Flight & Robson
Mahogany, metal, fabric (silk); carving
263 x 171.5 x 92.5 cm
Rare barrel and finger chamber organ, in mahogany case with wide cornice moulding, gilt faux pipes in five arched lancets carved with foliate scrolls and drops, the center lancet with triple-cluster pilasters and arch, with cavetto-moulded panels to the sides and lower front, pedal-controlled swell shutters behind the three center lancets, sliding five-octave keyboard below the barrel and enclosing front panels, the barrels driven by fusee spring motor with dials for speed, tune selection and number of playings of a tune with automatic stop, 59-key frame including one key for automatic end-of-tune lock, four stops at each side of the keyboard, two shifting pedals, pumping pedal and key-frame-raising dial lever for barrel changing The stops are Principal, Bass and Treble Fifteenth, Open Diapason, Bass and Treble Stopped Diapason, Dulciana and Flute. The shifting pedals together reduce to Dulciana only, while the upper reduces to Stopped Diapason, Dulciana and Principal, the lower pedal to Open Diapason, Dulciana, Flute and Fifteenth. Although the pumping pedal is still present, air to the reservoir now comes from an electric blower. There was originally also a hand lever at the left-hand side for pumping. The original feeders have been removed. Four of the six barrels (which measure 40¾ x 8½ in. (102 x 21.5cm) are pinned for eight tunes, the other two being spirally pinned for a single tune (one is the Hailstone Chorus). Reference to the Prince Regent on the engraved tune indicator dial places the organ in the 1810-20 decade; Flight & Robson were at 101 St. Martin's Lane from 1806 until the bankruptcy sale in 1832. The organ was, for about 90 years, in the library of Gosfield Hall, near Braintree in Essex, having been moved there by Samuel Courtauld in 1857 from nearby Folley Hall. The contents of Gosfield Hall were sold in 1946 and the organ was then installed in Kinoulton Church, near Nottingham. It was used purely as a finger organ and regular tuning notes from Henry Willis & Sons Ltd survive for the period 1979-1994. It has since been restored to its original purpose as a domestic barrel organ, the mechanism having been retained but unused for over half a century. The case and the mechanism are both in remarkably original condition. Benjamin Flight's business was founded in 1770 and barrel organs were advertised from an early date; he is often thought of as the father of the English church barrel organ. The firm saw various changes of partner, name and address before becoming Flight & Robson in about 1805 and moving to St. Martin's Lane in 1806. Benjamin Flight, Snr. had died in 1802 and the partnership was now between his son, also Benjamin, and Joseph Robson. There followed the construction of a magnificent combined finger and barrel organ for the Earl of Kirkwall. The Prince Regent was impressed by this and, subsequently, became patron of Flight & Robson's project to build an even more impressive instrument, which was completed in 1817 and named the Apollonicon. Up to five organists could play this simultaneously, or by three barrels, and evening performances were a feature of fashionable entertainment for several years, but by the 1830s, the recitals were confined to barrel pieces augmented by solo performances by the resident organist, Mr. Purkis. Contemporary critics berated his performance, no less than his choice of ephemeral music. The Flight & Robson partnership ended with the sale of 1832; the business at 101 St. Martin's Lane was acquired and carried on by T.J.F. Robson (Joseph's son) until his death in 1876, while Benjamin Flight Jnr. and his son, John, continued to manufacture church and chamber barrel organs from an address off the Strand, London, before returning to a new address in St. Martin's Lane in 1849. Benjamin Jnr. had died in 1847, but John carried on until 1887 and died three years later.