Original Location: Oakley Court, Windsor, England
The Victorian Gothic styled Oakley Court, which is situated on the bank of the Thames River, is located on the main A308 Maidenhead to Windsor road, about 2 miles from Maidenhead. Its distance from London's Heathrow Airport is approximately 15 miles. Oakley Court was built in 1859 for Sir Richard Hall Say. He had married a young French woman and it is said by some people that to make her feel less homesick the manor house was constructed in a classic French Chateau style. In 1880 it was sold to Lord Otto Fitzgerald, then to John Lewis Phipps. In 1908 it became the property of Sir William Avery, and in 1919, along with fifty acres of woodland, it was sold to Mr. Ernest Olivier for the sum of twenty-seven thousand pounds. It is believed that the Court was used as the English Headquarters for the French resistance during World War II.
After the death of Ernest Olivier in 1965, the property stood empty, and become more or less a dilapidated shell. Nonetheless, its "spooky" looking architecture made it an attractive and convenient location for the making of numerous "horror" movies produced by the Bray Studios located nearby. Film crews had to tread carefully, however, avoiding old and rotting timbers, as well as dodging buckets catching the rainwater leaking in through the plentiful holes in the roof. But these apparent hazards only helped to make the building, along with its gardens and woodland grounds, more than an ideal setting for horror movies, over 200 of which were made in and around the Court between 1965 and 1979, such "horror" activities ending when the building was converted into a the Oakley Court Hotel. These films included the St. Trinians series, Murder by Death with Peter Sellers and the now infamous Rocky Horror Picture Show. Hammer Horror productions made numerous Dracula movies at the Court, too, lighting the interior with many candles.
The Welte Style 5 Concert Orchestrion was located near the front entryway in the grand stair hall, where it could greet guests and be heard throughout the house. Reportedly in one of the Dracula movies the Welte orchestrion can be seen, and in one scene it suffered the disgrace on of having a chair thrown at it, breaking the center glass section. Indeed, examination of the casework by Durward Center in 1985 reveled that new glass and case repairs had been made to this area of the orchestrion.
In 1979 a transformation began, converting the Oakley Court manor house, along with 35 surrounding acres, into a 115-room prestige hotel. The conversion included adding two new wings to house the majority of the Hotel's bedrooms, although six restored bedroom suites are available in the main building itself. As much of the original furniture and plaster was restored to it's former splendor as was reasonably practical. Then, on November, 7, 1981, after two years of restoration and new building construction totaling some five-million Pounds, the Oakley Court Hotel finally opened it doors for business.
Enjoying a wide expanse of river frontage, visitors to the hotel are provided a sweeping view of the river Thames. Large gardens surrounding the former estate are mainly expansive lawns dotted with weeping willow trees. The hotel includes 2 bars, an award-winning restaurant, billiards room, conservatory, library, and drawing room, as well as a leisure centre/pool, 9-hole golf course and 2 tennis courts, croquet lawn and private moorings for waterborne customers, combining a grand and traditional style with the best of modern amenities.
The Welte was removed from Oakley Court, circa 1978, by the late Norman Evans, a once prominent London, England, collector. Mr. Evans, now deceased, performed a partial restoration on the Welte, which was in fair but dirty condition when he received from Oakley Court. The original pouches and valves, as well as the leather on the pressure reservoir, were left intact. The pipework was cleaned and polished, along with other general cleaning, and the orchestrion put in playing order. Some case repairs and minimal refinishing were done.
The assembled orchestrion required a ceiling of over 13 feet in height, so, to accommodate it, Mr. Evans cut a hole in his 10 foot ceiling, thereby allowing the case to extend upwards into his bedroom. Happily, as was the similar case in the Oakley Court installation, and much to Mr. Evans' pleasure, the Welte orchestrion could be heard throughout the house.
The Welte orchestrion was sold in 1985 to Durward Center (of Baltimore, Maryland), a well known restorer and collector of Welte instruments. It was dismantled and carefully packed into a shipping container on site, transported to the airport, and then flown to Baltimore, Maryland.
Once the Welte orchestrion was safely delivered to Durward Center's facility, it was erected and carefully studied, before any further kind of restoration work was attempted. Then, a complete tear-down and thorough rebuilding of the impressive Welte was undertaken, making certain that it would be in perfect playing condition when the rehabilitation was finished. To this end, all the valve actions were given special attention, they being carefully cleaned, re-leathered and adjusted for maximum sensitivity and responsiveness, and the pipework was painstakingly cleaned inside and out, then tuned to perfection, so as to render beautiful musical tones when actuated by the perfectly adjusted mechanical mechanisms.
Cosmetically, the missing and very ornate nickel-plated, cast iron front plate for the music roll frame was accurately reproduced. Then, since the original gallery, a broken pediment with large center finial, which required more ceiling height than the 12 feet available, was put into storage and the more common spool rail with finials was built and installed to accommodate the available ceiling height.
The original selection of music rolls, as well as the original music roll cabinet, are still with the Welte orchestrion, providing a rich selection of music popular at the turn of the 20th Century.
Information provided by Durward Center; edited by Terry Hathaway.