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York Minster offers organ pipes for sale

20 September 2019

Auction goes towards £2 million refurbishment of instrument


A conservation expert, Robert Woodland, works in St John’s Chapel, York Minster, on some of the 1830s case pipes removed from the Minster’s Grand Organ for restoration and refurbishment. The pipes are due to be returned to the organ next year

A conservation expert, Robert Woodland, works in St John’s Chapel, York Minster, on some of the 1830s case pipes removed from the Minster’s Grand Orga...

MEMBERS of the public are being offered a rare opportunity to own part of a cathedral organ that was once hailed as the largest in the world.

Pipes from the Grand Organ in York Minster are being auctioned online to help pay for its £2-million refurbishment. They are part of the 102 case pipes that have surrounded the instrument since the 1830s. They have all been silent since the last great rebuilding of the organ in 1903, but were retained for effect. Now, 30 are considered redundant and are being sold off. Three others will go into the Minster’s historical collection, and the rest will be restored and brought back into musical use.

The director of the York Minster Fund, Neil Sanderson, said: “Where possible, we have tried to retain and refurbish the instrument’s original features. Unfortunately, around 30 per cent of the case pipes were beyond economic repair. The auction is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to own a piece of York Minster’s musical heritage while supporting the future of organ music at the cathedral throughout the 21st century and beyond.”

A pipe sale has never been staged before; so the Minster has no idea how much it will raise, but bids on the sale, which concludes at noon on 27 September, already total several thousand pounds.

The auction prospectus describes the pipes as “constructed out of a thin, lead-rich alloy capable of producing smooth, mellow tones”, but adds that “this delicate construction, coupled with the environmental strains of nearly two centuries, has rendered them irresponsibly costly to repair.”

They date from a restoration after an arson attack in 1829 which damaged the quire and destroyed the previous organ. The new organ failed to live up to expectations, however, and it underwent a series of makeovers in which the number of pipes rose to 8000: contemporaries described it as “bloated” and “monstrous”. In 1859, it was redesigned, and the case pipes, originally painted green, were redecorated to the current gold, green, cream, and red livery.

Today, the organ, which weighs more than 20 tonnes, comprises more than 5400 pipes, ranging from the pencil-size to ten metres tall. They were all dismantled last year for restoration at the Durham workshops of the organ builders Harrison & Harrison, and should be back in use by autumn 2020.

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