Work begins on organ rebuild

12 May 2022
Norwich Cathedral’s historic organ is a key part of musical life at the Cathedral and work will soon begin on a major 15-month project to ensure future generations will continue to enjoy hearing the sound of this incredible instrument. The organ is one of the biggest of its kind in the country and this huge project is the instrument’s first complete overhaul since it was rebuilt in 1942, following a fire which partially destroyed the instrument in April 1938.
Organ project

Scaffolding began being installed around the organ from Monday 16 May to enable most of the organ’s 6,655 pipes to be removed to start the extensive and essential once-in-a-generation overhaul of the organ to ensure its longevity.

This painstaking work is being undertaken by specialists Harrison and Harrison and it is expected the project will be complete by July 2023.

In the meantime, two digital organs will take the place of the Cathedral’s organ during services, and a special Battle of the Organs recital will be taking place on Friday 3 June at 2pm before the Cathedral organ is dismantled.

All are welcome to enjoy this free and extremely unique recital to bid a temporary farewell to the Cathedral’s organ. It will feature performances by all three of the Cathedral’s organists – David Dunnett, Ashley Grote and George Inscoe – who will present a programme of some of the best-loved organ works including Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Widor’s Toccata in F, played on three organs at once!

The Revd Canon Aidan Platten, Canon Precentor at Norwich Cathedral, said: “The Cathedral organ is central to the life of Norwich Cathedral. It stands right in the middle of the building and it is used every day to accompany worship and it is a popular instrument for visiting recitalists. It is now eighty years since the organ has had any serious attention and so the time has come for a complete rebuild that will return it to a reliable and beautiful instrument fit for the next eighty years. The Dean and Chapter is enormously grateful to the trusts and individuals who have contributed to this exciting project and we look forward to welcoming people to the organ’s farewell concert and then back again next summer as it returns to use.”

The project – which is costing about £1.8m – is being funded by money raised from the £2.5m They Shall Laugh and Sing Music Appeal which has HRH The Earl of Wessex as patron.

A special programme of performances is being planned to celebrate the return of the organ in 2023.

Further details about the organ project
Work will began on putting the scaffolding up to start the organ project on Monday 16 May. It will take between two to three weeks to put all the scaffolding place ready for the dismantling of the organ to begin on Monday 6 June.

Organ builders Harrison and Harrison will then spend three weeks removing most of the organ’s 6,655 pipes which will be transported to Durham for further work. Once this is complete, the pipes will be reinstalled between January and March next year.

The scaffolding will be taken down after Easter 2023 and an 11-week ‘voicing period’ will follow. This will involve the fine tuning of each and every pipe. The hope is the work will be completed by July 2023.

About the history of Norwich Cathedral Organ
There are references to an organ at Norwich Cathedral dating back to the 14th century.
The current organ, a 105-stop pipe organ built by the Norwich firm of Norman and Beard, was installed in 1899 although part of the organ dates back to the 17th century.

It was devastated by a fire that broke out during an Evensong in April 1938 but, despite the outbreak of the Second World War, a project to rebuild the organ was completed in the 1940s. This was the last time major work was undertaken on the instrument which is one of the largest organs in the country.

The organ - which has 6,655 pipes and 105 speaking stops - is used for some 1,500 services each year as well as special events and concerts.

Pictured above are the Cathedral's organists and various views of the Cathedral organ.
Pictures: Bill Smith