Letters to the Editor

Sir, - Reference Harry Coles' letter in the February 2002 KCOA Journal, it might amuse you to hear that every clock in the John Compton (North Acton) factory was controlled by a Frank Hope-Jones Synchronome clock.  A long-case pendulum clock which lived on the wall in my Boss's office and was powered by a vast dry battery, to drive all the repeater clocks throughout the factory. 

Because the Master clock controlled every aspect of factory time keeping, my Boss, Leslie Bourne, was most concerned that the battery should never run down, so guess who was (for a while) required to check the battery voltage every month and check the time, against the BBC, every week?    

We did have occasional small time keeping problems, which we resolved by placing coins on top of the pendulum in the traditional manner.  It always fascinated me to watch our time keeping adjustments on the Master clock being followed by every other clock in the factory. There was only one problem, the name Hope-Jones was never mentioned in the factory!    

Apparently, when John was building up the Company in Nottingham before the first world war, Robert Hope-Jones tried to involve him in various organ building projects, but John would have none of it.  Although they both agreed that electric action was the way to go, they did not agree on the best way to go about it and there was even wider disagreement, when they came to discus tonal architecture.    

Robert Hope-Jones - already a church organist - had started his working life as a Post Office Telephone Engineer and soon realised that  "electricity" could be used to connect the console keys to the rest of the organ.  When I first saw Wurlitzer relays I was astonished, their wiring was exactly the same as the wiring inside a telephone switchboard.

After founding his own Organ Building Company, Hope-Jones had to sub-contract much of the work but, although his sub-contractors were happy to accept his work, they often ignored his design instructions. Because they knew nothing about electricity, their assemblies often would not work and, eventually, he ran out of sub-contractors! 

And that was just the beginning of his problems. There were frequent complaints that his organs "did not work", which unfortunately, were true. Of necessity, most of his organs acquired their electricity from accumulators and, in those days, few people knew how, or how often, to recharge the accumulators. With so many problems, it is no surprise that he left for America, where he met Rudolph Wurlitzer, when he was actively looking for a new type of organ to provide background music for the rapidly growing silent movie market.  The Hope-Jones Unit Organ, with its detached console, smooth tone and ability to control "effects" was just what he wanted!

But Robert Hope-Jones was not "nice".  His opinionated and tactless manner antagonised almost everyone.  While showing visitors around the Wurlitzer factory, he boasted that he personally "had voiced those pipes". Finally, after many arguments, Rudolph Wurlitzer banned him from the factory, but kept him under Contract to stop him working anywhere else.    

The Wurlitzer Console was Robert's original design.  As an Apprentice, I was shown a pre-First World War Hope-Jones Console, hidden in a vestry in North London. Even without the cream and gold decoration, the shape and layout were unmistakable. Apparently a conventional console replaced it, soon after a local cinema opened, complete with Wurlitzer!

Brian Wigglesworth, Wateringbury, Kent

Percy Buck…..

Sir, — It was, no doubt, a typographical error, but members may have noticed that Percy Buck was not born in 1839, as recorded in Harry Coles’ letter, in our February 2002 Journal, but in 1871. The poor chap would have had to wait until he was 96 years old to be knighted in 1935.

Brian Moore, Leeds, Kent

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