1935 Wurlitzer pipe organ of the Blackpool Tower Ballroom

In winter of 2024, as part of our maintenance schedule for the 1935 Wurlitzer pipe organ of the Tower Ballroom Blackpool, we accomplished quite a major piece of restoration. The organ at the Tower is played several hours per day during the season, and played just about every day that the ballroom is open to the public. This means any access for maintenance is strictly limited to the month of January each year.

 

The bellows (regulator) leather in the organ dates from a period when sheepskin had a specific tanning method which, unfortunately, shortened the useful life of the leather. Therefore, the work we undertook was based around the need to re-leather the four wind regulators of the Main chamber (the organ has three chambers, hidden behind the cross-hatch lattice plasterwork directly above the stage in the Ballroom). Several other small projects then took place in conjunction with this: because access in this chamber is particularly tight, we undertook to renew the primary valves of all of the manual chests in that chamber whilst the regulators were not in place. That’s more than 600 valves. Along with this work, we restored the two off-note chests of the 16’ Tuba pipes. This needed doing for two reasons: the felt used in the last rebuilding of these chests was not adequate, and the notes had a loud ‘clack’ as each note came on; and secondly…. It was impossible to remove the regulators from the chamber without removing these pipes and chests, so it seemed like the only sensible course of action to restore these, as they would be out anyway.

 

The organ was substantially overhauled at the end of the 1970s, and beginning of the 80’s, working in only winter break each year. The entire project was spread over four years. J.W. Walker did the work, and it was far-reaching. The electro-pneumatic relay was replaced with a SSL Diode matrix system, and all of the leather in the organ was replaced. Much the restoration work of this era by most organ builders was not as sympathetic as we might be today; much of the leather in the organ has been replaced with rubber cloth of sorts (still working reasonably well), and most leather gasket material has been replaced with cork, in typical Walker style of the time. Almost all of the organ’s magnets were also renewed; unfortunately with units we cannot get replacements, or spares, for. Ironically, Wurlitzer replacement magnets are available readily nowadays.

 

The restoration work we have carried out is along Wurlitzer lines, with regulators leathered by David Roberts organ builders in Seaham. He has experience of doing these units, and has applied the necessary webbing tapes and internal gussets as was Wurlitzer practice. The new valves we made up for the chests are all assembled as Wurlitzer did. Unfortunately, we did not have time to replace the magnets for Wurlitzer units, as the apertures in the timber, in which the magnets fit, have been enlarged to take the replacement magnets, and so, a little more work than we had time for is required to return those chests to being completely restored.

 

The organ was playing again in time for the winter weekend opening in February.