Clerkenwell

Our Little Italy

Chiappa – Mechanical Organ Manufacturer



Prior to settling in London, Giuseppe Chiappa lived in Paris and served an apprenticeship under the famous mechanical organ manufacturer  Gavioli, whose company was founded in Modena in Italy.  On the completion of his apprenticeship, Chiappa moved to London to establish his own business as a Barrel Organ Manufacturer and Repairer in the 1860’s.  





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The first company premises were at 5 Little Saffron Hill (now known as Herbal Hill); however, he relocated to Eyre Street Hill in 1877.

Chiappa  amassed a large stock of hand-cranked barrel organs that he would maintain, retune and then rent out by the day to Italian street musicians.  These early pipe organs operated using a pinned wooden cylinder, a system similar to that of the traditional musical box.

For a  period, Chiappa went into business with Gustavus Fursini.  

Here is an entry taken from Gellerman's International Reed Organ Atlas, by Robert F. Gellerman  

“Chiappa & Fursani – 6 Little Bath Street, Eyre Street Hill, London.

The partnership dissolved in 1880, succeeded by Giuseppe Chiappa & Son.”


Chiappa was a great craftsman, and the company also manufactured new and increasingly complicated organs. Many of organs were ornately decorated with carved human figures with arms that moved in time to the music. Some arms moved to strike bells.




In 1892, Anselme Gavioli patented a new system of “book music” which enabled the organs to play a greater variety of tunes and for a much longer period of time.  The punched books consisted  of a series of zig-zag folded sheets of cardboard which allowed mechanical arms to feel the holes, thereby opening the valves to allow compressed air to play the pipes of the organ.


Further development of organs produced enlarged organs and the amplification of their sound, so as to play loud jolly music to accompany popular fairground rides and  amusements.

cc alan denney

cc alan denney

© mario gala

cc alan denney

© mario gala

© mario gala

cc photo by richard ash - wikipedia

© matthew wells

© matthew wells

A fascinating video about the Chiappa family - Anglia News – Fairground Organs





The Sound of  A Barrel Organ Playing


The Sound of a Chiappa 98 Key Showmans Organ - Ex Pat Collins

The Sound of a 48 Keyless Chiappa Fairground Organ

Chiappa Barrel Organ Playing Daisy Bell and Oh Mr Porter

National Fairground Archive



Fairground Heritage Centre

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