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Chamber Barrel Organ

Image lanms_2003_22 case open (image/jpeg)

Chamber Barrel Organ, made by John Langshaw of Lancaster, c. 1785 with cabinetwork by Gillows of Lancaster. John Langshaw (1718-1798), was organist at the Priory Church, Lancaster, from 1772 to 1798. He was also an ingenious mechanic and inventor of the mechanical cylinder in barrel organs. In 1760 Langshaw adapted an organ belonging to the Earl of Bute, which, it was said, mechanically produced an effect equal to that of the most skilful organist.

The great composer G.F. Handel himself was said to have been impressed by Langshaw's invention. Langshaw was a close friend of John Christopher Smith, who was employed by Handel to copy his musical scores when Handel's eyesight was failing in his later years. Langshaw was therefore involved in the construction of barrel organs with someone who worked in close collaboration with Handel.

This chamber barrel organ is perhaps the only direct source which gives us a true idea of how the composer intended his music to be played. One piece is "See the Conquering Hero Comes", from Handel's oratorio "Judas Maccabeus".

The Judges' Lodgings Museum houses a nationally important collection of furniture made by the famous cabinet-makers, Gillows of Lancaster.

Gillows were employed by Langshaw on a regular basis and it is almost certain that they made the casework on this chamber barrel organ. On December 4, 1775 Gillows supplied Langshaw with four gallons of "best Jamaica Rum" for £2. 0s. 0d. Although the name of Gillows is associated with fine furniture, the company clearly had other interests in the West Indies in the 18th century.