Portslade Theatre Organ

The Portslade Theatre Organ is installed in the Portslade Town Hall, Victoria Road, Portslade, Sussex. UK.

The story of the installation of this organ began in the 1980s when David Houlgate and Michael Maine jointly purchased a nine rank Christie organ that had formerly been in the Queen's Cinema, Cricklewood, London; by the time they found it, it was languishing in a church in Eastbourne, UK. They had a vague idea of installing it as a residence organ, but fortunately for their neighbours, had little time at that stage to do the work.

A year or so later, David heard that a nine rank Compton organ formerly in the Regal (ABC) Cinema in Ilford, and then in Finchley Methodist Church, London, was for sale. After visiting it, the decision was made to purchase the organ, complete with all traps, and the console, which the Christie lacked.

Move on another year, and a journey to a London firm of organ builders to obtain a Vox Humana rank, ended with the acquisition of a ten rank Christie organ which had been in store ever since its removal in 1954 from the Castle Cinema in Merthyr Tydfil. It had been in store longer than the time it had spent in the cinema!

A brief history of the three organs

With the massive collection of pipework gathered together, the object became clear. In order (a) to find space to install them as a mighty organ, using the best of all three, and (b) to give as many people as much pleasure as possible, a public, rather than a home installation was the answer. A search for a building suitable to house the organ was started. Several churches expressed interest, but it was the suggestion of Councillor Baron Sanders of Hove, that the possible use of the King Alfred Ballroom was explored. It was almost as a fortuitous afterthought that Portslade Town Hall was then suggested, and indeed this has proved an ideal site for the installation of the organ.

Portslade Town Hall was originally built in the 1920s as a recreation hall for the employees of the Ronuk Polish factory, by the family who founded the firm. The main hall contains many attractive features such as oak panelling and a large bay window. The Hall is furnished with a gallery at either end, the south one containing the organ, having a shallow stage underneath. When it was agreed with Hove Borough Council to install a theatre organ in the hall, the original organ was removed, and the handsome oak case was moved forward to mask the new chambers.

David Houlgate commenced the mammoth task of installation with the assistance of a devoted band of enthusiasts in May 1987. It was decided to have three chambers for the organ - Main, Solo and Percussion, with the shutter (swell shade) area as large as possible, so that the egress of tone should not be impaired in any way. All of the pipework and traps are installed in the three chambers across the whole width of the hall over the stage area, on three levels, using the Merthyr Tydfil Christie framework with hardly any alteration, and the volume of sound is controlled by five sets of shutters. Two sets of shutters (Compton) behind curtains either side of the stage. Two sets (Christie) behind a screen and false pipework over the stage, and one set for the traps behind curtains in the centre of the screen.

At the time of the first concert in May 1988, some ten ranks of pipes together with most of the traps, were working. Further ranks of pipes were imported from America, and there are now twenty ranks of pipes on wind and playable from the current console, with further ranks installed in the chambers, but not yet connected.

The wind supply for the organ is the original five stage blower installed with the organ at the Regal (ABC) Ilford in 1937, including the original motor which is still in use. A second five stage blower has been added to work in tandem with the original blower. This should supply enough wind for the extra ranks of pipes yet to be conncected.

The action between the console and the organ chambers above the stage is part electric, using the electric action installed with the Compton, and part electronic action designed by David Houlgate. This requires some 700 wires between the console and the organ loft. All of the action, over a period of time, will be converted to the electronic action design by David, at which time the 1937 electric action will become redundant, and will be removed. This will considerably reduce the number od wires between console and pipes.

A wooden WurliTzer Tibia rank is currently being installed, and this should be followed by a Marimba, as time permits, along with the action conversion and other necessary maintenance.

Specification of the current installation

Theatre Organs home page