The Cathedral Organ Project


The fund-raising appeal for a new organ at St Edmundsbury Cathedral began in the 1990s, and raised over £1,000,000. This allowed work to begin on the organ in 2008, when some of the internal organ mechanisms began to be constructed in the Durham workshop of the organ builders, Harrison & Harrison.

The old Cathedral organ was played for the last time on 5 January 2010, when the Cathedral's Director of Music, James Thomas, performed Messiaen's great cycle of music celebrating the birth of Christ: La Nativité du Seigneur. The entire instrument was then removed, and much of the old mechanisms (soundboards, blowers, wind trunking and a large amount of pipework) was disposed of.

In May 2010, the basic frame and large components of the new organ arrived on site, and were winched into the organ chamber to be assembled. A team of organ-builders from Harrison & Harrison spent several weeks in the cathedral constructing the basic frame and installing the biggest pipes and much of the organ's internal mechanism such as the two blowers, which cost £14,000 and had to be imported from Germany.

Meanwhile in the Lady Chapel, a temporary paint shop had been created to allow a team of decorators to begin painting the Quire case, which arrived in hundreds of parts. Much work was undertaken to establish the exact colour and decorative scheme; one that would complement the existing decoration on the various ceilings surrounding the organ and take into account the individual lighting conditions of the position.

In August, the first case was ready to be hoisted into place and assembled above the Quire. The highest work was carried out nearly 60 feet in the air by teams working on specially constructed scaffolding that meant the Quire could not be used for several months. With the first case in place, much of the pipework (and approximately 30km of wiring!) was installed, and work started on the Transept case and the decoration of the 'crow's nest' organ loft.

The final stage of construction took place at the end of September, when the same process was followed for the Transept case. Final finishing touches were made before the building was cleared of scaffolding, and the organ builders' compound under the Cathedral tower was removed, happily just in time for the installation of the new Dean, Dr Frances Ward, in mid October.

Although the organ was then mechanically and visually complete, the instrument had to be 'voiced' before it could be used for the first time. A team of Harrison & Harrison technicians spent six weeks listening to each of the 3,500+ pipes and adjusting them to make sure that they sounded as good as they could in the building, both on their own and in combination with others. The organ was ready to be played for Advent Sunday, 28 November, 2010; suitably the first day of the Church year.