Salomons Campus, Canterbury Christ Church University, is home to a unique organ which has recently been restored to its full playing glory. Built in 1914 for Sir David Lionel Salomons, a tireless inventor and innovator of the late Victorian and Edwardian era, the organ fell into disuse after his death in 1925.
Sir David wrote of the organ in 1923: "This is a remarkable instrument containing many thousands of valves and pipes, and it took many years to bring it to its present perfection. Only one manufacturer can produce such an organ, and the makers say that the complication is such that a similar one can never be attempted."
The instrument is a Welte Philharmonic reproducing pipe organ, capable not only of being played in the conventional manner, but also of faithfully reproducing the live performances of famous organists of the day. It does this using a sophisticated paper roll pneumatic mechanism similar to that used on player pianos. To add to its complexity, the model ordered by Sir David had to be able to play his existing collection of Orchestrion organ rolls as well as those of the then new Philharmonic roll format.
Another of its remarkable features is the echo organ located in a gallery at the opposite end of the Science theatre to the main organ. So called because it was where Sir David gave his scientific lectures and demonstrations, the Science theatre was also a place for music making, offering a near perfect acoustic for the remarkable Welte Philharmonic Organ. Statistically, it possesses in excess of 2000 tuned pipes, plus numerous other instruments including drums, xylophone and tubular bells, all worked pneumatically via well over three kilometres of intricate pipe work.
Following Sir David's death, the occasions on which the organ was played became increasingly rare. In 1938 the house, Broomhill, and its extensive grounds were given to Kent County Council by his last surviving daughter, Vera. After the 1939-45 war it passed to the Department of Health and, in 1996, it became part of what was then Canterbury Christ Church College, at which time it became known as Salomons.
For all these years the organ had remained unplayed. By the time the University acquired Salomons it was clear that there was extensive deterioration in both the mechanism and the pipe work of the long neglected instrument. The German company which built it, Welte and Söhne of Freiburg, no longer existed, its premises having been totally destroyed in the war years. The opportunity to restore the organ came about following a successful application by the University to the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Fund agreed to contribute £316,425 - 75% of the cost of the restoration, the University providing the balance.
The first task facing Capital Projects Manager at Salomons, David Cranfield, was to find a company prepared to take on the project. He began researching the small and highly specialised world of organ builders and restorers.
"The size and complexity of this Welte organ and its ability to play two types of organ roll including the early 'Orchestrion' type, makes it quite unique," David explained. "When the project went out to tender it was soon clear that Mander Organs of Bethnal Green was one of the few companies able to undertake the work."
Mander sub-contracted restoration of the blower mechanisms to a Farnborough based firm of specialists, while the intricate organ roll mechanisms were also sub-contracted to restorers A.C. Pilmer of York. A.C. Pilmer in turn sought assistance from a German company based in Mosel.
Such was the complexity of the project, that although work began in January 2003, the restoration of the organ was not fully completed until September 2006.
Salomons is part of Canterbury Christ Church University (Registered Number 4793659)
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