About the organ

Pavilion Organ History


The Organ was installed in 1929 for the opening of The Pavilion, the most exciting concept in indoor entertainment for the residents of Bournemouth. Designed by G. Wyville Home and Shirley Knight the centre included two “Popular Restaurants” a “Ballroom”, two bars and of course the 1518 seat “Concert Hall” to house the Municipal Orchestra under the baton of Sir Dan Godfrey.

A Civic Organist’s post was created by the Borough Council and this post remained until 1978. The organists holding this post were :

1929 – 1932     Philip Dore

1932  1932     Herbert Maxwell

1932 – 1946     Percy Whitlock

1946 – 1962     Harold Coombs

1962 – 1978    Reginald Hamilton-White

The John Compton Organ Company were given the contract to build a Concert Organ able to play the most complex pieces of classical music to the latest “pop” music of the day. John Compton had already had some success with his installations in major Concert Halls and Churches throughout England. Two concrete chambers both 48 feet high were constructed either side of the proscenium arch to house the 1852 metal pipes, stacked on various levels in the chamber. At the top, a system of horizontal wooden shutters controls the volume of sound that bounces off the dome into the auditorium below. A teak four manual console was placed on a small fixed platform at stalls level just under the right hand chamber (A).

A grand opening of the Concert Hall and the Compton Organ took place on 11th November 1929 in the presence of the Duke of Gloucester, Mayor and full Council.

The Municipal Symphony Orchestra played frequently with the Compton Organ and it was used in their programmes as a solo instrument. Philip Dore was not entirely at ease with this complex instrument and missed his Church connections and by 1932 he was ready to move on. The Organist of St. Stephen’s Church, Bournemouth was Percy Whitlock. He jumped at the chance of becoming Civic Organist whilst continuing at St.Stephen’s. He was fascinated by the exciting concepts of John Compton’s design, especially his extension principles and modern electric action. It took Percy Whitlock 3 months to become accustomed to the Organ in the Pavilion. He remained as Civic Organist until his untimely death of a stroke in 1946 at the age of 42. Whitlock composed much Church music during his time in Bournemouth and this has become more popular in the last few years. The Percy Whitlock Trust now promotes his music and have reprinted most of his remaining manuscripts in recent years.

Harold Coombs took over as Organist in 1946 and remained until his death in 1962. After then no permanent Civic Organist was appointed. The Pianist Reginald Hamilton White from the Pavilion Ballroom Band took over as part time organist and continued to play up until his retirement in 1978.

The Organ was then in a very poor state of repair and a small team of volunteers took over the maintenance of the Compton. Since then and with the help of the Bournemouth Council Lottery funding many maintenance projects have been completed. The twice weekly free lunchtime concerts given on Tuesdays and Fridays throughout July, August and September, provide through donations essential funds that go toward the seemingly endless task of restoration. A team of volunteer organists provide a wide range of light music at these concerts. We hope you will have the opportunity of listening to the Organ, our aim is to restore it fully and remain forever as a tribute to John Compton’s organ building skills.