In the Chapel: Rebuilding the organ

Photograph of the organ pipes and part of the screen, taken by Edward Leigh for Country Life. (KCC/614)
Photograph of the organ pipes and part of the screen, taken by Edward Leigh for Country Life. (KCC/614)

October 2013

The King’s College Chapel has a beautiful organ with a complex history, of relocation, rebuilds and royal visits.

Little is known of the earliest organ, except brief mentions in the College’s accounts and that Queen Elizabeth heard it during her visit to the Chapel in 1564.The organ was removed in 1570 at the orders of the Commissioners of Queen Elizabeth and the pipes were sold by Roger Goad (Provost, 1570-1610). On 22 June 1605, the renowned organ builder Dallam commenced work on a new organ.

This was only the start, and it would not be possible to do justice to the entire history of the College organ here, so I shall focus on twentieth century rebuilds and repairs.

Messrs. Hill and Sons worked on the organ in 1911. They cleaned the organ, revoiced the reeds and releathered the swell reservoir. In 1932, Harrison and Harrison drew up specifications for the rebuilding of the organ, in consultation with Boris Ord (then Organist). That work was carried out in 1934.  Harrison and Harrison made further alterations in 1950 and 1968. The latest repairs were carried out in 2009.

The current ‘organ case’ is in fact two seventeenth century cases, being the chair organ and the great organ. Portions of the main organ are found in both cases. For more information about the organ, please click here.

The early history of the organ has been the subject of a few articles in The Organ.


Gallery - In the Chapel: Rebuilding the organ

Useful Sources - In the Chapel: Rebuilding the organ

  • Catalogue of papers relating to the Chapel Organ on ArchiveSearch (see 'Links')
  • The Chapel Organ on the King's College Chapel website (see 'See Also')
  • Freeman, A. (1929) ‘The Organs at King’s College, Cambridge’ in The Organ, vol. VIII no. 31
  • Higgs, P. (1934) ‘Organ in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge’ in The Organ, vol. XIV no. 53
Illumination of Queen Elizabeth I (SAC/1)
Index page to the Archive Centre's online exhibitions, which each highlight a particular aspect of the College's history.
We are open by appointment four days a week most of the year - please contact us by email or phone to book your visit.
The unique Harrison & Harrison organ in King's College Chapel is inextricably associated with our famous College Choir.
View of the organ, looking towards the Choir. (KCC/627)
A complete history of the King's College Chapel Organ from its earliest incarnations to the present day.