The Organs of Leicester Cathedral

Leicester Cathedral has two organs. The main organ, built in 1930 by Harrison and Harrison, is in the West End of the Cathedral.  In 1972, a small chamber organ was also purchased.  This page gives details of these two instruments.

The West End Harrison Organ

The main organ stands today virtually as it was built in 1930 by Harrison and Harrison and is a fine example of their work.  There are four manuals and pedals, 50 stops and all the usual playing aids.  The instrument also possesses a digital recording and playback system which enables the player to audition the tonal balance of a piece of music from the nave.

It is known that an organ existed in St Martin’s Church during the reign of Edward VI (1547 – 1553) but part of the instrument was sold around 1562.  It was not until 1766 that a new organ was commissioned and its construction was entrusted to John Snetzler.  This new organ was completed in 1774 at a cost of £612 7s 6d.

The Snetzler organ was of three manuals but no pedals although the compass of the Great and Choir divisions allowed bass notes to be played.  Further work was carried out to the organ over the next 100 years and this included cleaning, the addition of extra pipes, the construction of a pedal division, and, finally, relocating the whole instrument at the South West corner, which is now St George’s Chapel.  In 1873, J W Walker and Sons were commissioned to build a new organ at a cost of £1600, which was sited in the North Transept.  Much of Snetzler’s pipework was retained but the action was new.  There were four manuals and pedals and 50 stops although one of these was spare for the addition of a 32ft pedal stop.  By 1906, it was clear that work was needed to the action and other areas.  However, for various reasons much of this work was not carried out.

It was not until 1930 that Harrison and Harrison completed the instrument that we see today.  Many Snetzler pipes were retained and tubular pneumatic action added.  Additionally the instrument was re-sited to the West End, most of the organ being positioned in the North Aisle with parts of the Solo Organ being positioned above the gallery.  The usual maintenance work was carried out periodically and some minor changes were made to the specification.  In 1978 Harrison and Harrison carried out work which included replacing the Great Harmonics with a Mixture and the Choir Flauto Traverso with a Larigot.

In 1983 Hill, Norman and Beard undertook a general renovation.  They also converted the action to electro pneumatic, added two pedal stops and increased the number of pistons.  New keyboards and pedalboards were installed and a digital recording and playback system added.

In January 2003, Harrison and Harrison commenced a general renovation of the organ.  The action and console were restored to the authentic style of 1930 with new keyboards in bone and ivory and new pedals.  Six stops were replaced and playing aids comprehensively improved.

The compass of the manuals is from CC to a3: 58 notes.  The pedal compass is from CCC to F: 30 notes.  A booklet written by Simon Headley, is available in the Cathedral at a cost of £2.50.  This gives the complete history with a full description of the organ.

The Chamber Organ

In 1972 a small two rank Chamber Organ was purchased for use in concerts and services.  The organ was built by by Pels and van Leuwan and is a single manual instrument with 8′, 4′, 2′ and 1′ pitches.  The two ranks provide: Gedackt 8′ and Roerfluit 4′ together with Praestant 2′ and Sifflet 1′.  The keyboard is split at middle C and duplicate drawstops are provided for both bass and treble.  The 2’/1′ rank is brightly voiced, making the instrument ideal for use at services with small congregations held in the chancel.