The 1925 Rye Wurlitzer is the second oldest Wurlitzer organ in the UK
The “Rye Wurlitzer” left Wurlitzer’s factory in North Tonawanda, USA, in February 1925. It was given the unique Opus Number - 999. Upon its arrival in England, it was transported to its new home, The Palace Cinema in Tottenham, North London, which at the time was under the ownership of Provincial Cinematograph Theatres (PCT).The two manual, six rank (2/6) organ was installed in a single chamber high up on the right side of the stage in what had formerly been a theatre box. Although it was the third Wurlitzer organ to arrive in England, it was the second one to be installed. The instrument that arrived second (The Plaza, Piccadilly), is no longer in the country, hence we can say that the Rye Wurlitzer is now Britain’s second oldest.Once installed at Tottenham, the Wurlitzer was opened by Jack Courtnay on the 6th April 1925 with a showing of the silent films: “Find Your Man” and “Never Say Die”. To begin with, the Wurlitzer accompanied all the silent films of the day until 1929 when the “talkies” arrived. It then went on to be used for solo spots, providing music during the interval, and accompanying sing-alongs. Subsequent resident organists at the Palace Cinema included Frank Matthew, John Bennett, and Alan Cornell.During the 1950’s, with the advent of television, and a change to the format of cinema presentation, the Wurlitzer came to be used less and less, until it was finally put up for sale in the middle of 1957. The organ was purchased by Rye Grammar School for the sum of £450. It was removed from the Palace Cinema during August 1957 and reinstalled on a balcony at the back of the newly built school hall. There wasn’t enough room in the chamber to install any of the percussion items (except the Cathedral Chimes) and so these were put into storage. Over the years they became damaged and lost.During the late 1950’s and 1960’s the Wurlitzer was in receipt of regular maintenance and was often heard playing in the school. However during the 1970’s this ceased due to a lack of funding, and its condition rapidly declined. In 1980 a new chemistry teacher started at the school, who was also a fine organist. He breathed some life back into the Wurlitzer and once again it was heard playing in the school. However he left about ten years later and the Wurlitzer was threatened with being sold.Rye Old Scholars Association (ROSA) came to the rescue and organised some fund-raising concerts to keep the organ at the school but these began to make a loss, and eventually they declared enough was enough. Having grown attached to the instrument, Chairman of ROSA, Richard Moore, decided to go it alone. He founded the Friends of Rye Wurlitzer society (FORW) and much money was raised and ploughed back into the restoration project. With the help of lottery funding, by 2003 the Wurlitzer had been returned to its former glory of 1925, including the replacement of the missing percussion items.In 2007 the organ’s console was removed from the balcony, where nobody could see it properly, and was re-sited on the stage in the hall, now on its own lift. The following year, the console was completely refurbished. More recently, the relay system has been replaced and upgraded. This has allowed the addition of a few extra (electronic) ranks of pipes so the Rye Wurlitzer can now be classed as a 2/9 hybrid. The Friends of Rye Wurlitzer still present eight traditional Sunday afternoon theatre organ concerts each year. You can see more about the organ and their upcoming concert schedule by visiting their website or their page on OrganFax.