History of the Compton

The Penistone Cinema Organ Trust

Line drawing of the Compton Organ

The installation at Penistone

The parts of the Compton remained in storage all over South Yorkshire until 1999, when after successful negotiations with Penistone Town Council; the organ began a new and exciting chapter in its history. 
The installation of over seven tons of 1930s cinema organ is no mean feat. During the building alterations several volunteers had been busy cleaning and sorting all the various parts of the instrument. A workshop area under the auditorium floor was cleared, so that the thousands of parts could be checked and sorted accordingly.
Although the organ had been refurbished in Birmingham during the 1950S and had received new leatherwork, it was apparent that the internal parts of the organ had never been cleaned. While in Birmingham, the Blower inlet had been housed in a wall directly overlooking New Street railway station; Most of the black soot produced by the steam locomotives had been sucked through the blower and had settled in the unit chests. These had to be stripped and cleaned because the smallest amount of dirt in the wrong place would cause the organ's pipes to sound when not required.

Crane lowers the console off lorry

Crane lowers the console off lorry

The stripped console arrives at Penistone

The console stripped down to the bare wood

By The end of April the organ was finally ready to be reassembled. This began with the installation of the heavy relay stack, which connects the console to the hundreds of pipes, and which was transported to the cinema by Fielding's Construction. Plans had been carefully drawn to show where the various parts were to be filled in file chambers and, piece by piece, each component was installed. The bass pipes were the first item to be fitted into the concrete trough sunk into the chamber floor. These were followed by the ground frames, on which the pipe chests would be mounted. Gradually the organ parts began to take shape in their rightful places in the organ chambers.


By May 1999, most of the unit and off-note chests were in place and the endless task of wiring these began. Because of current safety standards, the original cotton-covered wire had to he replaced with modern plastic insulated cable and all the original chest wiring discarded. Work continued throughout the summer months, which included the siting and installation of the blower plant. Following the organ's removal from Oswestry, one of the bearing housings, on the Blower was found to be cracked and had actually split in halt' when the blower was dismantled. Although the rest of the blower unit was in good condition, it was obvious that it would not be able to run without a replacement. A local foundry was kind enough to cast another housing, using the original one as a pattern. The rough casting now required machining to an exact specification and advice was sought from the local Firm David Brown (Pumps) Ltd, as to the best method of achieving this. David Brown Ltd., volunteered to do this as their contribution to the project.

The old dressing rooms being converted into pipe chambers

The standard of workmanship carried out on the new casting was astounding. The casting was brought to the cinema, together with the original bearing and a new back plate manufactured by David Brown Ltd., and attached to the Blower. By September the Blower was running for the first time in Five years, and the technical team were extremely pleased with the results.
Space in the organ chambers was at a premium by the autumn. The unit chests had been wired to the Relays, all the bass pipes were in place and repainting of the console had begun.

The pipe chamber  

The toy counter

 Lowering the blower into position

Re-wiring the wind chests 

Over the years, the console had been painted different colours. The 1ayers of paint had been completely stripped from the console prior to its delivery to Penistone and for the first time since its construction in 1937 it was possible to see the craftsmanship of the solid oak shell. It seemed sacrilege to paint over the console’s superb wood grain but it was agreed that the only true livery for a cinema organ console was white and gold.
Work began on applying the primer and undercoat to the console, sanding down each coat before applying the next. A superb job was being made of the console refurbishment and it now time to obtain the opinion of a professional painter who had volunteered to apply the final coats of paint. After examining the paintwork, he commented that the finish on the undercoat was too good and that it would have to be roughened slightly before any final coats could be applied!

The console gets it's first undercoat of paint

The pedalboard being painted

 Inspecting the undercoat

Once the wind supplies had been fixed, it was possible to fill the whole organ full of wind. The bower was turned on and the technical team were greeted by the very unmusical sound of all the pipes sounding at once. During its years in storage, some of the leather valves inside the chests had stiffened and stuck in the 'on' position. Once an adjustment method for the valves had been devised, the offending sounds were rectified one by one. Surprisingly the wind trunks did not have any leaks and once the chest magnets had been adjusted the amount of wind noise in the chambers became minimal.

The team reposition the console

The team reposition the console

 It was now possible to test the wiring from the termination board and adjust or replace any dead magnets. The Compton had finally made its first sounds in its new home and all those present were satisfied with the results. It was not possible to play the organ at this point, as this required the final coat of paint before the keys, which had been removed for cleaning and re-polishing could be replaced. The pedal board, which had also been totally stripped and refurbished could now be re-assembled. What a magnificent sight it looked, with the new stained pedals in place. Slowly and carefully, the hundreds of wires contained in the armoured umbilical cable trailing from the console could now be connected. This delicate task was completed in only a few short weeks, which meant that the organ was now fully playable. Naturally, some adjustments were required as the numerous moving parts of the organ began to settle, and these were monitored as the organ was played.

Due to the new layout of the organ chambers at Penistone, it was necessary for some of the pipes to be mitred. In layman's terms, some of the pipes were too long for the available height and were cut and bent by Duncan Booth, a pipe specialist from Leeds. Because of the instrument's prolonged storage, the pipes were thoroughly checked and regulated, so that each one produced just the right sound and attack. This task was completed by Chris Booth, (no relation) from Spalding, who is regarded as one of this country's finest cinema organ specialists.

The unfinished console on a trolley

The main console cable

After a period of nearly six years, the hard work and dedication of Kevin Grunill and the rest of the volunteers had finally paid off and the small market town of Penistone can now be proud to be preserving such an important part of our musical heritage.