It was during the 1930s when Gebroeders Decap of Antwerp built around 20 of these very large dance organs. "England's Pride", as it is known today, was built towards the end of this era, during 1939. The original name for this organ was "Nethe", but when Mr. Hart purchased the organ, it was renamed "England's Pride" by the Belgians to mark the organ's new home in St. Albans, England.
This organ has accordion and saxophone instruments on view and a full percussion section contained inside the organ together with over 600 organ pipes. Other than playing dance music, the organ is capable of playing most types of other music - ranging from classical pieces and overtures to jazz and 'pop' tunes. The sheer physical size of "England's Pride" and the music that it produces can only be fully appreciated by visiting the Organ Theatre. The organ measures 7 metres wide; 4 metres high and 2 metres in depth. During 2008, the organ cases that contain the pipework were returned to the Decap factory for renovation.
Built by Gebroeders Decap in Belgium, this organ was then delivered to a roadhouse on the outskirts of Antwerp in 1951.
The roadhouse incorporated a room for dancing and it was there that "Jeanneke" would play from its extensive repertoire of strict-tempo dance music controlled by a coin box on the wall.
Like most dance organs, the percussion instruments are a feature on the front of the organ, together with the accordions and saxophones. Behind the organ front are 326 organ pipes and the entire organ is controlled by the cardboard book music as it passes through the keyframe.
Visitors to the Organ Theatre are invited to view the keyframe while the organ is playing and can also see into the main case that contains the organ pipes. An appeal fund was launched in 2016 to raise money to have the organ renovated at the Geobroeders Decap factory in Antwerp. Sufficient donations were received by April which enabled the restoration to start and further donations would be gratefully received to complete the restoration. Please contact us if you can help. - Thank you.
This organ is representative of the type of instrument that played in Belgian cafés. It was built in 1947 by Arthur Bursens who operated quite a small business when compared with Decap or Mortier. Some of the organs were actually built single-handedly by him.
In its café location, the organ would start playing by means of a coin box on the wall. When a coin was fed into this box it would operate a simple electrical switch that started the organ playing from an endless loop of cardboard music containing about twenty tunes. The organ would play one tune and then stop.
This is the oldest mechanical organ in the collection, built in 1923 (serial number 943) by Theofiel Mortier of Antwerp.
The organ spent its working life travelling around the towns and villages of Belgium, together with a large tent, a bar, tables and chairs and a dance floor.
This, when all set up, would be the Saturday night entertainment for that town or village and afterwards would be all packed onto trailers and moved to the next location.
Originally, when built, the organ had a top section that would have made the organ about 8 feet higher. This was lost before it came to St. Albans but, fortunately, was purely decorative and did not contain any pipework.
The number of organs that were produced by Th.Mortier in the early 1920s was phenomenal and they were building these organs, including "Four Columns", within two to three weeks!
This 3 manual, 10 rank instrument, Opus number 2183, Model 220 Special, built by the Rudolph WurliTzer Co. USA was originally installed in the Empire music hall, Edmonton, North London in 1933 and opened by American organist Don Baker. This later became the Granada, Edmonton and the WurliTzer was regularly featured by the famous Granada team of top organists.
When the Granada finally closed in 1968, the organ was purchased by Charles Hart who had been encouraged to preserve the WurliTzer by organists Vic Hammett and Bernard Worster. The organ was removed between the 2nd and 9th October 1969 and moved to St. Albans. An unusual feature of this instrument was the provision of a dedicated chamber for percussion controlled by an additional expression pedal. Restoration began in 1976 when a team led by Fred Jennings refurbished every working part. The only motivation during this long, arduous and often exhausting process, was the distant prospect of hearing this famous WurliTzer in its new surroundings at St. Albans Organ Theatre.
The WurliTzer was finally completed in the summer of 1992 and has been in regular use since that date with our monthly concerts. The cumbersome electro-mechanical switch-stack that interfaced the commands from the console with the organ chambers was replaced with a modern solid-state electronic system.
The addition of a piano, playable from the WurliTzer console, was just in time for the opening concert. Often pianos associated with theatre organ installations can be just basic 'skeleton' pianos as they are not generally seen. The installation at St. Albans boasts a superb Weber Duo-Art grand piano which was previously donated to the Society
This 3 manual, 6 rank instrument was originally installed in the Regal, Highams Park, East London in 1935. The cinema underwent conversion in 1984 and the organ was then moved to the Organ Theatre under agreement with the organ's owner. This arrangement concluded in December 2011 when the Society purchased the organ.
An inaugural concert was given by the eminent American theatre organist Dennis James on 24th May 1987.
The Spurden-Rutt organ company of Leyton, East London, built many fine church organs, but built and installed only three theatre pipe organs very late in the theatre organ era.
This one was the largest of the three and the only one with three manuals and an illuminated surround. The other two much smaller instruments were installed in The Palace, Slough (sadly later broken up for parts) and the other organ, previously in the Super Cinema, Oxford, is now in a private collection near Woking.