Wurlitzer theatre organs in the United Kingdom

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Wurlitzer at the Musical Museum, Brentford

A number of Wurlitzer theatre organs were imported and installed in the United Kingdom in the period from 1925 to just before the Second World War (1939–45).

The first Wurlitzer theatre organ shipped to the UK was dispatched on 1 December 1924, and shipped in via Southampton Docks. A very small, six-rank instrument, it was installed at the Picture House, Walsall, Staffordshire, where it opened on 26 January 1925. After a period in private ownership in Sedgley, also in Staffordshire, during the mid-1950s, it is now installed and operational in the Congregational Church in Beer, Devon.[1][2] The Beer Wurlitzer gives regular concerts, more details of which can be found on Friends of Beer Wurlitzer's website.

The second Wurlitzer theatre organ to be opened in Great Britain was at the Palace Cinema in Tottenham, North London. This instrument was inaugurated on 6 April 1925. Like the Beer Wurlitzer it was a 2-manual, 6-rank instrument. This organ is now located at Rye College in East Sussex.

The Trocadero Elephant and Castle Wurlitzer was the largest organ ever shipped to the UK, installed in 1930 for the grand opening of the 3,400-seater cinema.[3]

The Blackpool Opera House organ of 1939, designed by Horace Finch, was the last new Wurlitzer to be installed in the UK. The Granada, Kingston also received a Wurlitzer in or around 1939, but most of this came from an earlier installation in Edinburgh. This was the last Wurlitzer installation to be opened, with Reginald Dixon at the console.[citation needed]

Wurlitzers made regular radio broadcasts via the BBC, becoming stars themselves beside their organists. The more famous of these organs were at the Empire Cinema, London, and the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool, the latterly most regularly played by Reginald Dixon creating what became known as the "Blackpool sound".[4]

Many Wurlitzer organs have survived and are installed in private homes, town halls, concert halls and ballrooms throughout the country. The Cinema Organ Society has an extensive list of British cinema organs.[5]

List of Wurlitzers in the United Kingdom[edit]

List of Wurlitzer Organs in the United Kingdom
Style Date installed Installation location Size (Manual/Rank) Current status Current location Notes Website
956, Style D 1924 Picture House, Walsall Operational Beer, Devon First Wurlitzer shipped to the UK 2 Manual, 6 Rank instrument bought and installed for around £3,900. Shipped via Southampton Docks, opened end of January 1925 by Jack Courtnay. In run-up to World War 2, resident organist became Wilfred Gregory. Sold to Allan Hickling post-war, he installed it into Dormston House in Sedgely, Staffordshire. Deciding he wanted something bigger, he sold it to Arthur Thorn of Beer, Devon, who installed it in the local Congregational Church. The percussions and "toy counter" division were removed and re-cycled when the organ was installed in the church, since it was not considered necessary for church purposes. Since 2008 money has been raised to replace the missing percussion items and novelty effects and take the Beer Wurlitzer back to its former glory. The Beer Wurlitzer is in regular use for concerts and shows throughout the year[1][2]
1925 Palace Cinema in Tottenham, North London Operational Rye College, Rye, East Sussex Second Wurlitzer installed in the UK. The same model as the Beer Wurlitzer, first played by organist Jack Courtnay on 6 April 1925. Sold to Rye College in 1957, with the console installed sideways-on a balcony above the school hall. In recent years "Friends of Rye Wurlitzer" have raised funds to move the organ's console onto its own lift rising from beneath the stage[6]
1929 Tower Ballroom, Blackpool Operational Assembly Hall, Worthing, West Sussex Largest Wurlitzer organ console in Europe Owned by the National Organ Trust. Upgraded to an electric air pump system, programmable pre-sets, and a full pipe system
1929 Regal Cinema, Kingston upon Thames
Operational Musical Museum, Brentford In regular use for museum tours and for concerts. The organ is connected to a very rare Wurlitzer Automatic Roll Playing Cabinet, enabling the performances of many American Theatre Organists of the 1920s to be faithfully recreated [1]
1930 Trocadero cinema, Elephant and Castle, London Troxy Cinema- corporate venue hire Largest ever Wurlitzer shipped to the UK Installed in 1930 for the grand opening of the 3,400-seater cinema[3]
Gaumont State Cinema, Kilburn, London Operational Still in situ Largest functioning Wurlitzer in a British cinema Four-manuals[7]
Granada Theatre, Greenford
Operational Scarborough Fair Collection[8] Used both for tea dances and regular concerts. English Horn, Tuba, Diapason, Tibia Clausa, Saxophone, Gamba, Gamba Celeste and Flute
Granada Theatre, Mansfield
Operational Scarborough Fair Collection[8] Used both for tea dances and regular concerts. Style 'D' Trumpet, Diapason, Tibia Clausa, Clarinet, Violin, Violin Celeste, Vox Humana and Flute
Granada cinema, Tooting Operational Still in Situ After undergoing a lengthy restoration, played in public for the first time in 33 years[9]
Model F 1928 Regent cinema, Dudley
Operational Peterborough Regional College The task to install the Wurlitzer in the college and to restore it to first class condition was completed in March, 1981, when the opening concert was performed by John Mann. The Organ Crew as they were known spent many hundreds of hours preparing for this event. It is a testimony to the dedication of the Crew and other helpers that most of them are still associated with the Society today - 20 years later [10]
2081, 200 Special 1929 City Cinema, Leicester Operational Villa Marina Arcade, Douglas, Isle of Man Signed out from the factory at Tonawanda on 25 November 1929, it was designed for the Marlborough Cinema in Holloway, London. Thought too small on arrival in UK, it was installed in the smaller City Cinema in Leicester, where it remained until 1957. In storage from 1957, bought privately by Councillor Allan Hickling to replace the Walsall organ, and latterly installed in Dormstone House, Sedgely, Staffordshire. Here it became well known, played by organist Brian Sharp on BBC Radio 2 programme The Organist Entertains. Acquired by the Isle of Man Government in 1989, it became popular entertaining tourists at Summerland until its closure in 2004. The Wurlitzer has now been fully restored by organist Len Rawle, installed in the Villa Marina complex[11][12][13]
Paramount, Leeds 3/19 Operational Thursford Collection, Norfolk
Paramount, Manchester 4/20 Operational Town Hall, Stockport, Cheshire Adopted by the Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust, who held monthly Sunday concerts, from which the produced 24 LPs to create funds to preserve the instrument. After closure and a period in storage, installed in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, where it remained until 1997. After the FTH was proposed for redevel, the instrument was again placed in storage from 1997. Installed in the Great Hall of Stockport Town Hall, opened in November 1999[14]
Gaumont, Manchester 4/14 Plays Daily via computor Folly Farm, Pembrokeshire After closure and proposed demolition of the Gaumont from 27 January 1974, the organ was bought by the Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust. Loaned to Granada Studios, it was installed in the Baronial Hall, featuring during the studio tours on a daily basis. After closure of the tour, it was placed in storage for eight years, before sale to Paul Kirner of Compton Lodge Sapcote, who placed it on a ten-year loan to Folly Farm, where it started operations in 2008.[14]
Trocadero Theatre, Liverpool 2/6 Operational LTOT Theatre Organ Heritage Centre, Peel Green, Eccles Moved to the Gaumont, Dingle, Liverpool in 1937. After closure, purchased by a private individual and subsequently purchased by Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust in 2003. Now installed in the Theatre Organ Heritage Centre, Peel Green, Eccles.[14]
1933 Empire Music Hall, Edmonton, North London Operational St Albans Organ Theatre[15] Three-manual, ten-rank instrument, opened by American organist Don Baker, then regularly featured by the famous Granada team of top organists. Restored in 1992, now provides monthly concert demonstrations. An unusual feature of this instrument is the provision of a dedicated chamber for percussion, controlled by an additional expression pedal. The installation at St. Albans includes a Weber Duo-Art grand piano playable from the Wurlitzer console
1934 Tower Ballroom, Blackpool
Operational Still in Situ After Reginald Dixon became resident in 1930, he quickly realised that the existing instrument was too weak for the ballroom. After lobbying management, they agreed the installtion of a new instrument, designed by Dixon himself. Known as the "Wonder Wurlitzer", it became operational from early 1935. Wurlitizer presented Dixon with a gold watch after the first performance, and its regular performances on the BBC became known as the "Blackpool sound". The same basic instrument installation still exists in the ballroom today, with a few modern updates[4]
1934 Unknown cinema, United States 3/8 Operational Town Hall, Burton-upon-Trent Originally installed ib a cinema in the United States, it moved to the Forum cinema in Wythenshawe, Manchester, and opened by Kevin Buckley. On its closure, stored, then installed in the Town Hall, Burton-upon-Trent, where it is still in operation. Original Clarinet rank replaced by Conacher-built Trumpet. Recent additions are Sub-Octave, Octave, Great to Solo, and Quint and Sub-Tierce Great to Solo Couplers with digital piano available on pedals and manuals.
1937 Gaumont, Oldham, Lancashire Operational Victoria Hall, Saltaire Opened on 14 June 1937, with Jack Fenner at the console. Bought by the Cinema Organ Society after the Gaumont closed on 2 December 1961, it was installed four years later at Dale Hall in Hampsthwaite near Harrogate, West Riding of Yorkshire, opening on 26 February 1966. Removed on 3 December 1988, it was then installed for a short time at the Trinity Arts Centre, Pudsey, Leeds, where it was opened on 30 June 1991. Removed in December 1994, it moved to the Ritz Ballroom in Brighouse, a former cinema, in 1995. Removed in 2006, it was placed in storage until installed in the GradeII* listed Victorian Hall in Saltaire.[16]
1937 Granada Cinema, Woolwich, South London 3/9 Operational Neaudd Pendre, Tywyn, Gwynedd, North Wales Opened in 1937 by Reginal Dixon. Bought by John Smallwood of Tywyn, who arranged its permanent loan to the people of the town through the Tywyn Town Council[17]
1939 Opera House Theatre, Blackpool 3/13 Operational Still in Situ The last new commissioned Wurlitzer installed in the UKDesigned by Horace Finch
1939 Granada cinema, Kingston upon Thames Originally[when?] installed in the Picture House Cinema, Edinburgh. This was a Gaumont Theatre. The original Model F format was altered and enlarged to 10 ranks and three manuals Manual III played percussion and two pipe ranks. Last Wurlitzer installation to be opened; Reginald Dixon was at the console
2007 East Sussex National Hotel, Uckfield, East Sussex Operational
In Situ
Assembled from imported second hand parts from the United States. Claimed to be the largest Wurlitzer in Europe
1937? Stockport? Operational Pollokshaws Burgh Hall near Glasgow Moved from Clyebank Town Hallin 2008

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Friends of Beer Wurlitzer. "The Beer Wurlitzer". beerwurlitzer.org.uk. Retrieved 2016-07-25. 
  2. ^ a b "Devon History Society: The Beer Wurlitzer". devonhistorysociety.org.uk. Retrieved 2016-07-25. 
  3. ^ a b The Cinema Organ Society Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ a b "BLACKPOOL TOWER BALLROOM WURLITZER". girdwood.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-07-25. 
  5. ^ "The Cinema Organ Society". Cinema-organs.org.uk. Retrieved 2009-10-14. 
  6. ^ "The Rye Wurlitzer". Geocities.com. Archived from the original on 2013-05-17. Retrieved 2009-10-14. 
  7. ^ Juliette Soester, Willesden Local History Society (September 2000). "The Gaumont State Cinema". Brent Heritage. Retrieved 2007-11-10. 
  8. ^ a b Cled Griffin. "Scarborough Fair Collection". fsnet.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  9. ^ "The Tooting Project". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. 
  10. ^ "Peterborough Theatre Organ Preservation Society (PTOPS)". 
  11. ^ http://www.villagaiety.com/wurlitzer.xml
  12. ^ http://www.gov.im/lib/news/tourism/wurlitzerrestora.xml
  13. ^ "Wikipedia". lenrawle.eu. Retrieved 2016-07-25. 
  14. ^ a b c "The Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust". Ltot.org.uk. 2009-05-02. Retrieved 2011-11-13. 
  15. ^ "St Albans Organ Theatre". St Albans Organ Theatre. Retrieved 2009-10-14. 
  16. ^ "saltaire". Trocadero-wurlitzer.org. Retrieved 2011-11-13. 
  17. ^ http://www.organ.co.uk/tywyn/