York Minster's musical heartbeat prepared for repairs

It has been an integral part of York Minster for centuries, but its Grand Organ will soon be removed '“ if only temporarily '“ to allow a £2m refurbishment to take place.

PIC: James Hardisty
PIC: James Hardisty

In the autumn the instrument, which has parts dating back to 1834, will be taken to Durham for painstaking repair and rebuilding work by organ specialist Harrison and Harrison.

The complex instrument, which has 5,263 pipes, last underwent a major refurbishment back in 1903, and the new work is expected to take about two years to complete.

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Robert Sharpe, director of music at York Minster, says: “The organ plays a key part in the Minster’s services, providing the heartbeat at the centre of daily worship within the church.

“This once-in-a-century refurbishment will ensure the instrument’s reliability for the next 100 years.”

Due to their regular use and environment, cathedral organs ideally require small-scale cleaning and adjustment every 15 to 20 years, with more extensive repairs carried out every 30 to 35 years and a major refurbishment every 100 years.

The project will include replacing the organ’s mechanism, extensive work to dismantle, clean and overhaul the instrument and minor changes to the organ case to both improve how it looks and the sound it allows out. The plans also include creating a new music library underneath the organ, inside the screen which separates the Quire from the Nave, subject to the relevant permissions being obtained.

But before it disappears, a final series of organ concerts and recitals will take place at the Minster during 2018. And while it is out for repairs, a grand piano will be used alongside an existing chamber organ as its temporary replacement.

The hope is that when it returns, the unique sound of the Minster’s organ will not have been preserved but improved – with its grander, imposing qualities which were altered during work in the 1960s restored.

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