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I have two particular memories of The Lanes from the fifties when I was a small child. These concern two musical items in antique shops in the square just off East Street, or it might have been the same shop? Anyway, one had outside its door an automaton, a mechanical stuffed bird in a cage, which when a penny was inserted would start to twitter realistically and turn its head from side to side. The other featured a symphonion, a wondrous machine of which I have only ever seen one other example, at Beamish Museum in County Durham. This was in effect a giant musical box with a glass case containing a great shining steel disc about three feet across, carrying hundreds of tiny pegs. When a penny was introduced it would start to turn slowly and the pegs would activate tiny reeds which played a complex tinkling tune with full harmony, like a fairy orchestra. (Anyone not lucky enough to have seen a symphonion - and there can't be many of these machines left - can get a flavour if they obtain the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's seventies album Symphonion Dream, which apart from being a fine album also plays out with a superb symphonion montage.) If anyone is aware of the whereabouts of any working symphonions in the Brighton area or in the south of England, I'd be delighted to hear about them:

By Len Liechti (24/02/2009)

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