Mechanical musical instruments

Author Adrian Vaughan

Mechanical musical organs were the jukeboxes and hi-fi systems of their day, playing all the popular songs of the time in dancehalls, Cafes and fairgrounds all over Europe. In essence they were an early basic version of a computer processing a binary code of holes and blanks held on card books or paper rolls, a sort of storage disc of information if you like. The main driving wheel on the organ worked the bellows to produce the air needed to play the instrument, while at the same time driving what is called the key frame. The key frame is the part where the books or rolls of different music are fed into and also where the air is fed into in order to be processed, on or off, before being sent to the required instrument to be played at the right time. If the book is fed in the correct way round and the arranger has cut all the holes in the right places the end result should be pleasing sound created by an automated orchestra.

Over the years Claude and Joyce built up a collection of fairground and dancehall organs, some of which are unique examples. It was when Claude was attending the Andover Steam rally in 1961 that he saw Bert George’s 46 key Chiappa organ and decided there and then that he would one day like to own one. It wasn’t until 1964 though that Claude found and purchased his 46 key Limmonaire ‘The Silver Cherub’, this organ is still in the collection to this day and recently has undergone an extensive overhaul to restore it to its former glory.

Claude and Joyce’s fair organs were often taken round to local events in converted vans and lorry bodies, along with one of Claude’s showman’s traction engines. Unfortunately some of the instruments suffered from their inadequate storage but Joyce developed the organ museum at Tinkers Park with Kevin Meayers in order to better house and display the collection, this will be open on the 27th September on our open day. Within this building are also examples of other mechanical instruments such as music boxes and pianola’s. Purpose made trailers were purchased so a couple of the organs could still be taken to shows to be exhibited to a wider audience and an example of a Gavioli organ, built in 1897, which Joyce purchased in 1995 is here today for you see and listen to.

If you have a musical ear or just like the sound of these wonderful old machines then perhaps you may be interested in getting involved by helping to play and exhibit them.

Dance organs