Cathedral Organs

Derby Cathedral is home to three organs; the 100-stop, 4-manual John Compton organ of 1939, a 3-manual Viscount Digital organ (used to accompany the choir) and a 4-stop chamber organ by Robin Jennings.

The Compton Organ

 

The first organ in the present building was installed in the west gallery in the early 1740s. Little is known about it, except that by the end of the century it was worn out. In 1808 Thomas Elliot provided a new instrument of three manuals, housed in the old eighteenth-century case. This was rebuilt in 1879 by John Stringer, who retained much of Elliot’s pipework and again made use of the old case.

The eighteenth-century organ case

 

When the parish church of All Saints became a Cathedral in 1927, there were new musical demands to which the Stringer organ was no longer equal. Not only was it in serious disrepair, but the position of its console on the west gallery was not ideal for choral accompaniment. The time was ripe for a rebuild and this work was undertaken by The John Compton Organ Company in 1939. Keeping about 1500 pipes from the Stringer organ, and making much use of extension (particularly on the Great, Choir and Pedal divisions), he built a four-manual instrument playable from a detached console with illuminated stops, positioned on the north side of the chancel. Due to budgetary constraints the old case was never adjusted as planned to accommodate the wider instrument, and languished away in storage leaving the bare expression chambers visible. In the 1960s, Sebastian Comper designed the new case of dummy pipes as part of his work to extend the Cathedral. In 1992, Rushworth and Dreaper effected some repairs, made some tonal modifications, and replaced the old transmission system enabling the console to become mobile.

The caseless Compton Organ in 1941

 

As part of Comper’s work to extend the Cathedral eastwards in the late 1960s, choir stalls were positioned at the East end of the Cathedral in the new Retrochoir. The Compton Organ – now on the opposite side of the Cathedral to the choir – was now no longer suitable for choral accompaniment, and a modest 2-manual swallow’s-nest organ was placed above the stalls in the Retrochoir by Cousans of Lincoln. As a result of the age of some of the components in this instrument (much of which was second or third-hand when it was constructed in 1973), and the extra pressure placed on it during the Coronavirus pandemic of 2019, this organ became unplayable in 2021, and has been replaced in the short-term with a Viscount Digital organ.

The Cousins organ

 

Thirty years after the last renovations, the Compton organ again finds itself in a rather delicate state, with much of the electronics and underactions failing (despite the sterling efforts of Harrison and Harrison to keep it playable). Conversations are currently ongoing to establish the next chapter for the organs at Derby, and how we can best resource the Cathedral of today.

The Stow Memorial Organ

In 2020, the Derby and District Organists’ Association commissioned Robin Jennings to build a brand new four-stop chamber organ in memory of Edmund Stow, who was a much-respected local musician and organ builder. Although still the property of the Association, this instrument resides at the Cathedral and is used regularly to accompany services and concerts.

The Stow Memorial Organ

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