The Sherlock -Manning Company was founded in 1902 by J. Frank Sherlock and Wilbur Manning in my home town of London, Ontario. They had both left the Doherty organ company in Clinton, which they later purchased, along with several other Canadian companies, including Karn of Woodstock. Within two years their 50 or 60 employees were turning out about 100 organs each month from a factory by the railway at the corner of Elm St. and Pine St.. By 1910, they made pianos too and carried on for several decades still building pianos well after 1950 when they stopped producing organs. It is one of the longest lived and certainly most recent of the organ makers in this country. Its history is well known, and its products can be found around the world, for example these (very like mine) are in South Africa and New Zealand (also here)
I found my Sherlock-Manning organ advertized on Kijiji in 2014. See the ad photo below.
Since it was living only a couple of kilometres from my current home, I couldn’t resist. It cost more to move it, than to buy it. Its pedigree is well established. Called a “chapel organ,” it was made in 1907 and sold by T. C. Brown, on Princess St, Kingston, to the little limestone church on rural Unity Road, Glenburnie. (The church is now a private home.) When the church replaced it with an electric organ, the woman organist who had played it for many years saved it by moving it to the family cottage. Later, her granddaughter brought it to her own home–a farm just across the road from the original church! It was living in her finished basement, when she sold it to me.
My Sherlock Manning has 61 keys, four full sets or banks of reeds (two upper; two lower, in both front and back) and two half banks at the back. They are brought into action by the 19 stops, 2 knee swells, a vox humana, and a sub-bass.
It needed very little work. The wooden decoration needed a bit of repair–one of the little balls and dowels on the back had to be replaced, and one lamp holder is wobbly and could do with a new turned base — maybe my friends at Da Costa millworks, who have helped with the melodeon, can make one for me.
Again the fabric was in terrible shape or missing. Unlike my other organs it has a decorative wooden back (perhaps because the organist faced the congregation or the choir). Inside the back was a swath of frail, torn and dirty fabric in a pink flowery print, hiding a strong wire screen to keep out mice. But the print did not go at all well with the semi-modern design. The other three panels with grill work in front had no fabric at all. With plain red fabric in all the right spots, it looked much happier.
In fact the cabinet design seems somewhat confused and incoherent: the little “ball’ theme along the back and top with 2 big, carved “bocce” balls on each side, does not seem to match the lean, modern-looking horizontal openings for sound. Victorian Gothic meets proto-Art Deco. But it must have been popular, as examples of this style of case abound (see here and here). I see the newer models gave up on the bocce balls — or maybe the owners got rid of them.
The only musical problems are that one note, E below middle C, duplicates a note two octaves above and that the very top note on the set activated by the Clarionet stop is F# instead of F. In both cases, it is as if the reed had needed replacing and the wrong one was sent. The first problem is bothersome only on runs or scales–when suddenly a higher note repeats instead of smoothly descending or ascending. The second problem can be avoided by using other stops when a top F is needed.
It took me a while to determine what and where all the stops exerted their effects on the various mutes: each set of reeds had treble and base mutes, and some of the stops opened them just part way, others fully.
The 19 stops with original labels are (from bass to treble): Bass Coupler, Hautbois, Viola, Harp Aeoline, Violina, Diapason, Dulcet, Sub Bass, Diapason Forte, Vox Humana, Forte, Piccolo, Dulciana, Melodia, Clarinet, Celeste, Flute d’Amour Flute, Treble Coupler.
Removing the panel below the keys and a large mute operated by the Forte stop allowed for allowed easy visualization of the mutes in front and their upper and lower sets of reeds. It was more complicated to see things in back (more below).
This section deals with the mutes and stops in front. The back view is further below. The base reeds are two octaves F to E. The treble reeds are 3 octaves F to F.
When closed, the mutes silence (and hide) the reeds. In the front, as per the photo above, the stops operate the mutes as follows:
Upper left (bass) Hautbois stop; and Harp Aeoline stop partly open
Lower left (bass) Viola stop
Upper right (treble): Celeste stop
Lower right (treble) Flute stop; and Flute d’Amour partly open
It is helpful to know these locations in case a reed goes silent and needs to be found for cleaning.
Bonus!! Just under the lowest bass keys, you can see that the organ was “signed” by “McC” on 5 November 1907. Perhaps with the 1911 Census, I will be able to learn who was McC, as I did for Richard Dales maker of my Uxbridge organ.
Inside the back, it is numbered (4876), labeled with a Warranty for seven years bearing the same date and stamped with the retail seller (T.C. Brown, Kingston).
Some of the reeds were silent, but most were easily cleaned and brought back to life, by pulling them out and removing specks of dirt. I devised a new reed puller, using the rim of a 3 inch nail hammered deep into a wooden block as a handle. It works better than a bent hanger wire. The trick is to pull gently and straight. But some reeds could not be budged (eg. lowest G on Melodia set). One silent reed (Piccolo B flat’) had neat a hole drilled beside the tongue, like a harmonium reed; blocking that drilled hole did not help.
The inside was dirty– as usual. To get at the back reeds the vox humana and sub-bass had to be removed (see their positions on photo above).
The vox humana sits on top of the posterior half reed bank (Piccolo). It is activated by its stop through a metal lever attached to a leather fastener. For more on vox humana, see my Bell organ page.
Once removed, the sub-bass was fun to take apart to discover the operation of its private wind chest. It has an octave of 13 reeds C to C that sound with the action of the keys, beginning one octave below middle C and ending two octaves below, although the notes produced by these reeds are much lower — a deep growling sound.
A large horizontal wooden panel or big mute (opened by the Diapason Forte stop) had to be pulled open to reveal the upper and lower banks of reeds with their separate mutes. There was a bit of damage to one of the upper reed cells at the back (mouse? water? human?). The mute below it looks chewed up, either from the original damage or clumsy attempts to repair the cell above.
In the photo above, taken from the back, you can also see the wooden mutes and their hinges that are raised and lowered by the stops in front. Behind you can see the pitman rods each travelling from a key down to a pallet (not visible) inside the wind chest under the reeds. Once again, when closed, the mutes silence (and hide) the reeds.
Upper left (treble): Clarionet stop
Lower left (treble): Melodia stop; Dulciana stop, partly opens
Upper right (bass): Violina stop
Lower right (bass): Diapason stop; Dulcet stop, partly opens
As noted above, it is helpful to know these locations in case a reed goes silent and needs to be found for cleaning.
Strangely the set of reeds opened with the Violina stop are high and the same pitch as the reeds opened with Melodia and Dulciana in the treble.
One lower mute hinge pin was missing and had been repaired with wire. It works, so I have left it alone. It won’t last. What’s more that end of the mute doesn’t close very well–and even with all the stops closed there is always a low bass sound with keys G up to C in the lowest octave.
Comparing the biggest sub-bass reed (a very low C) with the smallest treble reed (F”) displays their huge differences.
I have not had to open the wind chest, or deal with the bellows or the pedals. This organ is fun to play because it has many different voices and it booms impressively with its sub-bass. It has been the least trouble of all my organs so far–possibly because it is the youngest.
Update August to October 2020
We came back from vacation to find one key down–middle C. No sound was coming from it when the pedals were pumped, so the pallet was not open (unlike the problem with the Uxbridge organ). The C# key next to it would not move at all.
That suggested that the pitman (sticker) had broken. Removing the key slip in front gave a good view of the pitman. Yes! it was broken, leaning sideways and pressing on the one beside it blocking it from moving. How was I going to fix that?
I was feeling annoyed that my small sweet grandchildren might have been pounding too hard on the organ in my absence….but no, that was wrong.
I took off the organ back, once again removed the vox humana and the sub-bass so that I could pull open the big Diapason Forte mute and look at the broken pitman from behind, hoping that an easy access might reveal itself. OH NO!! What a shock!
In our absence a mouse had been pilfering bits of fibreglass insulation and building herself a nest at the back of the pitmans, tucked above the bass reeds inside the Diapason Forte mute. She had probably broken the pitman in her travels. I had to admit that some of the other pitmans looked scratched or gnawed. It gave me a new appreciation for those famous Mouse-Proof pedals.
What was a small step for a mouse was a giant leap for a human. And it seems these organ builders did not imagine that it might be necessary to replace a pitman. Major deconstruction was needed, taking me where I’d not yet been before with this trusty, old organ.
The pieces of the broken pitman could be carefully pulled out through the front key slip area with long forceps. Removing the broken pieces of the C pitman meant that C# was working once again. But the whole C key would have to be taken out to install a new pitman in the right place, because it would have to be inserted directly from above into the small openings leading down into the wind chest. It could not be done on an angle. And the stops were in the way.
The stop mechanism would have to be raised, if not completely removed. Not too terrible….one long screw at each end held it directly above the keys (unlike hooks on the Uxbridge). The stop rail also sat on short guide pins that came up from below at each end just deeper inside behind the screws.
Removing it completely would mean detaching all 19 stops or their linkages might break. I had already detached the vox and the sub-bass. Now I detached several of the other mutes, labelling them as I went. They operated through flat wooden levers (like thin tongue depressors) with holes that hooked easily over metal studs. I found that I could now raise the stop rail a few inches and push it back a bit without doing any damage.
Now the back of the keys sitting on their own guide pins were visible. So all I needed to do was lift out the middle C key, and maybe also the one beside it, so I could borrow a healthy pitman to establish the correct length of dowel needed to replace the broken pitman. Right? Wrong!
The key would not come out easily. Was it stuck? It turned out all the keys seemed to be stuck.
From the back I realized that all the keys were held down by a strip of wood in an L-shaped cross section held in tightly place with six screws. Name? You can see it in the middle of the image marked *** above. It too was stamped McC and a date 4-11-07 (one day earlier). The back of the keys are forked, creating a kind of mortice, and the L-shaped strip of wood presses down on the lower tine of the fork like a tenon, holding the all the keys in place.
This image from here (thank you!) shows how the back of the keys are forked.
And the cross-sectional diagram below borrowed from another website (thank you!) shows how the strip of wood (on the left), here called a “fixing rail,” holds down the lower tine of the keys. In the diagram it is F shaped, whereas mine is upside-down L-shaped.
I wish I had a better name for the fixing rail — another site calls it a key retainer. And I really really wish that I had known about it in advance. In my enthusiasm to lift out the C key, I cracked it almost breaking off the upper tine.
Groan. Every time I think I have fixed something, I manage to mess up something else. Carpenter’s glue repaired the crack, and I was now able to study the pitmans properly.
Guess what? the diameter of the dowel out of which they were made is unusual, and unavailable at my local suppliers–of course. I had to use a 1/8″ dowel which was slightly thinner than the originals, although now I think I see some variable diameters and wood colours along the range of the pitmans. Maybe someone else has had this adventure.
As for the length, the broken pitman had shattered and I did not know if a small bit was lying around somewhere inside the organ (prophetic worry!). No easy way to establish its proper length. So I pulled out the intact C# pitman next door, and measured it. They all — or most of them — had one or more tiny square bits of cardboard (or skin) glued on top — perhaps for levelling the keys.
The length seemed to be about 5 and 11/16 inches. I cut that length of 1/8″ dowel and with gentle probing around was able to make it and its neighbour slip into place.
It worked. All I had to do was put everything back. The hardest part was replacing that strip of wood or fixing rail that retained the keys at the back. The keys themselves wobbled all over, up and down on their guide pins, and it was hard to insert the “tenon” of the strip into the “mortice” of all the keys.
At first, I did not realize that the strip of wood had to hold the lower fork of the keys down very firmly. My early attempts ended up with some keys not moving at all, or moving too little.
It helped to slide in (from the front) a long piece of wood to lie on top of the keys near the back to press on them and get them all lying at roughly the same height. Then I could insert the fixing rail, and squeeze it down. Finally after much fiddling I got it right….but then. OH NO!! –In all the jostling, I broke another pitman — this time G below middle C and had to start all over. It went faster the second time–but still.
Irritatingly the G key now stands up slightly higher than all the other keys — something I did not realize until I had that pesky strip of a fixing rail screwed back in place at the back for the second time. Its pitman is a millimetre too long or so. I wonder if the pitmans are slightly different lengths. I am going to leave it for now. The pitmans are brittle and maybe another one will break sometime soon even without a mouse. Then I will sand the too tall pitman to a respectable height. For the moment, the organ is back to its lusty self.
Not much later in October
Sure enough, I had it all back together and was able to play for a little while. But soon the middle C key was down and stayed down–again! This time, however, the note was sounding constantly whenever the pedals were pumped. Not the same problem as before — something to do inside the wind chest. A jammed open pallet? Perhaps the pitman that I had installed was too long and had pushed the pallet off its guide pins, as had happened with my Uxbridge organ.
I would have to open the wind chest for the first time,….and once again remove the vox humana and sub-bass, and disconnect all the stops and while, I am at it fix the height of the G pitman. So off comes the annoying fixing rail too.
Like all wind chests that I have opened so far, this one had big screws with washers going from the top down along the back and sides, and the same going up from underneath at the front.
It was very heavy. With all the screws open and all the stops unhooked, I pried it up slowly and carefully from the back and rested it on 2 inch boards to be able to shine in a light and take a look around.
Rather than holes the wind chest communicates with the bellows through a single, long slot running the length of the keyboard right at the back.
It had an arrangement of pallets that I’d not seen before: double pallets hinged with cloth. Rodney Jantzi describes similar pallets in his restoration of a Bell organ here. His were for a coupler arrangement. In this Sherlock Manning, there are double pallets across the treble range to cover the piccolo reeds at the back of the organ — and more double pallets in the bass across the 13 reeds in the sub-bass. The remaing bass notes have single pallets. Every double pallet has two springs: one at the front and one at the back. It’s a rather ingenuous arrangement. The hinged extra pallet at the back will open whenever the relevant key is pressed, but it won’t sound unless the piccolo (or subbass) stop is open.
There are 3 guide pins for each double pallet: front, middle, and back…and holding the middle guide pins is a strap of wood that has some flexibility.
Nothing seemed out of line and no pallet was off or lying sideways. But after staring at the insides for some time, I convinced myself that the front part of the middle C pallet might be slightly lower than all the others as if something small was lying between it and the reed bed.
I pushed aside the back spring and removed the middle C back pallet from its back guide pin and let it hang down across the strip of wood. I did the same for B right beside it. Clearly a difference in the posterior ends of the front pallets at the hinge, but why?
I pushed aside the front spring on the middle C pallet to open it further. Using a dowel I gently pressed down on the pallet beyond the middle guide pin, and thought I could see a crumb of something sitting on top of the pallet. Impossible to photograph the crumb with flashlight, hand and camera in the small space.
A little more pressure and the whole pallet slipped off all its guide pins and I pulled it out carefully over the wood strip with middle guide pins. Here’s three views of what it looks like.
The offending crumb was a tiny piece of the original pitman–about 1 X 2 mm–sufficient to prevent the pallet from closing. It must have rolled around to block the pallet while I was playing the organ with the new pitman in place.
I took the opportunity to sand the G pitman to a proper height. Then had to put everything back together. The hardest part was replacing the front part of the pallet on its front guide pin.
This organ gave me no trouble at all for six years. But now, thanks to a mouse, I’ve spent hours getting to know it better–always a voyage in discovery!