It hasn’t been seen on the streets of Bath since 1945 but now an historic barrel organ has returned from the City’s twin town of Alkmaar in the Netherlands to mark 75 years of friendship between the two communities.
The barrel organ was used to publicise a public fund-raising appeal launched in Bath to help children in the Dutch city who had been badly affected by the events of the Second World War. The instrument was wheeled around the City, including around the football pitch at Bath City FC, by volunteers including the city’s Rotary Club and local Air Raid Wardens.
After the War, as a way of saying thank you, the people of Alkmaar invited children from Bath to have a holiday in Holland, and a new civic international friendship began to be built. The barrel organ was presented to the Mayor of Alkmaar in 1946 as a permanent reminder of the link between the two cities, and has remained on display in the Dutch City hall ever since.
The Mayor of Bath, Councillor Manda Rigby, said:
“The link between Bath and Alkmaar came about at a time of great hardship and sadness, but this little instrument encapsulates how people can overcome even the most terrible circumstances, and turn something bad into something wonderful and life-affirming. We are thrilled to have the chance to host the barrel organ here in Bath to commemorate and celebrate our links.”
Chairman of the Bath-Alkmaar Twinning Association, Chris Davies, added:
“In one way this is a very modest instrument, just a small, slightly battered, out-of tune piano. But it’s also a priceless artefact from Bath’s recent social history. We hope its loan to Bath, by kind permission of the Mayor of Alkmaar, will increase awareness and interest in the moving and dramatic story behind our link, and help stimulate new friendships with our neighbours across the North Sea in the Netherlands.”
While in Bath, the barrel organ, which is now over 100 years old, will be repaired and re-tuned by specialist restorers, Deans Organs of Whitchurch, just outside Bristol.
The ten tunes played by small metal pins on the large wooden barrel inside the instrument, will be recorded and posted online. The barrel organ will then be put on public display in the Bath Guildhall reception area until next Summer, when it will return to its permanent home, on display in Alkmaar.