Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Royal Albert Hall

I was greeted at the stage door by a friendly receptionist, on announcing who I had come to visit he gave me a knowing look and said, ‘ah, you’re the dust lady’’. I have grown accustomed to this becoming my pseudonym over the last few weeks, as I have been getting on my hands and knees collecting dust from all over London and beyond.

Jackie the archivist was my contact and she had found me, what she thought, might be the best spot to find dust in this otherwise meticulous building in the round. She led me to an inconspicuous door on the ground floor, her key ring had a large brass disc on it with the word ORGAN engraved into it.

The door was opened and I was invited in to the “Bellows Room” of the Grand Organ built over 130 years ago by Henry Willis. I was honoured to walk into the internal structure of this auspicious instrument. Intricate steep laddering led me into hard to reach corners of the organ’s 9990 pipe’s, a seemingly endless and sprawling array of cylinders of metal and wood. The space was hard to fathom and with no sense of true perspective I began to feel like I was in an Escher drawing.

I was ecstatic over the blankets of dust that were to be found under the bellows and near the ends of pipes. My favourite dust was clinging to the back of the organs elaborate grills: delicate fibrous tentacles that glimmered in the stage lighting coming from the auditorium.

Jackie recollected an alleged piece of organ history as I delicately picked at this dust. Apparently a Suffragette had sneaked into the bellows room and installed herself in one of the pipes of the organ the night before an important political gathering in the hall. The next day she proceeded to disrupt the meeting by wailing her heart out through the pipe, transmitting dark moans in to the auditorium.

As I collected dust Jackie told me more about her role at the Hall, as the archivist she is cataloguing over 20,000 show programmes that have been made since the Hall opened in 1871. As well as this she has been collecting ghost stories of the R.A.H: accounts from staff of sightings in and around the building. Apparently when the organ was being refurbished in the 1940’s builders who had taken out the original staircase had seen an apparition walking up and down where the stairs had once been. The figure was wearing a skull cap and was thought to be a disgruntled Henry Willis, upset at his Grand Organ being disturbed.

As we climbed the layers of the organ, dust dispersed and appeared to get thinner as we reached its upper most echelons.

Father Henry Willis

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