George Edward Milligen Collections: Fairground Items

This page provides information and photos of the fairground items that are known to have been in George Milligen's collection.

Fairground Organs

Chiappa Fairground Organ on Albion Lorry

This organ was built in 1918 in the workshop of Chiappa Limited in Clerkenwell London. This family business built organs for many of the travelling showman and each was unique in appearance. Many of them still survive and you can easily find videos of them playing if you do a search for Chiappa organ on YouTube. The decoration is in an easily recognisable theme. Some have moving figures and some glockenspiels, bells and drums. They were in vogue from around the late 1880s until the coming of amplified sound in the 1920s. They are 'played' using a mechanical arrangement very much like that on player pianos but with a long strip of perforated cards. The cards are joined together in a pack and you can play different tunes by changing the pack. The sound is produced by compressed air is provided by a mechanically driven bellows system. They can be very loud!

This particular organ had 89 keys and 604 organ pipes from 3" to 16 Ft. According to the catalogue, the facade (or proscenium arch) was built by Orton, Sons and Spooner of Burton on Trent and had originally been installed at the 'Royal Scenic Ride' of Bertram Mills Circus when they re-opened at Olympia in London in 1919 after the end of WW1. Other examples of Orton and Spooner's work may be found at the Dingles Fairground Heritage Centre in Devon. The organ was acquired by Arnold Brothers in 1923 and they took it around with their fair on the Isle of Wight towing it behind a steam tractor and used it until 1947. Presumably they wanted a change or it had broken so it was left in a field near Southampton where it remained for over 10 years.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu who contacted George Milligen who decided to take on the wreckage in 1962 and presumably had it placed in one of his barns while deciding what to do with it. Restoration proved very difficult but eventually this was accomplished with help from Victor Chiappa, the grandson of the builder, and it was brought back to life in 1978. George taught himself to cut the organ 'books' and even wrote some of his own arrangements and the organ featured in events in George's locality. Incidentally the 'piano roll' principle used in the instrument will be very familiar to anyone creating music on a computer today using a sequencer which works in much the same way.

The catalogue did not give the dimensions but it is obvious from the photo just how large it is.

The Chiappa fairground organ on display in 1980 [1]

The estimated sale price was £30,000-£50,000 but it was withdrawn from the 2004 auction.

Much to my astonishment, I located a video from 1962 which includes an interview with Victor Chiappa and views inside his workshop showing how the cards to drive the organ were made using an almost completely manual process. You can view it from the link below. [10]

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