Hammond Organs in the UK 1935-55

(Peter Jones – South West Music Services )

Een onderzoek en weergave van de introductie, import, bouw en verkoop van het Hammond orgel in Engeland in de periode 1935-1955

While there is a reasonable amount of information available on the internet about the early days of Hammond in America, there is very little about the early history of Hammond in the UK. This piece is intended to shed a little light on the period 1935-55 and has been gleaned from research of remaining Hammond organs in the UK from that period, including contributions from owners and small snippets of information from internet sources as well as other verbal anecdotal evidence from Hammond enthusiasts in the UK.
Please do get in contact with me if you feel you can add any information to this info.

Early exports
Hammond in the USA moved incredibly quickly from prototype and initial production in 1935, into export markets, with evidence of exports in 1936. Indeed what was remarkable was that Hammond started exporting at all, given they were have trouble meeting existing domestic demand for their innovative product in 1936 (1)
Hammond Model A organs were in production in USA from June 1935 to
October 1938. From observation of Hammond Model A organs coming up for
sale on Ebay in the UK and contact with some sellers, I have established that all UK Model A’s were equipped with a Hammond serial number plate.

That they were built specifically for the UK market is beyond doubt as they all plates carried the details of UK voltage and mains frequency (240v/50 cycles)
The tonewheel generator motors and pre-amplifier transformer needed to be changed in the factory to accommodate the UK voltage and frequency.
In addition it is worth noting that all these Model A organs would have come with Hammond A20 or A40 tone cabinets, that would also have needed UK voltage transformers (of which more later)
The fact that these Model A’s had Hammond serial number plates enables dating to be
carried out using known data.
Information from the admittedly few (five) UK Model A’s so far identified (as of Jan 2012) shows they have spanned the narrow serial number range 2342 to 2414 (with one unverified exception) This would suggest (along with information below) that perhaps a single shipment, or at least very few, was made to the UK around 1936. There is more than one reference that suggests that some early Hammonds were shipped via the RMS Queen Mary liner and the connection to that ship is strengthened by the fact that Laurens Hammond himself sailed on the Queen Mary to holiday in Europe with his wife.

In December 1936 Hammond commenced production of the Model BC (until Nov
1942) This was mounted in a deeper cabinet (the same then used all the way
through to the B3) which could house the extra chorus generator. The Model A was still available housed in this larger case (but without the extra chorus generator) as a ‘cheaper’ basic model. This was called the Model AB.

Hieronder een mooie binnen en buiten-film mét muziek, van een door Boosey & Hawkes uit geïmporteerde onderdelen geassembleerde AB


All UK examples of the BC and AB organs carry a Boosey & Hawkes Company serial number plate instead of the Hammond serial number plate.

(see section on Boosey & Hawkes era below)
Robin Richmond

LaFleur Hammonds.
In 1936 Laurens Hammond) made a trip to Europe with his wife and their European representative to set up deals for Hammond organs to be manufactured in Europe.
There has been a suggestion that the J. R. Lafleur & Sons Company had imported Hammonds into the UK prior to Boosey & Hawkes from 1935 onwards.

While that date has not yet been substantiated, the Model A organs to be found in this country bearing Hammond serial plates and the serial numbers on surviving examples would indicate 1936, which would tie in with the date of Laurens Hammond’s visit.

The La Fleur brand has long been associated with Boosey & Hawkes, who bought J.R. Lafleur & Sons in 1917 although they continued trading under their own name.
Where the J.R. Lafleur & Sons connection is less in dispute is the supply of Hammonds to the new theatres and cinemas of the day, housed in ornate customised cases.
These were marketed as La Fleur Theatre Organs, rather than Hammond Organs. It is thought that they were sold under the La Fleur brand so as not to sully the rather more sober marketing of Hammond organs in the church and home markets.
A LaFleur Theatre Organ brochure most likely dating from 1939 lists three models: the “Ballroom”, “Casino” and “Rainbow”. However, within these models there were alternative cabinets offered of very different designs.
The cabinets were built around Hammond Model A-B and Model E/F.
The brochure makes reference to the first LaFleur models being introduced to this country a few months prior to Radiolympia (a radio, TV and electronics trade show) at which organists Donald Thorne and Harry Farmer performed in 1937. Radiolympia took place in late August/early September, so this would date their introduction to earlier in 1937.
However, many cinema history website cite LaFleur organs being installed from 1936, up to 1938. Cinemas where these seem to have been installed include Glenroyal Cinema, Briggate, Shipley, Odeon, Sketty Cross, Swansea, The Forum Cinema,
Savile Parade, Chapeltown Road, Leeds, Essoldo, Cippenham, Slough, Leatherhead Theatre (Crescent Cinema) 7 Church Street, Leatherhead, Embassy Theatre, Peterborough; Ritz Cinema, Quarry Hill, Grays. Well known organists Robin Richmond, Frieda Hall, Harry Farmer and Donald Thorne have all been pictured with these instruments.

The start of the Boosey & Hawkes era (c. 1937)….

Boosey & Hawkes (B&H) ( foto onder)  was a relatively newly formed company as a result of a merger in 1930 and became the sole importer of Hammonds to the UK. From surviving organs bearing early Boosey & Hawkes serial number plates, I would estimate this started in late 1936 or early 1937, which would tie in with the date of Laurens Hammond’s trip.
It is generally thought that at this time, B&H imported the organs in this period as crates of parts and assembled them using UK manufactured cabinets. From early B&H examples, there is no evidence for B&H having manufactured the organ component parts from scratch, as tone generator and manual serial numbers in UK B&H organs, are similar and tie in with those organs made in USA. Whether the cabinets were also shipped from the USA or built here at that time is unknown. Post war B&H production in the late 1950s and ‘60s onwards, certainly had UK made cabinets.
I have found no direct evidence for this in the pre-war period, although this is not to say this did not happen. In addition, you can see on the back of the rheostat box on all Model AB & BC organs, where the four rivets holding on the Hammond serial plate had been removed and a replacement Boosey & Hawkes (B&H) serial number plate attached with just two rivets. There are also inkstamps saying ‘Made in USA’.
Critically B&H imposed their own serial number system on their plates, which bore no relation to the Hammond serial number system. This is evidenced by a couple of rare UK Model E Organs that somehow retained both Hammond and B&H serial plates. This replacement of the original plates, makes dating using Hammond serial numbers impossible.

I suspect the change to B&H plates happened sometime in late 1936 or early 1937. I have come across anecdotal evidence of a Model BC with a B&H plate (B&H 0071) allegedly purchased for a church in 1936, and a further one (B&H 0068) which was purchased by another church in September 1937. No original receipts were available in
either case unfortunately.

I have only seen two Model AB organs in the UK. These are B&H no 0003 and one in my possession, B&H number 0017. Model E carrying both Hammond and Boosey & Hawkes serial number plates Model AB (above) showing two of the four original rivet holes from the Hammond serial number plate underneath the Boosey & Hawkes serial plate I have seen (in admittedly very small numbers) comparatively more BCs than ABs and can only conclude that once the BC became available, this was preferred for its second chorus generator despite the increased cost. 
A Boosey & Hawkes price list from April 1938  is presented below:

You will find the Model BC (simply listed as Model B) at £390.00. This is placed above the Model AB (listed as Model A) which sold for £350.00. The emphasis on the Model B in the price list over the Model AB perhaps reflects the emphasis salesmen were giving at the time and explains why there are more Model BC remaining than Model AB today! The Model E was considerably more expensive at £550.00 and a Model F without chorus generator was £510.00

The same price list gives the tone cabinets sold as Models C20, D20 and B40
The model A20 and A40 cabinets are not mentioned.
Boosey & Hawkes did however sell Model A20 cabinets, as I have one in my possession (B&H 0017) This is co-incidentally the same number as my Model AB organ, although there can have been no connection between them as I collected them from different parts of the country at different times. This indicates that B&H had separate numbering systems for the organs and tone cabinets. What is unclear so far, is whether each model of organ had its own separate numbering system.
A Boosey and Hawkes advert in ‘The Countryman’ dating from 1938 lists an impressive number of dealers located in Bedford, Belfast, Birmingham, Cardfiff, Carlisle, Dublin, Glasgow, Guernsey, Huddersfield, Hull, Jersey, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Luton, Manchester, Newcastle, Northampton, Sheffield, Sidcup, Stoke-on-Trent, Tunbridge Wells, Wisbech. The names of the dealers could be obtained on request:

Hammond Novachords in the UK

The Novachord was arguably the world’s first synthesiser and was a rare beast even in the USA with only around 1069 units built. You would be forgiven for thinking that it was unlikely that any Novachords had made their way to the UK.

However it seems that at least one or two demonstration instruments were placed with famous band leaders of the day, who could promote the instrument in prominent places. This practice had previously been a clear early marketing ploy of Hammond in the USA, who used prominent musicians and composers to promote the earliest Model A organs starting with George Gershwin.

In the UK there is mention of jazz pianist Arthur Young playing a Novachord with Hatchett’s Swingtette (featuring Stephan Grapelli) at Hatchetts Restaurant in Piccadilly, London in 1939-1940. The restaurant was second only at the time to the famous Café de Paris (19) There is also video of Billy Mayerl demonstrating a Novachord at Grosvenor House in 1941 in a British Pathe News film:
There is the possibility that it was the same instrument, as Arthur Young was injured in a bombing raid in September 1940 and never returned to the Hatchett’s Restaurant (19) It could be that it then passed to Billy Mayerl, although this is just speculation based on the dates.
The Novachord featured on recordings by Arthur Young, including most famously several with Vera Lynn including ‘We’ll meet again’

There is one reference  that states there were …’some twenty-two in London at the time of the blitz and they were in fantastic demand in bomb shelter night clubs’. As the unpublished book is largely derived from interviews with Laurens Hammond himself, there may be little reason to doubt it. However, to date I have not seen any UK voltage Novachords in this country. The only two known about currently in the UK have both been USA models brought over here in recent years by enthusiasts. So where have those 22 Novachords gone? If anyone knows of a UK model, do let me know!

Outbreak of World War II…

The outbreak of World War II in 1939 stopped all unnecessary imports and no new Hammond models reached the UK until import restrictions were lifted in 1955. American merchant ships were banned from entering dangerous wartime waters and during the first nine months of war the British, so far as they were able had kept their ships away from United States harbours in order to eke out their dollars. By the end of 1940 Britain had run out of dollars to pay for anything anyway!
This means that a whole slew of organ models, tone cabinets and early Leslies
(tallboys) produced in the USA between 1940 and 1954 are totally unknown in the UK. These include organ models BV, B2, C2, RT2, M, M2 etc. It is only when the import restrictions were lifted in 1955, coinciding with the release of the new Hammond models (B3, C3, RT3, M3 etc), that any fresh stock was available.
One effect of the wartime restrictions was that, instead of the early models being replaced with newer models, they were looked after and serviced…. Part of the ‘make do, and mend’ mentality of the times.
Anecdotal information from Leslie Hill, who knew David Morne, a Hammond engineer at B&H in late 40s-early 50s, give some interesting insight. According to this source, Boosey & Hawkes bought up a lot of second hand Hammonds during the war years when they couldn't import them. They renovated them and set up a hire dept to rent them out from their Edgware Factory. The British comedian and entertainer Tommy Trinder, apparently bought up a lot of them to rent out to his showbusiness contacts.
With the lack of newer model organs, early models were upgraded (eg Model A to AV etc) with the old parts being destroyed rather than let them be recycled
(presumably protectionism on B&H’s part)
There were also a lot of technicians (amateur and professional) who made up their own scanners to upgrade earlier models. These being the days when there was a good solid engineering base in the UK and plenty of workshops set up in people sheds. Apparently you could not get proper Hammond parts unless you had an import license, which was probably impossible to obtain.

How many pre-war UK Hammonds?

It is interesting to speculate how many Hammonds were sold in this country prior to World War II and in the absence of any actual export/import records from the time, you have to look at the evidence provided by the Hammonds remaining in the country now as a guide and extrapolate from that.
As discussed earlier, the information from the five UK Model A’s (which all bear Hammond serial number plates) so far identified (Jan 2012) shows they have spanned the narrow serial number range 2342 to 2414 (with one unverified exception) It would be reasonable to expect that this does not represent the full extent of the serial no range and it may well be other examples outside the range will come to light.
However, if this range was accepted as an indication, then we would be talking just 72 organs: all possibly in one shipment. In fact though, the ‘Hammond age
determination list’ gives other organs within this range as re
siding in the USA, so the actual number of UK Hammond Model A’s could be even less – perhaps only 50 being imported. This makes any surviving examples very rare beasts.
From the examples of Model BC organs still surviving (and the couple of Model ABs) the information available to date on these span a Boosey & Hawkes serial number range up to and including 0203. This particular organ (B&H 0203) had an original receipt and guarantee dating to the 9th November 1938. While there may have been more units assembled and sold after that date, it is known that imports stopped at the outbreak of World War II (Sept 1939) so there could not have been that many more.

It would be reasonable to expect perhaps a maximum of 300 UK Model BC organs probably sold at most, maybe less.
Hammond Model E organs do exist in the UK but are very rare. I have information from only one example which carries both B&H AND Hammond serial plates (B&H no 0082, Hammond serial 1125), although I do know of one or two others that survived.

Conserving the survivors…

So the early Hammond Models remaining today in the UK should be treated as rare survivors from a very small number of original sales and very much worth conserving
intact. If that can be said of the organs, then even more so of the tone cabinets that would have been sold with the organs (A20, A40, B40 C20, D20 etc), which were usually scrapped as the newer more powerful models (PR40's etc) became available after the war and then of course the Leslie speakers became the norm.

This article is an open research work in progress, so please do contact me with any information you may have, no matter how small that may contribute to this.

Bevis Peters
Leslie Hill
Steve Carter
Various owners and technicians in the UK and the rest of the world
Links & downloads:
1930s Hammond catalogue
Boosey & Hawkes Price List 1938 (Courtesy of Bevis Peters)
Boosey & Hawkes Guarantee for Hammond BC 1938 (Courtesy of Bevis Peters)
Boosey & Hawkes advert 1938
LaFleur Theatre Organs Brochure c.1939 (Courtesy of Gordon Crook)
1 Stuyvesant Barry: The Laurens Hammond Story; chap xv And how it grew.
2 Hammond/Leslie Age Determination List webpage maintained by Rick Prevallent at
3 Leicester Mercury 17th Sept 2011 - http://www.thisisleicestershire.co.uk/Doesorganist- Major-Bray-strike-chord/story-13350061-detail/story.html
4 Coventry Unitarians – Our history -
5 Stuyvesant Barry: The Laurens Hammond Story; chap xvi World War II
6 Stuyvesant Barry: The Laurens Hammond Story; chap xvi World War II
7 Colin Sutton: A history of Bradford Cinemas - Glenroyal Cinema, Shipley -
8 Horn-u-Copia’s Display of Makers: Boosey & Hawkes - 
9 http://theatreorgans.com/hammond/
10 Album sleeve notes from Harry Farmer LP. Circa mid 1950s
11 Colin Sutton: A history of Bradford Cinemas - Glenroyal Cinema, Shipley -
12 Ian Howells, Ken Roe: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/20000
13 Leodis: A photographic archive of Leeds -
14 Ken Roe - http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/34965
15 Don Compton (Larusso) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oom7JovYfFQ
16 Arthur Lloyd – Music Hall and Theatre History website -
17 Ken Roe: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/22456
18 Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novachord
19 Paul Vernon Chester -
20 British Pathe website - http://www.britishpathe.com/video/billy-mayerl-and-hisnovachord
21 Joan Duggan - 
com/nostalgia/2002/April02/Vera_Lynn_Vol2.htm22 http://www.amazon.co.uk/Well-Meet-Again/dp/B003VFKK7Y
23 Stuyvesant Barry: The Laurens Hammond Story; chap xv And how it grew.
24 Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act 1939 -
25 The Story Of Henri Selmer & Company In The United Kingdom –
26 W.K. Hancock & M.M Gowing: British War Economy – Chap ix Lend Lease pp 227,
232, 240