Portslade Town Hall


Various origins: Regal, Ilford, Castle, Merthyr Tydfil, Queen’s and Cricklewood cinemas

3 Manuals – 18 Ranks

The story of the installation of this organ began in the 1980s, when David Houlgate and Michael Maine jointly purchased a nine rank Christie organ that had formerly been in the Queen’s Cinema, Cricklewood. By the time they found it, it was languishing unplayed and unloved in a church in Eastbourne Sussex. They had a vague idea of installing it as a residence organ but, fortunately for their neighbours, had little time at that stage to do the work. A year or so later, David heard that a nine rank Compton organ formerly in the Regal [ ABC] Cinema in Ilford and then in the Finchley Methodist Church was for sale. After visiting it, the decision was made to purchase the organ, complete with all the traps [drums etc.] and the console, which the Christie lacked.

The following year, a journey to a London firm of organ builders to obtain a Vox Humana rank ended with the acquisition of a ten rank Christie organ that had been in store ever since its removal in 1954 from the Castle Cinema in Mertha Tydfil. It had been in store longer than the time it had spent in the Cinema. With the massive collection of pipework gathering together, the object became clear. In order [a] to find space in which to install them as a complete organ, using the best of all three and [b] to give as many people as much pleasure as possible, a public, rather than a home installation was the answer. A search for a building suitable to house the organ was started. Several churches expressed interest, but it was to be the Portslade Town Hall, which proved an ideal site for the installation of the organ.

The family who founded the Ronuk Polish Company, originally built Portslade Town Hall in the 1920s as a recreation hall for the employees of the firm. The main hall contains many attractive features and is furnished with a gallery at either end. The South end, over a shallow stage, originally contained a small classical organ.

~On agreement with the Brighton and Hove City Council that the theatre organ could be installed at this venue, the original organ was removed and the handsome oak case was moved forward to the front of the gallery to mask the new chambers. David Houlgate commenced the mammoth task of installation with the assistance of a devoted band of enthusiasts in May 1987.
It was decided to have three chambers for the organ – Main, Solo and Percussion, with the shutter area as large as possible so that the egress of the tone should not be impaired in any way. All the pipework and traps were installed in the three chambers across the whole width of the hall over the stage area, on three levels, using the Merthyr Tydfill Christie framework with hardly any alteration and the volume is controlled by five sets of shutters. There are two sets of Compton shutters behind blue curtains either side of the stage area, two sets of Christie shutters behind the oak screen of false pipework and the fifth set in the centre of the screen, behind the blue curtains. The wind supply for the organ is the original five-stage blower installed with the organ at the Regal [ ABC] Ilford in 1937, including the original motor, which is still in use. A second five-stage blower has been added to work in tandem with the original blower. The action between the console and the organ chambers above the stage is part electric, using the electric action originally designed and installed with the Compton and part electronic action designed by David Houlgate. In due course the whole organ will operate from the electronic system, at which time the Compton electric action will be removed.

The 1937 Console, originally installed with an illuminated jellymould surround, was refurbished and embellished during 1999 and a replacement organ stool acquired. The organ was opened in May 1988, just a year after work commenced on the installation, when some ten ranks of pipes together with most of the traps were working. Further ranks of pipes, some imported from America, have come on wind and there are now twenty ranks playable from the Console. There are still some ranks installed but not yet on wind.