Offbeat

By James Somper


A council has been accused of cultural vandalism after dumping a ‘priceless and historic’ organat a landfill site when the expert set to restore it died.

Wolverhampton Civic Hall’s 81-year-old organ was the largest of its kind ever built by British firm John Compton and Company and dubbed one of the UK’s best.

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But it has emerged the instrument’s 6,241 pipes, paid for by taxpayers eight decades ago, were taken to a rubbish tip on the authority of Wolverhampton City Council officials over fears they contained asbestos.

Original £2 million plans to restore and move it to a new home were mothballed in December last year after the specialist appointed to restore it by the local authority died in 2016.

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Furious experts and enthusiasts have dubbed dumping the pipes ‘cultural vandalism’ but Wolverhampton City Council insisted the organ had not technically been scrapped as the console, which makes up five per cent of the instrument, has been preserved.

Conservative councilor Jane Stevenson said: “This was one of the UK’s best heritage organs.

“At a time when many cities are restoring important organs, Wolverhampton decided to remove ours.

“Another piece of our city’s heritage has gone.

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“It is disgraceful and shows a total lack of care for one of the city’s most important heritage assets.

“It is really disappointing that the council did not do more and work with the enthusiasts to save it.

Organ societies offered to remove the pipes so they could be repurposed in other instruments.

“This solution would have saved the council money, and at least saved these pipes.

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“To send them to landfill has cost the council money, and lost a much-loved piece of history.”

The Compton Organ, which was installed in the hall in 1938, was played by iconic organists including Sidney Torch and Reginald Foort with its pipes measuring from one-and-a-half inches to 16 feet in height.

The 80-year-old Grade II listed building is currently being revamped but is behind schedule and is £23.6 million over budget.

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As part of the botched multi-million pound Civic Hall work, the organ was due to be restored and moved to a new home, under the watchful eye of Steve Tovey, a renowned organ expert.

But he died shortly after the announcement was made in 2016 and council bosses scrapped the plans in December after bosses at the Labour-run council refused to pay the £2 million revamp fees.

Cllr Stevenson said groups around the UK were willing to take the organ‘s pipes to try and restore them free of charge, even offering to sign a disclaimer in the process in case of any asbestos.

But Wolverhampton Council allegedly rejected this and scrapped the pipes earlier this week.

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One unnamed expert added: “It is like a priceless, rare car has been sent to the scrapyard, and they’ve offered the steering wheel in return.”

Speaking earlier, leader of the opposition Councillor Wendy Thompson said: “If the organ was removed before the asbestos work, the organ would still be in a good condition.

“It’s not just immensely disappointing, it’s a sign of greater issues because it’s now, yet again, another example of Wolverhampton Council not taking proper care of public money and assets.”

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Wolverhampton Council spokesman Oliver Bhurrut said: “The Civic Hall organ console has NOT been disposed of.

“We have started dialogue with an organ society and they have been offered the opportunity to take ownership of the organ console, which will be preserved.

“All of the organ pipes have now been removed and taken to a contamination landfill facility that has a specific permit to accept asbestos waste.”

In an earlier statement when the plans to move the organ were dropped, Councillor John Reynolds, the council’s cabinet member for city economy, said: “Working closely with Historic England, we have looked at all the options available to us with the organ but unfortunately this is the only one that makes financial sense and we are really disappointed we are unable to restore it.”