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

Our Unique HiLSDON Unit Orchestral Pipe Organ

It was back when it all began. . . .

The initial specification for the organ of the New Palace Centre was unusual to say the least but there is both a reason and history to it.

At the beginning of winter in 1985, when Gordon Lucas and Larry McGuire started to build the organ into their semi-detached Edinburgh home, it was initially just to minimise the amount of storage space that the 'bits' were occupying.  There was no console or relay for the organ, but an old 2 manual console from a long deceased Compton Electrostatic organ from a church in Motherwell was gracing their garage however.  After the nucleous of the organ had been erected, this small console was used to control the pipe work in a very limited fashion, that is, controlling selected ranks at mainly individual pitches and with no unification.

Soon after, a three manual Compton console dating from 1938 became available, again one that had been controlling an electrostatic organ, but complete with pistons and coupler mechanisms built into the console itself.  The remote electrostatic tone generator cabinet was also purchased at the same time.  From past experience of these instruments, it was known that the key relays are almost identical to pipe organ relays, except that the 'stop' bus bar is switched at HT Valve voltages, and the back of the relay panel is covered in a network of resistors and capacitors.  These components were all duly stripped out, and over the space of three months, almost 4000 diodes were soldered in, in a pre-determined matrix pattern, to replace them.

The console (minus knee- and Pedal-board) when purchased

A fourth manual and additional stop tabs, using parts from the two manual console, were added to this console, along with some standard electro-mechanical stop switches, and a 'little bit' of diode / IC note switching for the fourth manual.  The limitation of the relays however, meant that there were initially only ten stops available per manual, plus couplers.

The console with added stops & 4th manual

The console with added stops & 4th manual

The console with added stops & 4th manual

The 4 manual console 'decorated'

As soon as they got the organ playing, they decided to either extend their home to create a music room and proper organ chambers (the organ was built into a former first floor bedroom, on the common wall to the next door house) or move to a new property, and after having already previously extended their home, they decided to search for a new property that could be suitably modified to house their pipe organ.

The console, with the
shutters & chimes behind

At this time, the organ in St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, which Larry had tuned regularly when he worked for Henry Willis & Sons, was scheduled to be replaced with a modern Rieger tracker organ.  Upon learning that the organ was to be scrapped, Larry quickly made an offer to the Cathedral to buy some of the ranks of pipes from it.  His offer was accepted and another seven ranks of pipes, some made and installed during the period when Hope Jones rebuilt the organ, were added to his collection.  One of the ranks he wanted, was the Willis French Horn from the cathedral organ's Solo division, but the organbuilders got things mixed up, and he got a rank of oboe pipes instead, and on querying the organbuilders, was told that the French Horn had 'gone in the skip', along with the rest of the Solo Tubas, which were three independent ranks at 16, 8 and 4.   Apart from the loss of such an intrinsically valuable rank, Larry was speechless when he discovered that otherwise nearly all of the 85 ranks of pipes from the famous instrument had just been thrown away for scrap.

However, their house organ played happily after being built, gradually being added to or experimented on, whilst they looked at a multitude of different buildings, none of which was really suitable.  There was one though, that would have been perfect once it had been refurbished, but it was uninhabitable and as Larry's Mum lived with them, they needed to have at least one bedroom as well as a bathroom and kitchen, all in fully usable condition, from the point of moving in.

And then a property was seen in Greenlaw which looked as if it would be ideal for them.  With three bedrooms, a library and two public rooms, it was large enough for them and their family of two dogs and a teenager.  There was also a self contained 'granny flat' which Larry's Mum thought would be perfect for her, and there was a large garden, only slightly smaller than the garden behind their Edinburgh home.

But!  Attached to the house, was what was described as a large 'studio' with a drive through garage incorporated into it.   At the rear of this studio was a large wooden shed, but the shed was in very poor condition and its roof had virtually fallen in.  The studio itself was flat roofed, but at one and a half stories high, it already 'sounded' like a nice space.  An offer was put in, which was accepted just before Christmas in 1990 with the moving date set for the 1st April, 1991.   No sooner had their offer been accepted though, when Larry began designing their new 'music room', which would retain a garage space to house their car and three motorcycles.

The studio as first seen

The garden

The rear as first seen

Upon dismantling the organ in their Edinburgh home to get it ready for the move to Greenlaw, all of the old relays which were controlling it were kept, because no one knew then that the enormous HiLSDON installed in the Playhouse was to be donated to STOPS in such a short space of time afterwards.

After moving, various tasks had to be completed around the house and garden before engaging a Project Manager to oversee the Planning Applications and subsequent building of their music room.  Objections which were lodged during the Planning Application meant that the shape of the pipe chamber, which replaced the tumbledown wooden shed, had to be given a 'hipped' roof instead of a projecting gable end.  The height of the main room was then taken up to the eaves level of the adjacent property though, and suddenly, what had been storage space above the garage, became a usable full height area, so a small gallery was incorporated into the design.

Both Larry and Gordon enjoyed playing classical music as well as theatre styles, so they designed additional spaces for organ pipes to be installed at either end of the main ceiling in the roof space, with Larry designing the internal ceiling to take advantage of the two gable ends of the room to do so.  Along with the space above what is now the Entrance Foyer (the original garage) these areas now house what has become known as the Echo and Palace Organs, with the large extension to the rear of the main room forming the stage and Main Organ's pipe chambers.  Full details of the creation of what is now the New Palace Theatre Organ Heritage Centre, with many photographs, are on our sister website

The console as it was in 1994

This is the stop list of the organ as it was when the Centre was formally opened in October 1994.

4 manuals, CC-C, 61 notes.
Concave & Radiating pedalboard, CCC-G, 32 notes
Installed in a single chamber behind the stage

Tibia Bass16
Flute Bass16 (derived)
Trumpet  8
Principal  8
Tibia  8
Cello  8
Flute  8
Accompaniment to Pedal
Great to Pedal
Orchestral to Pedal

Contra Gambatc16
Trumpet  8
Open Diapason  8
Tibia Clausa  8
Violoncelli Celestes  8 2rks
Vox Humana  8
Stopped Flute  8
Vox Humana  4
Flute  4
Flute Twelfth2,2/3
Piccolo  2
Accompaniment Octave
Orchestral to Accompaniment
Orchestral Octave to Accompaniment

Double Diapason16
Contra Tibia16
Trumpet  8
Tibia Clausa  8
Open Diapason  8
Violoncello  8 & 4
Vox Humana  8
Tibia  4
Tibia  2
Cathedral Chimes
Great Octave
Accompaniment to Great
Accompaniment Octave to Great
Orchestral Sub-octave to Great
Orchestral to Great
Orchestral Octave to Great

Contra Violtc16
Vox Humanatc16
Trumpet  8
Tibia Clausa  8
Open Diapason  8
Violoncello8 & 4
Flute Chorus8 & 4 & 2
Vox Humana  8
Tibia4 & 2
Cathedral Chimes
Orchestral Sub-octave
Orchestral Unison Off
Orchestral Octave

Contra Trumpettc16
Contra Tibia16
Vox Humanatc16
Trumpet  8
Tibia Clausa  8
Vox Humana  8
Tibia  4
Tibia  2
Orchestral Sub-octave to Solo
Orchestral to Solo
Orchestral Quint to Solo
Orchestral Tierce to Solo
Orchestral Octave to Solo

8 general thumb pistons
5 double touch thumb pistons to Accompaniment & Great
6 double touch thumb pistons to Orchestral
4 thumb pistons to Solo
3 Toe Pistons to Pedal
General Cancel thumb piston
Balanced Swell Pedal to Lower Swell Shutters
Balanced Swell Pedal to Upper Swell Shutters
spare Balanced Swell Pedal
Balanced General Crescendo Pedal

Crash Cymbal

Blower Start/Stop
Console Lights (on dimmer switch)

This is how the organ, with a few minor additions, was used until 1995/6 when sections of the Playhouse organ were begun to be added to it.  And so was begun the next chapter after 'an unexpected development'!

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