for hours without affecting either the temperature or humidity of the air being blown into the organ, so the temperatures in the organ chambers do not rise when the blowers are running.

The charts below, which are 'live', give a readout of the current temperatures and humidity levels in the organ chambers.  Similar charts are available in our computerised building management system for the last hour, last 48 hours, last week, month and year.  The same information is available to us for the Green Room, Foyer and both stalls and balcony levels in the Auditorium.

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