Monday, December 9, 2013

Robert Hope-Jones

In the early 1900s, members of the council working in the Town Hall began to consider ways of providing public entertainment to Battersea.

“Progressives in Battersea pioneered the public provision of music, arguing that free concerts were 'delightful counter-attractions' to the public house. Through his efforts on the borough council, Mr W Lethbridge managed to establish a municipal choir and orchestra, erect an organ in the town hall, hire an official borough organist and institute free public concerts.” - British Socialists and the Politics of Popular Culture, 1884-1914. Below is the first page of the 8 page organ proposal from 1900.

In 1901, the Grand Hall became the home of Robert Hope-Jones’ electric organ. With 4 manuals, 41 speaking stops and a complex structure stretching far into the depths of the building, it is the largest remaining Hope-Jones designed organ in UK. It was once the heart and soul of the building, enjoyed by a diverse audience for recitals and even musical accompaniment to silent movies. Sadly, the complexity of the instrument made it difficult and expensive to maintain, and eventually it fell into disrepair. 

The first modern repairs were undertaken in the 1980s, when David Pawlyn managed to fix the organ so it was fit for a few concerts to be held. Unfortunately after this initial work, it sat silently until 2006 when P Hammond assessed the extent of the damage. The blower rebuild began in 2008 and loving work continues to restore this magnificent example of Hope-Jones’ work.

Robert was a telephone engineer but became famous for his work developing the tonal and technical development of the classic organ design. He left for the USA to continue his work with Rudulph Wurlitzer Co, where his ideas helped to create the Mighty Wurlitzer theatre organ, installed in cinemas across the States and the UK. For more from the archive about the Robert Hope-Jones organ, please click here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Bee is for Battersea

In the 1960s the mosaic bees that so beautifully adorn out entrance were hidden beneath concrete, after a row about how expensive they were to maintain. Fortunately they have been salvaged from the brink of destruction and are a much loved symbol of BAC. The bees have taken on many meanings over the years, and no one is quite sure why they were first chosen. One theory suggests it was due to the very land our building was built on – Lavender fields.

The bees are perhaps a nod towards the double B of Battersea Borough. When the Town Hall was originally built, Battersea existed separately to Wandsworth and the word “Batterseaness” came to describe a certain way of life. “Batterseaness” was epitomised by the working class politics of the late 19th century, when the Town Hall was built.

It is especially interesting that bees are also considered a symbol for workers, especially apt for a building with so many political links to communism and socialism, and especially  to many prominent campaigns for workers’ rights. The building became the local headquarters during the General Strike of 1926, and on several occasions was the site of the Communist Party National Congress. There is also speculation if George Potter, who eventually settled in Battersea, was inspired by the symbol when he called his mid-19th century labour newspaper “The Bee Hive”.

Whatever your take on the bees, radicalism continues to buzz about BAC.