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David Bridgeman-Sutton discovers a curiosity in the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill


Welcome to the website of the Rieger
pipeorgan home
in the Christchurch Town Hall,
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Blenheim Palace and Elsewhere

At the fictional town of Wallingford......

 

"I had to dine with the vicar. Couldn't get out of it. He wanted to cry on my shoulder about the church organ which apparently needs vitamin shots and a top dressing with guano * (see addendum) and all sorts of things. But nothing, I told him, that a good village concert won't cure."

P.G. Wodehouse
Do Butlers Burgle Banks?


Door lock at Blenheim - copied from one on the gates of Warsaw.

At the real and very substantial Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire.....

Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill has, in the long library, a large Willis organ built 1892: (it was overhauled recently and thus is in need of neither vitamins nor guano).

In 1931 a Welte player attachment was added which, unlike many of its kind, gives no readily visible clue to its presence. Many rolls have been especially recorded on this organ by players like Lemare, Hollins and Dupre.

 

Blenheim palace organ
The organ in Belnheim Palace to-day.
Click on photo above to view larger image

building blenheim palace organ
Father Willis working on the Blenheim organ in 1892.
( From the archives of Cedric William Laycock - thanks to Dr John Laycock.)
Click on photo above to view larger image

Successive Dukes of Marlborough, owners of Blenheim, occasionally enjoyed sitting at the console and apparently "playing" to guests, to whom the secret is revealed only after applause! On one occasion cover was blown, when the Welte mechanism started prematurely while the Duke concerned was still some distance from the organ. History does not record what he said about it.

The splendid house (though "house" is hardly the right word) gardens are open to the public and every effort is made to cater for special-interest groups if prior notice is given. Details are to be found at the web-site www.blenheimpalace.com

Back to Fiction..........
The country house setting of another PG Wodehouse novel also had an organ with a player attachment. A character was engaged in one of the those usual Wodehousian nocturnal activities of puncturing hot-water bottles, purloining compromising memoirs or raiding the larder for steak-and-kidney pie. On arrival downstairs and relieved at having reached apparent safety, he felt secure enough to switch on a light. Unfortunately, he chose the wrong switch and the organ burst into life with a rousing Sousa march. Interested residents, enquiring about his identity and motives, arrived from all quarters.
Can anyone remember which book contains this incident? ~

At fictional King's Deverill - (not Bertie Wooster's favourite spot).......

The vicar "a tall, drooping man, looking as if he had been stuffed in a hurry by an incompetent taxidermist" .... seemed low spirited ...." His theme was the Church Organ, in aid of which these grim doings [a village concert] had been set afoot. The Church Organ, he told us frankly, was in a hell of bad way. For years it had been going around with holes in its socks, doing the Brother-can-you-spare-a-dime stuff, and now it was about due to hand in its dinner pail. There had been a time when he had hoped the pull-together spirit might have given it a shot in the arm, but the way it looked to him at the moment, things had gone too far, and he was prepared to bet his shirt on the bally contrivance going down the drain and staying there."

P. G. Wodehouse: The Mating Season.


A video (OSV 507) and a CD of Carol Williams at the organs of Blenheim are available: CDs of a player -organ by the US Aeolian Company in auto mode are produced by Dinmore Records (DRD 003 and DRD 003B).

ADDENDUM:
The Administrator of Blenheim Palace assures M & A that no guano was used in the recent overhaul of the organ.

Acknowlewdgements: 1 and 2: thanks to the Administrators of Blenheim Palace for the pictures and for permission for their reproduction.

Feel free to email with questions or feedback

David Bridgeman-Sutton, 2003

Other musings in Views and Reviews: