The story of the Windsor and District Theatre Organ Trust began in 1966 when Ted Lawrence, a resident of Old Windsor, began to realise a lifetime ambition to own a cinema organ. ABC cinemas contacted him to let him know the the Compton Theatre Organ in the Regal/ABC cinema in the Old Kent Road was redundant and available for £250 (equivalent to about £3,250 in 2017).
The cinema was located in the South Bermondsey district of south London, at the corner of Old Kent Road and Gervase Street. Built for and operated by Associated British Cinemas (ABC), the Regal Super Cinema opened on 18th January 1937.
Ted quickly accepted the offer and held a meeting of colleagues to form a working party to remove the organ from the cinema. This was completed on 3 snowy Sunday’s at the end of January 1966. We knew nothing of the task ahead or the complexity of about 10 tons of pipe organs. The organ was safely moved into storage in a sweet and tobacco warehouse in Alexandra Road Windsor.
In the meantime Ted started discussions with the Committee of the Old Windsor Memorial Hall with a view to installing the organ in chambers to be built at the rear of the Hall. Within a year permissions had been granted (including HM The Queen on whose land the Hall had been built!) The chambers were built with the assistance of a local builder and when dried out the organ was moved in and a 2 year restoration programme carried out.
As an aside, the chambers were painted, courtesy of ICI, with a vandal proof paint normally used for public toilets which as it cured produced an awful smell much to the consternation of the audience of the annual Riverside Players pantomime that year!!
The original organ, built in 1937 by the London firm of the John Compton Organ Company, had 6 ranks of pipes, now augmented to 11 ranks from other redundant organs, 3 manuals and a full range of tonal and non-tonal percussions including an upright piano. Full detail are on our Specifications page.
The organ was formally opened by the Mayor of Windsor on 29th January 1969 and was played by organists Vic Hammett and Jackie Brown. Since then the Trust has presented four concerts a year with professional organists and an annual Open Day when the organ is made available for any members of the public – a rare chance to “have a go” on such an instrument. Sadly, Ted Lawrence died in 1982 and only three members of the original working party survive, but other enthusiasts continue to support the Trust to maintain the now 80 year old organ.