320 Camp Road, St Albans AL1 5PE, England
Founded by local man Charles Hart, the St Albans Organ Theatre is a permanent playing collection of rare mechanical musical instruments from days gone by. Although known as a theatre due to its active performances, the attraction features dance organs, player pianos and theatre pipe organs.
Starting as a personal collection, in 1978 the St Albans Musical Museum Society Charitable Trust was set up to keep the collection going for generations to come, restore existing artefacts and acquire new pieces of interest. The museum now also includes reproducing pianos, musical boxes, Victorian hand-turned Organettes and a Violano Virtuoso, a type of coin operated, self-playing violin with integrated piano.
The museum is ideal for residents and visitors of St Albans who want to revisit the good old days of entertainment. A quirky musical atmosphere exists at the museum that has been lost and forgotten in today’s digital age. The mechanical collection creates its own fascinating world.
Charles Hart could scarcely have guessed what he had started when he began collecting organs in the 1960s when he saw them being discarded. What started as a personal hobby has ended up bringing countless people together over the years who otherwise may never have met thanks to the museum and its Charitable Trust which maintains a membership of around 120.
The Theatre is open every Sunday from 2.15pm till 4.30pm, and visitors are advised to check in advance that the performances are running as planned. During that time there is a live, continuous musical performance of the various instruments, given with a descriptive commentary by a friendly local guide. In 2018 the charity was awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service whilst celebrating its 40th year.
British Pathé has a short video of the original Mr Hart’s Organ Museum before the collection moved to its current location.