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Salomons Welte Organ (Tunbridge Wells)

Telephone Number :  01892 507683

Email address :

Website :

Contact name :  Jason Caulkin

Venue address : Salomons, David Salomons Estate, Broomhill Road, Southborough, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN3 0TG

About Salomons Welte Organ (Tunbridge Wells)

For further information please call Salomons on 01892 515152 or email or to see our list of events please visit 

The Science Theatre is the location of what is probably the finest Welte player 

Organ pipe organ ever installed in Britain. It is in fact the only one of its type left in the world as the only other example was at the Welte factory in Germany which was destroyed by allied bombing during World War II. Sir David Lionel and his wife, Laura, were obviously music lovers, having installed no less than three Welte pipe organs in their home. The first was a No 4 Concert Orchestra, followed by the larger No 10 Orchestrion with 700 pipes which was installed in 1914 at a cost of £4,050. The earlier No 10 instrument was taken in part exchange. This represented a very considerable sum in 1914!

The Welte Organ is unique also through its situation in the Science Theatre as this outstanding example of a private Victorian theatre is largely untouched by time and unravaged by man. To walk into this superb building is a breath-takingOrgan experience as one is immediately aware of its almost cathedral-like atmosphere, as the sunlight filters through the windows high up above the galleries on each side.

It is doubtful if the Theatre was used for theatrical performances to any extent. It is known as the Science Theatre because it was there that Sir David Lionel demonstrated his scientific inventions and discoveries to his scholarly friends and colleagues who sat upon plain wooden benches set in rows. The two side galleries connect with another gallery which runs along the back of the Theatre incorporating a projection room where the unique brass switching and meters are still in their original positions on the wall.

At the opposite end of the Theatre the stage, upon which the main organ is installed, is extremely large with lighting arrangements, which must have been unique and very exciting in their day. Dimmer switches and facilities for colour mixing of side and footlights are still on the walls - a veritable museum of stage equipment. Huge scenery rolls lie on the floor, just waiting to be hoisted to the fly; their beautiful hand-painted scenes are as fresh today as they were 90 years ago and it is believed that they were never actually used. Gazing upward from the stage one can see the many pulleys and festoons of ropes to manipulate the heavy scenery and a king-size projection screen, dating from 1900. The screen would originally have been raised or lowered in a few minutes by electric motor. Today, this operation takes all of 20 minutes to roll or unroll by a self-sustaining hand winch. A most ingenious mechanism is installed for mechanically drawing shutters over all the windows when necessary for complete "black-out".

In January 1988, an open meeting was held in the Science Theatre with a talk illustrated with slides and Welte Organ recordings entitled "Sounds Interested" presented by Richard Cole, Curator at London's Science Museum. This event proved to be highly popular, with the Theatre packed with organ enthusiasts. At the end of the talk, the house lights were dimmed and the curtains on the stage drawn, revealing the organ, splendidly floodlit from end to end. There was a brief silence - and then an audible gasp of wonderment as this instrument was revealed in all its majesty.

Although the main part of the Organ is situated on the stage, a vital part is the Echo Organ which is at the back of the Theatre in a special room above and behind the projection rooms, some 200 ft from the main organ. With the support of the Sir David Salomons Society, the Echo organ was restored in the 1990s.

In 2003, with the help of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, work started to restore the organ to playing condition. This work was undertaken by Mander Organs and A C Pilmer - Automatic Music (Leasing) Ltd and was completed in 2006.

In the same area of the building is Sir David Lionel's photographic studio together with two dark rooms - all of them still largely in their original state. Leading off one of the galleries is another unique feature - an original Victorian toilet complete with air-conditioning and exquisite Royal Doulton chinaware with brass taps.

As his interest in motor cars developed, Sir David Lionel replaced his need for stabling with what is probably now the finest example of early motor-carriage houses anywhere in Britain. Ranged up the outside of the Theatre the five garages still have their original doors and hinges. With his customary expertise, Sir David Lionel thought of everything - from cavity walls to central heating, tongued and grooved boarded ceilings, inspection pits (at just the right depth for the chauffeur to stand in) and a spiral staircase leading down to the chauffeur's quarters. Sir David Lionel contributed an extensive chapter on "The Motor Stable and Its Management" to "Motors and Motor Driving" by Alfred C Harnsworth, published by Longmans Green in 1902 - other contributors included the Hon C S Rolls.

The Hon C S Rolls was a frequent visitor to Broomhill and it would appear that his motto of "Only the best is good enough" would be equally applicable to Sir David Lionel Salomons.

The Science Theatre is the principal Conference venue at Salomons and is in daily use for training purposes, meeting and major conferences. It is also frequently used for private parties, receptions and banquets. Along with the Gold Room, the Science Theatre is licensed to enable Wedding Ceremonies to be performed.

Acknowledgement is made to John Sharp, the late John Wheeler and the late Douglas Bennett - members of the Sir David Salomons Society - in initiating the compilation of this history.


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Salomons Welte Organ (Tunbridge Wells)'s Concert Diary

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